Their names were called out on draft days and then forgotten almost as quickly as they registered.
Barry Gardner in the second round of the 1999 draft. Quinton Caver in the second round of 2001. Matt McCoy in the second round of the 2005 selection process.
At the time they were chosen, the Eagles' brass figured they would be contributing by now. Instead, those players became three strikes against the Eagles' ability to properly evaluate linebacker talent.
Without naming those players, Andy Reid acknowledged as much yesterday, a rare concession by a coach not known for publicly owning up to personnel blunders.
"That's my fault," Reid said. "We had a couple draft picks that maybe didn't fit in as well as I thought. I could do a better job there, and I think we've done that. Here and now, it looks like we have a shot at being a little bit better."
Apparently, the Eagles have upgraded at linebacker.
Among the few positives the team can take out of this season, which concludes Sunday against Buffalo at Lincoln Financial Field, is that the future of their linebackers has never looked brighter during the Reid era.
It appears the Eagles finally got it right in the 2006 draft, when they selected Chris Gocong in the third round and Omar Gaither in the fifth round. In this year's draft, they added Stewart Bradley as a third-round choice.
The Eagles began the season with serious questions about the linebackers. Gocong spent last season on injured reserve. Gaither had five career starts. Takeo Spikes, a veteran acquired in a trade with Buffalo, had played in only 15 games the previous two seasons because of injuries. Yet those three have shown consistent progress. After Spikes was lost for the season with a torn rotator cuff he suffered in the win over Dallas two games ago, Bradley made his first career start and had a huge day in Sunday's 38-23 win over the Saints.
Bradley registered six tackles, a sack of quarterback Drew Brees, and an interception, and he was involved in two run stops in the Eagles' goal-line stand that turned the game in their favor early in the third quarter. On third and goal from the 1-yard line, Stewart dropped running back Aaron Stecker for a loss. On fourth down, he teamed with Quintin Mikell to again keep Stecker out of the end zone.
At 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, Bradley is physical enough to play the run and fast enough to run in coverage. Against the Saints, the Eagles started the game in a two-linebacker nickel package with Bradley and Gaither, and Joselio Hanson as the extra defensive back. When Gaither left with a quadriceps contusion early in the second half, Bradley played middle linebacker. If anything, Bradley's performance suggested he may be breathing down somebody's neck for a starting job next season.
"I think it's a great situation to have, especially at linebacker, which hasn't necessarily been our strongest spot in years past," Reid said. "All of a sudden, it's showing up as a strong spot, and we have them all back [next season]. And that's great."
Reid dismissed a notion that the Eagles might consider getting rid of Spikes - and his $5 million salary - to make room for Bradley in the starting lineup.
"Takeo is coming off a fantastic year," he said. "His surgery was successful, and we look forward to getting him back out there."
Reid said getting it wrong with linebackers on draft days past forced the personnel team to reevaluate.
"Somewhere in there, you go through the process of elimination of why some guys didn't make it here, and you look for something different," he said. "Some of it's the chance of the draft. We tried to learn from our mistakes the best we could."
Aside from Bradley, Reid praised the play of other young players who filled in for injured teammates: linebacker Akeem Jordan, tight end Brent Celek, and guard Max Jean-Gilles.
Reid said Jean-Gilles, who played for injured Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews, dominated on running plays after a shaky start.
"He started off a little slow the first few snaps there, and then he picked it up and he adjusted well," Reid said. "I think he went through a phase. He got so juiced up to play, you almost tire yourself out in the first quarter. He was dominant, I mean absolutely dominant, in the run game. The pass game, he started slow and he picked it up."