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Eagles can Finally Solve Linebacker Woes with Luke Kuechly

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The Eagles’ lack of coaching moves over the last couple weeks was especially telling.

The fact that Andy Reid did not interrupt his annual island vacation to pursue a new defensive coordinator like Steve Spagnuolo should give Eagles fans a pretty good idea of what to expect for 2012.Steve Spagnuolo would have fit REALLY nice on the Eagles. Photo:phillysportscentral.com

It’s looking like another year of the Wide-9, folks.

It seems that Jim Washburn and his controversial alignment will guide the Eagles’ defense for a second year.   

Many have even speculated that Reid’s belief in Washburn is the biggest influence on the team’s plans for a defensive coordinator next season. Reid’s commitment to the headstrong Washburn (remember his sideline confrontation with Marty Mornhinweg last season?) likely eliminated the Eagles from Spagnuolo’s list of desirable landing spots.  

With few experienced defensive coordinators wanting to create game plans for a team that lets its defensive line coach call the shots, the Eagles will probably enter the 2012 season with Juan Castillo in the same role he held last season.  

But then, how many of us really thought that Andy Reid and company would follow any sort of conventional wisdom when it came to off-season plans?

So, with Castillo, Washburn and the Wide-9 all back for an encore, the team’s focus will soon shift to player personnel decisions.  And the defensive side of the ball will feature a number of choices that will be critical to the outcome of the most important season of Andy Reid’s career.

The Eagles have significant deficiencies at linebacker and safety, and both of those weaknesses were exposed during the first season of the Wide-9 alignment.  

With three picks in the first two rounds of April’s draft (15th,46th,51st overall), the Eagles once again have the opportunity to address those two positions and find impact players in the middle of their defense’s second and third levels.  

The key word there, of course, was “opportunity.” After all, the Andy Reid era has proven that the Eagles do not draft linebackers with early round picks. It has also proven that positions of need are often ignored in favor of what the Eagles believe is the best player available.

But, with so much riding on the 2012 season, this may finally be the year that the Eagles recognize the need for a first round talent at linebacker.   Luke Kuechly photo: Getty Images

And it just so happens that the talent they desperately need is projected to be available when they make the 15th selection of the first round.   

His name is Luke Kuechly, and if you aren’t familiar with him, he is a 6’2”, 235-pound linebacker from Boston College. He is the top-rated inside linebacker in this year’s draft, and ESPN rates him the seventh best player available in this year’s draft.

Not that the Eagles value such things, but Kuechly is a three-time All-American who made a mind-boggling 191 tackles last season, including a 23-tackle effort in a game against Duke. He dominated the postseason awards, taking home the Butkus, Lombardi and Lott trophies along with ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

But awards don’t always tell you if a player’s college success will translate to the NFL. Fortunately for the second-leading tackler in NCAA history, all of the scouts highlight his exceptional tackling ability and his consistent denial of yards after contact.  Kuechly’s 4.7-speed in the 40-yard dash may prevent him from being the next Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis, but very few linebackers attain that status.

And let’s be honest, both Urlacher and Lewis continue to be dominant even though that 4.5-speed they arrived with as rookies is long gone. Why? Because they are relentless, intelligent, and exceptional tacklers, which just happens to be the skill-set that all of the scouts describe when speaking about Kuechly.    Luke Kuechly photo: Getty Images

Simply put, Kuechly has a track record of dominating the middle of the field, and is one of the best tacklers at middle linebacker in the history of college football. He is known for filling gaps and stopping the run, and those skills will be especially valuable within a defense that frequently spreads out its pash rushers and gets after the quarterback.  

When you look around the NFL, there are teams that make draft-day commitments to middle linebackers. And when they are intelligent with those commitments, they are often rewarded with players who can anchor their defense for an entire decade. Those teams also frequently show up in the playoffs and compete well into the postseason.

So, here’s to common sense. Here’s to hoping that we can finally escape that feeling of Groundhog Day in which the Eagles trade down in the draft and take unheralded players while accumulating more low-round picks that will get cut in training camp.

If the 2011 season didn’t make it clear to the Eagles’ front office that some things need to change, nothing ever will.  And since it appears that the coaching staff will not be the place for change, maybe the Eagles will begin their roster moves by drafting a player who everyone outside the NovaCare Complex seems to think would improve their team.

You’ll have to excuse me if I decide not to hold my breath.

 

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

 

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Luke Kuechly photo: bostonherald

 

Photo of Steve Spagnuolo from phillysportscentral.com

 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net