The Eagles have always had a bone-jarring defense, built with speed on the edges and bulk in the middle. Their last two middle linebackers, Jeremiah Trotter and Levon Kirkland, weighed 262 and 275 pounds, respectively. That's what made Philadelphia's trade in March of fourth- and sixth-round draft picks to the Falcons for 234-pound Mark Simoneau so intriguing. That's a move you would expect from Jimmy Johnson, who wanted speed at linebacker when he was building the Cowboys' Super Bowl teams of the 1990s, not from Jim Johnson, the grizzled Eagles defensive coordinator. But Philly's Johnson thought that his defense had gotten too slow up the middle. He wanted more of a Zach Thomas-type, sideline-to-sideline player who could supplement the blitz.
Of course, there's a trade-off in going smaller. The Eagles will use Simoneau—best known for his game-turning punt block for a touchdown in Atlanta's wild-card playoff win over the Packers last season—as an every-down linebacker, which means he'll have to stuff the run as well as blitz and cover. "Maybe teams will attack us on the inside with the run," Jim Johnson says. "You worry a little about a guy mat size wearing down. But he's so tough and so strong."
The 26-year-old Simoneau believes he is up to the task. "My game is speed, but I know I can play physical enough," he says. "Everyone's going to be watching me. That's fine. Expectations should be high. This is a championship defense I'm stepping into."
Brett Favre's Successor?
European Tour Boosts Packers Passer
The best player in NFL Europe this spring has been Scottish Claymores quarterback Craig Nail, whose accurate arm and field presence have made him an intriguing prospect for Packers coach Mike Sherman. "His efficiency has improved dramatically," Sherman says of Nail, the former Northwestern State (La.) passer who was taken by Green Bay in the fifth round of the 2002 draft. (He was inactive all of last season.) Nail completed 58.5% of his passes and threw 18 touchdown passes for the 6-4 Claymores. The Packers didn't draft a successor to Brett Favre this year in part because, when it was Green Bay's turn to pick, Sherman didn't see a quarterback available who was better than the 6'3" Nail. When training camp opens, Nail will be given every chance to beat out Doug Pederson for the backup job.
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