I wanted to take the time to analyze the off-season roster at linebacker -- including the signing of undrafted free agents. We are playing the role of linebacker repository (projected 12 linebackers this time next week). I'm also going to assume that Odell Thurman returns at some point and David Pollack takes the season off.
First, middle linebackers.
We've heard about the light-bulb off-season Ahmad Brooks is having. He knows he must be a leader and get better in pass coverage and recognition. And let's add an "if" here. If Odell Thurman comes back and shows he's ready to play again, I don't see Brooks remaining as the starter. But that's a big if. Most suspect that Odell won't be in football shape when he's eligible to apply for reinstatement in July. Even so, the team may need Thurman to rebuild their trust in him. And in that, Odell's long road will be traveled alone. I would feel more comfortable with Odell Thurman than I would Ahmad Brooks. But I'm a "must see it to believe it" kinda guy.
So again, if we assume Thurman returns in football ready shape, then the middle linebackers, with Hartwell likely in the mix, looks pretty intimidating.
- Ahmad Brooks (projected starter)
- Ed Hartwell (deal imminent)
- Odell Thurman (expected to return)
- A.J. Nicholson (convert outside?)
Second, outside linebackers.
Most likely we'll see the same group of outside linebackers we saw last season -- minus Brian Simmons. Landon Johnson and Rashad Jeanty are projected starters with armchair GMs (like, you know, me) projecting inside linebackers playing outside. Caleb Miller, a natural Sam (strong-side) linebacker, started at Will (weak-side) and Mike (middle) this season. He has some versatility. Andre Frazier will get some playing time as a backup, but mostly the hometown kid is a Special Teams player. I think we could see A.J. Nicholson receive some playing time, other than Special Teams, on the outside.
I'm convinced that we will not see Miller or Jeanty in 2008 -- both are free agents. I think the team will struggle to sign Landon Johnson to a long-term deal and may wave goodbye. However (alert: non-supported assumption) if David Pollack returns in 2008 (assuming he doesn't return to end, which could happen if Justin Smith only plays on a one-year contract), then the team will likely focus on a first day outside linebacker, in next year's draft, if the current pool of undrafted free agents doesn't turn up anything. Then again, if Smith leaves, then that frees up plenty of projected funds, potentially putting Pollack at end and then the team could sign Johnson to a long-term deal. Wa-la.
Anyway, look at the total roster of linebackers on this team -- including undrafted free agents and projecting Ed Hartwell.
- Ahmad Brooks
- Andre Frazier
- Rashad Jeanty
- Landon Johnson
- Caleb Miller
- A.J. Nicholson
- David Pollack
- Jason Berryman
- Earl Everett
- Cameron Siskowic
- Odell Thurman
- Ed Hartwell
That's a lot of linebackers.