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PI: For Reese, Nothing Stays the Same Except Change


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For Reese, nothing stays the same except change

By Bob Brookover, Inquirer Staff Writer

There's an old joke about the weather in Chicago that also applies to the linebacking corps in Philadelphia.

If you don't like either one, stick around, because both are bound to change soon. Sunny and warm can quickly become windy and cold on any September day in Chicago. Jeremiah Trotter, Mike Caldwell and Carlos Emmons can evolve into Mark Simoneau, Nate Wayne and Dhani Jones almost as rapidly.

Nobody knows that better than Ike Reese. The Eagles' fourth linebacker and special-teams captain has been with the team since 1998, which was Ray Rhodes' final year as head coach. During Reese's tenure, he has seen a dozen players open the season as starters at linebacker. What he has never seen is the same three starters at linebacker in consecutive seasons.

"Each year, the changes have been for different reasons," Reese said. "Sometimes it's because we're getting rid of older players. The two guys I thought it was really hard to let go were Jeremiah and [Emmons]. I know Carlos wanted to be here, but when you get an injury like he had, you know there's always a chance they are not going to re-sign you."

In addition to the fractured left fibula Emmons suffered last December, he also had a salary demand the Eagles deemed too high. Emmons, a free agent, signed with the New York Giants, and the Eagles signed Jones, also a free agent, away from the Giants. For the 12th consecutive year, the Eagles will have at least one new player at linebacker.

Though the Eagles, after adding Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse, are considered among the Super Bowl favorites, most fans and experts consider linebacker to be a position of weakness. Blame for the team's inability to stop the run last season was mostly directed at the linebackers in general - Simoneau in particular. The prevailing opinion is that the 6-foot, 234-pound Simoneau wore down as the season wore on.

In the eyes of many, he went from being the NFC defensive player of the month in October to a huge hole in the middle of the defense in November, December and January. Because of the opposition's ability to run so freely and easily last season, there has been a public outcry over the last month for the Eagles to bring back Trotter, who was released by the Washington Redskins on June 2.

That's not going to happen.

Simoneau is and will be the Eagles' middle linebacker.

"There's nothing I can do to change what is being said," Simoneau said. "All I can do is go out and try to change people's minds, and the only way to do that is to play well and be part of a successful team.

"I guess this year we have to prove some things as linebackers because there are a lot of negative things being said about us. We just need to go out, work hard and make an impact."

Neither Reese nor defensive coordinator Jim Johnson thinks the criticism and the concern surrounding Simoneau and the linebackers are justified.

"I think Mark did an exceptional job," Reese said. "There was a six- or seven-game run where Mark played as good as or better than anybody in the league. I know Trot had some great years, but you have to remember, Mark was playing without some key guys on this defense around him."

Johnson's defense of Simoneau was equally staunch.

"I really think he's an excellent middle linebacker," the defensive coordinator said. "I've never had a linebacker who has been as good at reading the play and getting to the ball."

Johnson also believes that Wayne's second year with the Eagles will be better than his first.

"He's improved tremendously in terms of how comfortable he is with the system," Johnson said. "Now the question is Dhani Jones and how quickly we can get him comfortable with it."

Reese said that Johnson's complicated blitz schemes are difficult to learn and that it will take time for Jones to understand the system.

"Everybody struggles learning this defense the first year," Reese said. "Early on, you have to go by sheer athletic ability."

With Jones replacing Emmons, the Eagles got smaller at linebacker, but they also got quicker.

"We have a great system here that allows guys to run and make plays," Simoneau said. "I feel like we've got the linebackers here that can make the plays and have an impact. Speed is going to be our strength."

And how does Reese feel about his latest set of linebacking teammates?

"By the end of this year, we'll rank right up there with the rest of the linebackers in this league," he said.


"By the end of this year, we'll rank right up there with the rest of the linebackers in this league," he said.

I guess that means average then.;)

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