CAN THE Eagles' third outside linebacker - the top sub - be as big a part of the defense as Brandon Graham was last year? Graham played 43 percent of the defense's snaps and notched 5 1/2 sacks.
With Trent Cole gone and Graham now a starter, the top candidate as Graham's replacement is already down for the season, Travis Long having torn his right ACL. The Eagles will have to rely more on someone like 2014 first-rounder Marcus Smith or Brandon Hepburn, a practice-squad inside linebacker last season.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said yesterday the team needs that third OLB to be a contributor. He said Smith and Hepburn are practicing there full time, with Brad Jones and Emmanuel Acho flipping back and forth from the inside.
"I think we need it to be a big role," Davis said. "We play so many snaps . . . we play fast and we play often and we're a no-huddle defense. That rotation, at all spots, is what we covet. We love it. I'd love it to be just as big as it was last year.''
Davis said Hepburn, a seventh-round pick of the Lions in 2013, "fits sizewise out there [at OLB]; he's got length to him" at 6-4 and 254 pounds, up from his 235 listed weight when he played inside. "He asked to move out there . . . He thinks it's a good fit for him. Hasn't done it much, so there's some technique things that he has to master and work on. But 'Hep' is a hard worker. The offseason, I don't think there's a day I went into breakfast or dinner he wasn't there in the building, studying. Walk into the linebacker room, he's in there studying. Hep is all-in, and I hope to see some success from him in the preseason games."
Hepburn said that he asked to move after seeing the picture change significantly at inside linebacker - the Eagles traded for Kiko Alonso and gave DeMeco Ryans a new contract as he fights back from Achilles' surgery.
"There was an opportunity at the outside-linebacker spot," Hepburn said. "It's a different perspective, a different point of view from the inside-'backer spot. You have a little more depth off the ball to see things happen. Different reads and keys."
Kiko back soon?
There hasn't been a sense that linebacker Kiko Alonso's concussion is a long-term problem, even in this concussion-sensitive NFL age. Bill Davis confirmed that assessment yesterday, saying that although Alonso hasn't completed the league's concussion protocol, he's feeling good and won't be out long.
"Kiko's fine," Davis said. "It's just one of those things - coaching linebackers my whole career, it's just kind of part of that position. When it sneaks up on you, nowadays we have a great protocol. It's not an issue . . . He won't miss a beat.''
Meanwhile, speaking of inside linebackers, Davis said DeMeco Ryans is "making great strides" and is "ahead of where most people would be" as he comes back from November Achilles' surgery, but "he still has a little ways to go."
Bill Davis said before yesterday's workout that the Eagles have logged about 520 reps, between seven-on-seven and 11-on-11, in the first week of training camp. That's a lot . . . Safety Jerome Couplin remains sidelined after undergoing an appendectomy . . . Wideout Josh Huff made a couple of crowd-stirring catches yesterday but also volleyballed a Sam Bradford pass that hit him in the hands . . . Davis lauded the team's young depth along the defensive line, especially 2014 fifth-round pick Taylor Hart. Davis said Hart has "reshaped his body" . . . Judging from crowd reaction, the play of the day again came when Tim Tebow couldn't find a receiver and took off.