The Eagles’ quandary at the linebacker spot has become a constant worry in South Philadelphia. No one has really stood out or overly impressed this preseason, aside from a few highlight-reel plays last week from L.J. Fort.
Are they good enough at the position? On Tuesday, the team announced they had waived linebacker Asantay Brown and claimed linebacker Hayes Pullard. It was an interesting move to make two days before the fourth and final preseason game, especially since they essentially swapped the same position. Brown had incurred an injury last week during joint practices with the Ravens and was an extreme longshot to make the 53-man roster anyway.
Still, the idea that the Eagles are signing linebackers this late in the process has to read troubling. They don’t seem satisfied with the current talent level at the position. It’s a mutual feeling held by both the beat reporters and fans that follow the team.
PUllard, a seventh-round draft pick by the Browns in 2015, has some experience in the NFL. The 27-year-old played in nine games last year as a member of the Chargers and started 10 games in 2017. In four seasons in the league, Pullard has recorded 114 total tackles, including five tackles for loss. He was released by the Cardinals just a few days ago after spending three weeks in Arizona.
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Ryan Shazier Recovering in Pittsburgh
When Ryan Shazier was drafted back in 2014, he was supposed to be the centerpiece of their new defense. They took the speedy linebacker in the first round (15th overall) and he immediately won a job as their starting left inside linebacker. He was quickly establishing himself as one of the NFL’s premier players when a tragic spinal-cord injury put his dreams on hold in 2017. Shazier has been rehabbing and fighting his way back ever since.
Shazier’s comeback trail has been lined with obstacles but he has slowly been showing signs of mobility. The cameras recently caught him out on the field throwing the football around with his Steelers teammates. It was a touching and remarkable moment that instantly went viral.
Pittsburgh placed the 26-year-old on their Reserve/PUP list for 2019, meaning he cannot play this year. However, the Steelers — in a rare showing of genuine humanity in professional sports — have kept him on the roster and are paying him a full salary, including providing medical insurance. The hope is that he’ll eventually come back and play for them.
“We will continue to support Ryan’s efforts to return to play,” said Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, via CBS Sports. “Although he won’t be able to help us on the field in 2019, his leadership, insight, and emotional support have always been very valuable to us, and we look forward to his contributions in our pursuit of a championship.”
How Shazier Fits in Philadelphia
The reality is that Shazier can’t help the Eagles or any team right now. He is nowhere near where he needs to be physically to contribute as a linebacker. However, the Eagles have a pretty dire situation at the position and rolling the dice on a player of Shazier’s caliber might not be as crazy as it sounds. The downside is that no one knows when or if he’ll be fully recovered enough to play another down.
It’s important to note that Shazier is still just 26 years old, fairly young when compared to the Eagles starting linebackers. That’s three years younger than both Zach Brown and Nigel Bradham and only one year older than the injured Kamu Grugier-Hill. He’s also way better than those guys.
Shazier racked up 303 total tackles in four NFL seasons (2014-2017), with seven sacks, seven interceptions and 24 tackles for loss. He also earned two Pro Bowl selections while starting in 41 out of a possible 46 games. Shazier was an absolute beast, one of the best in the game.
Would the Eagles ever take a flier on a player with such a questionable future? It’s really not their style to do something like that, but this is unchartered territory. Considering their current depth at the linebacker spot, it might be worth a shot. If free-wheeling GM Howie Roseman could turn a sixth-round pick into Shazier, do the deal. It would be the feel-good story of the century.