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August 03, 2016

Eagles Links: Jordan Hicks is a breakout candidate

When taking the optimistic view of the Eagles this season, one of the things you’re looking for is some of the younger players to take a step forward. Can Fletcher Cox go to the next level back in the comfortable 4-3 scheme? The same goes for Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham. Will Nelson Agholor make the second-year receiver leap?

Then there is middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, who burst onto the scene as a rookie before tearing his pectoral muscle. Remember that right before he suffered that injury, the 24-year-old was running back a pick-six at Jerry World.

ESPN Insider's Rivers McCown ranked Hicks as the No. 6 breakout prospect in the NFL:

As with Henry Anderson's knee, Hicks' season-ending pectoral injury preserved his eligibility for this list. Hicks played an immediate role for the Eagles, with the highest run-stop rate among all linebackers on the team last year. Going forward, he projects as a true three-down linebacker. The only question: Can he stay on the field? Hicks lost two seasons at Texas to hip problems and an Achilles injury. This is starting to become a trend, and it's the reason he's a bit lower on this list even though he has top-five talent.

Considering the Eagles’ questionable linebacker depth, it’s paramount that Hicks stays healthy (which has been a problem for him). If he does, that could turn into a position of strength for the Birds.

In case you missed it at PhillyVoice:

1.    CHAT: Jimmy took all of your training camp questions.

2.    Second-year jump: After looking at the minimal impact that some star receivers (Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall) had as rookies, I feel a little better about Nelson Agholor’s breakout chances. The man certainly has some talent.

3.    Wiz Wit: Brandon Brooks has been out for the start of training camp, and Stefen Wisniewski has played well in his place at guard.

Other Eagles news, notes and analysis from around the web:

The Most Important Technique In Schwartz’s Scheme: Josh Paunil, Birds 24/7

Interesting stuff about “the launch,” a different technique than what the defensive line was utilizing last year. Listen to Jason Kelce, who practices against it every day:

“It’s a completely different philosophy,” Kelce said. “You had a 3-4 two-gapping philosophy, which we ran the last three years, in which they are truly almost mirroring the person in front of them. They’re reading the offensive line as the play goes — no penetration — and it’s more set to read the play and to hold the line of scrimmage.

“Now, they’re not reading the offensive linemen at all. They don’t care. They’re just designed to be explosive and quick as possible to get on the other side of the line of scrimmage and screw the blocking schemes up.”

For Eagles' Bradford, an audible sigh of relief: Paul Domowitch, Philadelphia Daily News

Another change from last year, but this time on the other side of the ball. Sam Bradford can now audible:

"There is freedom, but with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility," he said. "You're in charge of getting into the right play, getting out of a bad play. You're responsible, really, for everyone out there.

"Last year with Chip, trying to play at the tempo that we did, it was hard to really do that. We chose tempo over that freedom. There's benefits to each.

NFL Preseason Power Rankings: Chris Burke, Sports Illustrated

Burke has the Eagles at 26th:

The Eagles are semi-settled at quarterback for the time being, with Sam Bradford ahead of Chase Daniel and Carson Wentz in the pecking order. Now, the coaching staff has to figure out exactly who is helping Bradford et al., from the skill positions. Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz are about the only sure things, although Jordan Matthews comes close to that designation. Can Ryan Mathews stay healthy? Will Nelson Agholor be reliable? A lot of unknowns.

Best fits for top NFL free agents on market: John Clayton, ESPN Insider

Clayton lists the Eagles as the best fit for No. 6, offensive guard Louis Vasquez and No. 20, running back Toby Gerhart. Here’s the section on Vasquez:

I still can't understand why a 29-year-old guard who was among the highest paid at his position is still on the street. He is athletic enough to play in a zone-blocking scheme.

The Eagles could use some depth, and Vasquez is the best lineman on the market.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann