The Eagles defense struggled tremendously last year, and the team recognized that. They went out, and gathered many players, including great players, to compete for spots on the defense. The other day, I wrote of the offense and who may provide competition at each position, this is the preview of the defense.
With Jim Washburn coming in as the team’s new line coach, he has much work to do coming to a team that finished second worst in total sacks last year. He has some talent to work with, possessing two pro bowlers in Trent Cole and Jason Babin. They will be your starters most likely, with both coming off double digit sack seasons.
The depth is where the questions come in. The Eagles will likely keep three or four more players on the end to backup these guys. Last year, the Eagles had Jaqua Parker and Darryl Tapp who are competing for a spot. Assuming they get the spots, being solid veteran players, there will be room for about two more.
Daniel T’eo Nesheim, the teams’ third round pick in 2010 will fight for a roster spot in his sophomore season. He was disappointing in his rookie season, but could catch some steam heading into the season.
Last year, the Eagles had two players on the injury reserved list who may be at camp to look for a spot. These players are Ricky Sapp, who was a rookie last year, and Victor Abiamiri, who has been as fragile as glass in his four year career. It would be surprising to see either one of them make the team.
Phillip Hunt, the CFL leader in sacks last year has entered the race, and has impressed thus far in training camp. He is the sleeper to make the team, so remember this name.
Newly signed Anthony Hargrove, a Georgia Tech grad, will look to bring his versatility and size to the team. He is a tall 6’3 and 272 pounds. He can play inside on the nickel and dime, but can be effective on the outside on running downs.
The Eagles defensive tackle group is led by offseason acquisition Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins played a large role on the super bowl champion, Green Bay Packers’ squad last season. He collected seven sacks in just eleven games, missing five games with a calf injury.
He will be starting along either Antonio Dixon or Mike Patterson. Patterson, who had a seizure on Wednesday at camp will be entering his seventh season, his sixth as a full time starter. He has been slightly disappointing in the last couple of seasons with his numbers dropping off. Dixon was a 2009 signing during the season, and has been the teams’ most consistent lineman.
Next up on the roster is my pick for breakout player of the year, Trevor Laws. After being labeled as a journeyman early in his career, he had a decent season last year. He is still young, and has put in a great amount of work to his game and conditioning during the lockout.
One player who may make the team in case a player is cut due to salary reasons is undrafted free agent, Cedric Thornton. He has terrific size at 6’4 and 309 pounds. He also had a terrific career at Southern Arkansas, so the Eagles will give him his chance.
The linebacker position, by consensus, is the Eagles biggest hole. They have addressed every other major need in the free agency, but have yet to take care of this position. Good news for the Eagles, they have gotten lucky.
Jamar Chaney, a seventh round pick last year will assume the teams’ strong side. He has done a good job of plugging holes in the run game and covering tight ends and running backs in the pass game. He is a young, solid player, showing so in his time last season filling in for the injured Stewart Bradley in the middle.
In the middle, the Eagles will throw Casey Matthews on the field. This fourth round pick, brother of All-Pro Clay Matthews, has been ahead of the learning curve among rookies, and has been calling the shots in training camp according to defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Castillo has also said he is a natural leader who will do a good job this season in the middle.
The biggest question regarding Matthews was whether he could man the middle with his size, but he has gained around 13 pounds since his college days. He came into camp at 6’1 and 245 pounds.
At weak side, you will most likely see former seventh round pick Moise Fokou. He is decent at best and has done good things in the past as well as bad.
To fill the depth chart, it will be a contest between Akeem Jordan who is a veteran who can play the weak side, rookie Brian Rolle, second year player Keenan Clayton, and Rashad Jeanty are the others.
Jeanty is the least likely to make the team, and the others will mostly play on special teams, all being fast, undersized linebackers.
I’d be pointing out the obvious if I said that this will be the most improved position the Eagles have this year. The team let up the second most passing touchdowns in the league last year, so trading for pro bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and signing one of the best corners in the league in Nnamdi Asomugha to add to Asante Samuel will give the Eagles the best secondary in the league on paper.
Assuming they do not trade Samuel, those three will be interchangeably starting. Add to that Joselio Hansen, a 5’9 guy who specializes in the slot. This secondary will force teams to run the ball, which the Eagles have shown strength in in the past.
Competing for the fifth spot will be Trevard Lindley, a fourth round pick from last year, Isaiah Trufant, who has been dominating in camp, and rookie third round pick, Curtis Marsh. Marsh will likely get the spot because the Eagles invested a high pick in him.
If the birds were to trade Samuel, that would open up spots for Lindley, Trufant, and even Brandon Hughes, who is back for another year of camp after spending last year on the practice squad.
Capping off this preview will be the safeties. This will feature two second round picks in Nate Allen, who played three games last season before tearing his platella in his knee, and Jaiquawn Jarrett, the rookie out of temple who has been compared to former Cowboy Roy Williams in hitting ability.
While those two have solidified their positions, Jarrad Page who was recently signed from the New England Patriots, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, and Marlin Jackson will compete for spots.
Kurt Coleman, who was solid last year after being a seventh round pick knows the system and may make it because of that. Page is not a lock to make the team because he will be fighting with Colt Anderson, the teams’ most valuable special teamer last year, and Marlin Jackson who when healthy has shown flashes of being a good player. The problem is, he has such a hard time of staying on the field.
The competition will be fierce, so this will be a very interesting camp.
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