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Eagles' Alonso ready go, earlier than expected

Kiko Alonso thought he was in proper shape. The Eagles' new inside linebacker also thought he remembered what a Chip Kelly practice was like from his time at Oregon.

Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more(Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

Kiko Alonso thought he was in proper shape. The Eagles' new inside linebacker also thought he remembered what a Chip Kelly practice was like from his time at Oregon.

But two years away from Kelly with the Buffalo Bills was long enough that Alonso still needed to adjust to the Eagles' practices this week during organized team activities.

"I knew what to expect, but I definitely thought I'd be more in shape, but I was wrong," Alonso said. "I remember when I was in Buffalo, I was like I can't imagine going against the Eagles and that pace. Because if you don't practice like that and you go, it's brutal."

Regardless of the pace, it was noteworthy that Alonso even practiced this week without restriction.

Alonso, whom the Eagles acquired in a straight swap for LeSean McCoy, missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The injury occurred in July, two months before Sam Bradford's injury, so he had a head start on his recovery compared to other Eagles that were injured last season.

When Alonso was acquired in March, he did not know what he would able to do in the spring. Training camp was a sure bet. As it turned out, Alonso was fine to play linebacker two months earlier. He said he's been able to do "everything" throughout the offseason program.

"I honestly didn't think I'd be doing this much," Alonso said. "I've just been going on how I feel, and it's feeling really good."

Unbridled optimism is a rite of May in the NFL, but there's evidence it's well-founded with Alonso. He's not even wearing a brace on his knee. It was hard to tell that he missed a year.

"I feel comfortable without it. I never really liked wearing the brace."

A little rusty

Alonso admitted to "rust" at this stage of his return. He has not played in a game since December 2013. The Eagles are counting on him to be a major contributor on defense.

As a rookie with Buffalo in 2013, Alonso finished with 159 tackles, two sacks, and four interceptions. At 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds with sideline-to-sideline ability, Alonso fits the prototype the Eagles seek at inside linebacker.

It would be easy to pencil Alonso in as a three-down linebacker for the Eagles, although the position is suddenly crowded this season. After the team did not add a single inside linebacker in 2014 and exhausting the depth chart, Kelly made it a priority in 2015.

The Eagles added Alonso and kept starters Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans. Kendricks was the subject of draft-week trade rumors, but the team never dealt him. Ryans, who is returning from a torn Achilles tendon, received a reworked contract to return. The Eagles also signed veteran Brad Jones, drafted Jordan Hicks in the third round, and still have Emmanuel Acho and Najee Goode returning from last season.

"We're just trying to get everybody up to speed and teaching Kiko the defense," Kelly said. "Mychal and DeMeco have both done an outstanding job when they've been here.

"We thought it was a priority for us, especially because of the injuries we had at inside linebacker, to improve our depth there. Drafting Jordan, to go back, Najee who missed the entire year last year, throw him in there with Acho, and then we got Brad Jones in the offseason, was a priority for us. The fact that we have some guys that can play is a positive for us."

System like Oregon's

It should not be much of an issue for Alonso to learn the system. The Eagles run a similar defense to the one Alonso thrived in at Oregon when Kelly was the head coach. The terminology is different, but the principles are the same. There are also parallels to the defense that he ran in 2013, when Mike Pettine Jr. was the Bills' defensive coordinator.

When the Eagles acquired Alonso, health appeared to be the big issue. Now that he appears recovered, he can turn his attention to acclimating to Philadelphia - and maybe help his brother through a similar injury.

Alonso's brother, Carlos Alonso, is a Phillies minor leaguer. A second baseman at double-A Reading, Carlos tried turning a double play earlier this month when a hard slide took him out and tore his knee.

"Still bummed about that," Kiko said. "Someone sent me the video and I saw it and I saw the pictures. The guy didn't even slide. All you can do now is rehab."