Eagles' unproven linebackers to be tested by Favre, Packers Print
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Thursday, 06 September 2007 12:08
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 PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Takeo Spikes, Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither are speaking in one voice, calling for patience and promising long-term success.
Whether the Eagles' unproven linebackers are in step when their season kicks off in Green Bay could go a long way in determining Philadelphia's success.
Last season, the position was one of the Eagles' glaring weaknesses. A new season brings a new outlook and a new rotation.
``Our expectations are high,'' Gaither said. ``We expect to come out and play just like Eagles defenses of the past.''
The triumvirate will be the focus of opposing offenses, as well as their own coaches and teammates, when the snaps start counting for real Sunday against Brett Favre and the Packers.
Despite a limited amount of preseason playing time all three are confident to a man that they'll quickly pick up the others' nuances and tendencies and develop into a solid, consistent unit.
``Everybody has high expectations,'' defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. ``I do, too.''
But Johnson has been around long enough - 21 seasons as an assistant - to know that mistakes will precede success.
``I know that with these guys, it might take them a while, too, and I realize that,'' Johnson said. ``I'm realistic.
``You have guys who played together maybe 20 minutes in the preseason and a half. Now, all of a sudden, you're playing a whole game.''
Even though the three have played a generous estimate of 60 plays together, Gocong is sure the group will take shape quickly.
``When we are playing more together, we'll be able to play off each other better,'' Gocong said.
Reaction time, and most importantly, maturation time, will be a key to the success of a defensive unit that struggled to stop the run and pressure quarterbacks last season as the Eagles pieced together a 10-6 record and lost to New Orleans in the second round of the playoffs.
``We've been preparing nonstop,'' Gocong said. ``We have the mental part down, and that's the best part. When you have the mental part down, you just go out there and play and react.''
Johnson expects some growing pains, particularly at the linebacker spot, and admits to carrying a sense of wariness into the opener. And for an old-timer like Johnson, uncertainty is a new, unsettling feeling.
``I think this is probably the first year,'' Johnson acknowledged. ``We've got a lot of new people, especially in the linebacking group. Even though we have an experienced linebacker in Takeo, he's still a new guy in the system.
``Guys playing together, that's part of the whole process. Maybe it'll take a game or two.''
When Johnson describes his defense as a work in progress, he's speaking specifically about Gocong and Gaither.
Spikes is a newcomer, only in the sense of being new to the team. Gocong and Gaither easily could be classified as newbies, too.
A two-time Pro Bowl pick, Spikes was acquired in a trade with Buffalo in March. The addition of the 10-year veteran allowed the Eagles to move Gaither into the middle, where he'll try to fill the formidable shoes of four-time Pro Bowl selection and fan favorite Jeremiah Trotter, who was released last month.
Gaither was a fifth-round draft pick in 2006 who started the Eagles' final seven games and finished with 57 tackles, a sack and an interception. He'll have his hands full calling the defensive signals.
Gocong is a true first-year contributor after sitting out last season on the injured reserve list. The Eagles are looking for a glimpse of the solid college player who had 42 sacks in 41 games.
``We're young, yes, but that's not always a bad thing,'' Gaither said.
Johnson isn't willing to limit his game plan because he has a new combination of linebackers, even against a veteran like Favre, who attempted a career-high 613 passes last season and was intercepted just 18 times.
The Eagles' trio is smart enough to understand the danger Favre presents.
``You have to stay disciplined against a guy like him,'' Gaither said. ``He throws so hard, he'll throw to a guy who looks covered and get the completion.''

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