I mentioned last week in this post about the Eagles' linebacker acquisition strategies that I thought the Eagles' presumptive starting linebacker trio had a lot of potential but was still very much unproven. I know a lot of people don't agree, like for example, this person who commented on a PE.com feature of rookie MLB Joe Mays:
"At best, [Mays] contributes to special teams. He could possibly develop a greater role in the future, but linebacker is stacked with young talent right now."
I'll grant two-thirds of that bolded section -- the linebacker position is stacked with young players right now -- but the talent question is still very much up in the air.
Consider the following statistical comparison between two "mystery" players:
These look like two pretty similar seasons. Player #2 had a few more assists, picked off a couple passes and forced a fumble. Player #1 had about the same tackle numbers and a couple more sacks. We might reasonably assume that Player #2 was a bit better in pass coverage and Player #1 was better at blitzing or at least had more opportunities to do so. On balance, though, these are pretty great numbers across the board. Any team would be fine sticking either Player #1 or Player #2 into their defense.
The problem, of course, is that Player #1 is San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis, which Player #2 is actually ... all three Eagles linebackers in 2007.
Now granted, of the three 2008 starters, only Omar Gaither was a full-timer last year. Gocong played mostly on running downs early in the season until his role gradually expanded to include some more situations. Bradley only saw significant non-ST action in the last couple games of the year (after Takeo Spikes got hurt and the team wanted to give the young guys a chance).
But still, one guy started 16 games and the other three started 29. The had their chances.
But maybe you don't think it's fair to compare these guys to the best linebacker in the league last year. Ok, but then check this out:
Now there are a whole bunch of arguments you could make for why Gocong's numbers are actually more impressive than Dhani's, starting mostly with the number of snaps each guy played. But still, Gaither is no Trotter -- at least not yet -- and Gocong didn't exactly blow away the production of his predecessor.
There's room for optimism, but these guys aren't there yet.