Who says the Eagles don't care about linebacker?
For the second time this offseason the Eagles made a major move to improve their linebacker corps, a perennial weak spot that has been as much a part of the Andy Reid experience as screen passes, fastball linemen, and "time's yours."
After landing DeMeco Ryans in a stunning trade, investing in a veteran middle linebacker with a significant contract to fill a significant need, the Eagles on Friday used their second pick in the draft, number 46 overall, to bring in Mychal Kendricks, a 5-foot-11 speedster from Cal. It's the earliest the team has drafted a linebacker since Reid's first draft, when he took Barry Gardner with his second-ever Eagles pick, 35th overall.
Kendricks is expected to compete for a job on the strong-side, Reid said. If he can win it, Kendricks and Ryans (who will play in the middle) would likely team with either Jamar Chaney or Brian Rolle to form yet another starting three. Over recent years the Eagles have tried countless variations of linebacker combinations, but the results keep sending them back to their depth chart, shuffling and hoping the cards somehow come up better once they're rearranged.
Now the team is throwing some serious investments into the mix, including a former Pro Bowler in Ryans and an early pick in Kendricks. The question is, are they the right investments?
Because too often the Eagles' choices at linebacker have gone awry. Through no fault of his own, Kendricks arrives with the skepticism that comes from a history of swinging and missing including early picks used on Gardner, Matt McCoy, Chris Gocong and Stewart Bradley.
Even Reid seemed to obliquely acknowledge his struggles in plucking the kind of college standouts who translate into solid NFL linebackers. After listing all of the great qualities he saw in Kendricks, Reid added, "as long as it carries over."
We won't find that out until September at the earliest.
But draft night is generally a time for optimism, and there was plenty on Kendricks.
He had the best 40-time among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine, and was touted as a tough, physical player who can rush the passer and cover tight ends, despite being listed at just 5-foot-11. He was the Pac-12's defensive player of the year last season.
NFL Films guru Greg Cosell wrote on Twitter that Kendricks was the best 4-3 linebacker in the draft after Luke Kuechly, who went ninth overall. Kendricks is "an excellent blitzer" with "great sideline-to-sideline range," Cosell wrote.
Reid cited similar qualities.
Reid said Kendricks' height was not a problem in the pass-happy Pac-12.
Kendricks described himself as a high energy player. "I don't take plays off. I'm strong on the attack."
He also fits the mold the Eagles have used in choosing linebackers for the past several years. Kendricks' 4.47 40-yard-dash was the best time among linebackers at the NFL scouting combine this year. Chaney had the best time in 2010 and Rolle was third in 2011.
The Eagles want speed so their players can play in coverage, and they have acquired it, often.
Ernie Sims, the shark in the water who never bit, also had incredible speed. But he was never in the right place.
Which left the Eagles with a need at linebacker, again, after choosing the wrong guy, again. Trying the same method, will they this time get different results?
Fans who have despaired over the linebacking hole surely like the idea of seeing the Eagles draft one early for the first time since 2007.
It's the execution that leaves them holding their breath.