PHILADELPHIA - Once upon a time, the MIKE linebacker was the "Alpha" on any defense.
In Philadelphia, older fans might envision “Concrete Charlie,” Chuck Bednarik, arguably the best player in franchise history and a Hall of Famer regarded as one of the hardest-hitters in league history.
A younger generation might remember Jeremiah Trotter, a downhill tackling machine known as the “Axeman,” part strength and all intimidation.
The game has changed in the modern era and the goal for linebackers these days is a hybrid approach with the ability to shadow backs and tight ends in coverage while also at least holding up against pulling guards.
The old-school run-stuffers are two-down players in what is a spread-and-shred league.
Every once in a while a player comes along that reminds you what it’s like to have with an intimidator in what remains a very physical game.
Auburn’s K.J. Britt is that type of player.
At just over 6-foot and 235 pounds, Britt was recognized as the “Alpha” on an SEC-level defense.
He’ll arrive in the NFL as a plus-run defender but the questions will be how he holds up in coverage with a target on his back from opposing offensive coordinators.
"I feel like that I'm learning what to do [ in coverage],” Britt said at his Pro Day last week after running a pretty impressive 4.75, “Really and truthfully, I've just been doing what I've been coached to do. So, I'm just learning and trying to take my game to the next level. I know this is one of the parts I'm going to have to take my game to the next level."
The Eagles’ new defensive brain trust includes coordinator Jonathan Gannon and linebackers coach Nick Rallis, who both learned under Mike Zimmer in Minnesota. That means they are likely looking for two three-down options who can offer intimidation in the A-gaps but also effortlessly drop off into coverage - think Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks.
One of the underrated aspects of the position is also the so-called green dot, the player who will be leaned on to communicate the call in the huddle and get the front seven lined up correctly.
“I know it’s a big role, I know it’s a big task, but I’m up to it,” Britt told SI.com’s Eagle Maven when discussing the communication role. “That’s part of my competitive spirit. A lot of teams just tell me the requirements and stuff like that, just having a mic in your ear and huddling everybody up, setting the pitch for the defense. Leadership.
“Those are some things that I’m already accustomed to, so I don’t think it’s going to be too big of a transition, mentally. I’ve just got to get there.”
And when he does get to an NFL city what can you expect from Britt?
“I do have a resume. I’ve led on and off the field,” Britt said. “I have many examples. I have many people who can back up my story. But me, I’m just going to tell you right now - every person I meet, I’m going to have a strong relationship with. And that’s going to help me with my leadership. I’m going to be the model type of leader I can be - do everything right, be on time, treat people right, know the ins and outs of everything I have to know.
“I’m going to be that guy.”
Right now the surprising Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards are penciled in as the starters for Philadelphia while the third LB in the 4-3 base from 2020, Duke Riley, signed a one-year deal in Miami.
A pair of 2020 draft picks - Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley - are in the mix as are Genard Avery, who is moving from defensive end, Joe Bachie and Rashad Smith,
For an Eagles team that has seven total picks over the Rounds 5 through 7 in the draft, a flyer on Britt could pay dividends down the road.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Thursday on The Middle with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, former Eagles OT Barrett Brooks streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and SportsMap Radio. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.