The Missing Fastball

by Steve Steiner

I’ve always liked Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong. For one thing, his name is a lot of fun to say. Gocong. That just sounds like a tough guy. I haven’t liked an Eagles linebacker’s name this much since Paul Butcher. Also, I’m partial to the tough guys that play the thankless positions, like fullback for example.

In a recent article Chris described the SAM linebacker position he plays as the “fullback” of the Eagles defense. It requires a lot of heart to get the job done. A lot of the time the SAM needs to run into offensive linemen, who are much bigger than he is, in order to “set the edge” on run plays. The SAM has to get the running back flowing back inside so the other guys can make the tackle and show up on the stat sheet. He has to sacrifice his body just like a fullback does. Chris has never seemed to mind, and at times, has done a very good job of this.

Unfortunately, good linebackers need to do more than just dirty work. They must be playmakers. They need to be instinctive. They don’t have a lot of time to see a play develop. They have to instantly read the play, diagnose run or pass, and immediately move to get into proper position. They can’t have wasted motion. One false step can make a lot of difference when a guy is trying to cover 20 or 30 yards in a matter of seconds.

This is where I think Chris can be lacking sometimes. He seems fast enough to get to where he needs to be, but doesn’t necessarily make the decision quick enough to get there. Chris played end in college. Read and react wasn’t part of his game. He was allowed to attack upfield.

Gocong seems fast enough to cover, but he either doesn’t recognize that he needs to drop back, or his hips aren’t fluid enough to allow him to turn and run as quickly as he needs to. So it’s a paradox because you have a “fast” player, who’s too slow, at times.

Here’s where I think the solution lies: Chris Gocong’s strengths are best suited as a situational pass rusher. The Eagles should move him to Left Defensive End on passing situations. Chris wasn’t just a defensive end at Cal Poly. He was a great one. He had 23.5 sacks in a single season in 2005. That’s the Divison I-AA record!

What about size? Chris is big enough to play LDE. He’s about the same size as Juqua Parker and Jason Babin. He doesn’t have the bulk of Victor Abiamiri, but you make that sacrifice for better pass rush skills. Chris Gocong is a gifted athlete. To be that big and to be able to move as well as he does is special. I think where the experiment failed is that Chris never looked completely comfortable in his new role with the decision making that a linebacker has to do on virtually every snap. As a 3rd down pass rusher, you can take a lot of the hesitation out of Chris’s game. He’ll play up on the line of scrimmage and he can get after the QB. Attacking is what he does best.

The Eagles defense doesn’t have a great option at LDE on 3rd and long right now. Jason Babin played well at times, but Gocong was a pass rushing machine in college. I know, I know, it was at a small school – but sometimes football is football – ask Brian Westbrook about small schools.

Some might question the wisdom of moving Gocong to end. He’s only got 4 career sacks. Blitzing off the edge as a linebacker is very different from rushing the passer on a regular basis. Chris had great success with that in college. He may not have the instincts for linebacker, but he sure knows what to do when he goes after the quarterback.

I think the Eagles can solve two issues with this move. You can open up the SAM linebacker position to another player who might do a better job and you give yourself another weapon in the pass rush on third downs. As Andy says, you can’t have too many fastballs to throw at a QB. I think maybe Chris Gocong is the missing fastball the Eagles have had all along.

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One Response to The Missing Fastball

  1. Mike says:

    I like this Steiner guy. I hope to hear more from him in the future. This idea of allowing Gocong to rush the passer seems like a no-brainer to me. I am surprised that they haven’t done more of this already. Well done Steve.