Eagles' defensive lineup altered after injuries, suspension

PHILADELPHIA -- Numerous injuries and one suspension will force the Eagles to use several players in different roles Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Chris Gocong, usually the strongside linebacker, will become the Eagles' sixth middle linebacker of the season. Middle linebacker Will Witherspoon will move to the weakside, and rookie Moise Fokou will make his second start on the strongside.

"It's always something around here," Gocong said. "This week it's like a mini-soap opera."

The latest switches were prompted by a knee injury to starting weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan. The Eagles already have lost injured linebackers Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither for the season.

"We have some options," Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "But that's likely the way it will be based on the situations and the personnel group they use."

Those aren't the only changes for Philadelphia. Against a San Diego offense that often features three wide receivers and talented tight end Antonio Gates, seldom-used cornerback Dimitri Patterson will play nickel back in place of Ellis Hobbs, who's out for the season with a neck injury, and Joselio Hanson, who was suspended four games this week for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

Hanson's attorney, David Cornwell, said Wednesday that his client didn't use steroids but took a pill that "turned out to be a diuretic" before last January's NFC Championship Game.


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Patterson said he's ready to help.

"I know the scheme," he said. "I have my legs back. I feel confident."

Second-year defensive back Quintin Demps will replace Hobbs as Philadelphia's primary kickoff returner.

"(Injuries) change the complexion of your roster," McDermott said. "Instead of sitting down Monday morning to watch the opponent, you have to get a feel for the complexion of your roster and how you want to attack.

"It's not ideal. We'll just go with what we have and hope guys step up for us."

A concern for the Eagles (5-3) is that three of the players being asked to step up -- Patterson (hand/quad), Demps (ankle) and Gocong (hamstring) -- aren't completely recovered from their injuries. Demps didn't practice Thursday.

Patterson has played in three of Philadelphia's eight games this season, mostly on special teams. He will continue to wear a cast on his hand, but he said it won't be a problem.

"I'll have it on the rest of the season," Patterson said. "I'm fine with it. It's been a tough year with the injuries, but I'm ready to go."

Patterson will go against a Chargers passing game that includes Vincent Jackson (42 receptions, 722 yards, seven touchdowns) and is ranked seventh in the NFL in passing offense.

"They're a passing offense," McDermott said "They are explosive down the field."

There's also a chance that San Diego, aware of Philadelphia's injury problems at linebacker, will run more, despite a ground game that ranks last in the league.

"That surprises me," McDermott said. "They have a dangerous running game. They have some dynamic players at the running back position and an offensive line that creates movement at the line of scrimmage. There are quite a few teams that are playing eight-man fronts, and that leads to an area in the passing game that they look to exploit."

The Chargers (5-3) have averaged 3.1 yards per carry this season, and leading rusher LaDainian Tomlinson (289 yards) is bothered by a sore hip. That could help Gocong, who has practiced at middle linebacker but never played there in a game. He also missed last weekend's game against the Dallas Cowboys with the hamstring injury, but he believes he's ready to go this week.

"The leg is fine," Gocong said. "As far as being in the middle, I know the entire defense. I know the game plan. It's just a matter of seeing things differently. It's just going to take time. There's a lot of new stuff going on here this week."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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