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 that 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