The Eagles' committee of linebackers has gained another member.
Rookie Moise Fokou will be part of a rotation that could include all six linebackers when the Eagles host San Francisco tomorrow at Lincoln Financial Field, coach Andy Reid said yesterday.
Fokou will play strong-side linebacker in the defense's basic scheme. Reid did not say, however, if Fokou had replaced starter Chris Gocong.
"They're both good players," Reid said. "There is a chance both of them are on the field at the same time. There's a chance one of them is on the field."
With this defense, one that struggled mightily last week against the New York Giants, there's a chance for almost anything. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has tried almost every possible permutation this season, especially at linebacker, where the Eagles have been ravaged by injuries.
The combinations are almost too many to chronicle, but tomorrow's lineup appears to be Jeremiah Trotter and Akeem Jordan splitting time in the middle, Will Witherspoon on the weak side, and either Fokou or Gocong or both on the strong side. In addition, Tracy White would play one of the two linebacker spots in the nickel.
The committee approach hasn't been reserved for the linebackers. The Eagles have rotated eight or nine defensive linemen all season and have used multiple players at most of the secondary positions. Free safety has been a revolving door, with Sean Jones and Quintin Demps now sharing the role.
"If you dress right now on this football team, then you are going to play," Reid said. "There is no greater evidence than on the defensive side. They've all got their roles and they're filling them well. They'll all have the chance to play, whether it is at safety, whether it is at corner - everybody plays."
McDermott has done more shuffling than a blackjack dealer. The two spots he's had the most difficult time filling have been middle linebacker and free safety.
The Eagles have tried seven players at middle linebacker since Stewart Bradley tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp.
Jones, Demps, and rookie Macho Harris have taken turns trying to fill the vacancy left by free safety Brian Dawkins, who left via free agency in the off-season. Dawkins, by the way, returns to Philadelphia next week when the Eagles host his Denver Broncos.
Still, the Eagles' defense is near full strength, since Jordan and cornerback Joselio Hanson returned last week. McDermott, more than his predecessor, Jim Johnson, has employed a scheme that uses specialization.
"It gives you a lot of fresh bodies to work with," Witherspoon said. "It gives you guys that have had the opportunity to study exactly what their roles are. . . . On the other hand, it also makes it difficult for the other team to prepare."
Fokou first started on the strong side last month, against Dallas, when Gocong was injured. He stayed there the following week at San Diego, when the Eagles moved Gocong into the middle. That experiment was deemed a failure and Gocong went back to the outside.
Gocong, more of the pass-rushing, run-stopping type, has been spotty covering tight ends, however. The 49ers have one of the best in Vernon Davis, who leads the NFL with 11 touchdown receptions.
"For this week, it was probably one of those things: 'Get in there, kid, you're going to play SAM this week and try to [cover] the tight end,'" Fokou said, using the team's terminology for strong-side linebacker. "Since I've gotten in there, that's what's been the big emphasis."
Fokou knows Davis well. They were teammates at Maryland for a year and remain friends. They text messaged each other as recently as a few weeks ago.
"I'm sure I'm going to hear from him soon, if not today then maybe tomorrow," Fokou said.
Earlier in the season, Fokou had a rough stretch that involved taking unnecessary penalties.
He has been much more disciplined on special teams of late. The Eagles hope that also becomes the case with his play on defense, especially when it comes to tackling. There were several missed tackles last week by a unit that allowed more than 500 yards of offense by New York.
With snow and cold in the forecast, tackling could be at a premium.
"We have to do a better job there, that's obvious," Reid said. "The guys went out and practiced it the best you can at this time of the year. Now it's a matter of transferring that into the game."