I took a look at the Offense the other day with some thoughts on how players were doing and who looked like they had a shot to make the roster, so now its time too look at the defense.
The Eagles plan to run a hybrid front and to be multiple on defense, which makes it really hard to group players into positions. Fletcher Cox is the star player and building block on the front line though. From the looks of it, the base defense will be a 4-3 under (which looks a lot like a 3-4). The 3 linemen in most of camp have been Cox, Isaac Sopoaga and Cedric Thornton. Sopoaga is here to be a veteran role-player and Thornton, a former undrafted rookie from DII Southern Arkansas, looks like he may be a really solid starter. Behind them the top backup is rookie 3rd round pick Bennie Logan, who will certainly be on the team as he learns the NFL game and develops into a role. After that there are question marks. Clifton Geathers has been in the league for 3 years and is already spent time on 5 different rosters, but is someone the Eagles seem very high on after trading for him last spring. Geathers has gotten reps with the starters and comes from an NFL family with 2 brothers currently in the NFL and a father and uncle who previously played pro ball. He looks like he could be a versatile backup along the defensive line this year. After Logan and Geathers is last year’s 2nd round pick, Vinny Curry. I love Curry but I just don’t know that he will fit in the new system. He should stick with the team this year and hopefully he can prove to be useful, but I worry he could be a casualty of the new system. Antonio Dixon is a team veteran who has the talent to make the roster if he can put everything together finally, I’m not holding my breath though. Lastly is a quartet of rookies, David King, Isaac Remington, Daryell Walker and Damion Square. King was a 7th round pick and Remington played for some of the new coaches at Oregon, but Square might be the one with the best chance to make the opening day roster. At the least, I expect one of the young guys to stick around on the practice squad for this season.
DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are the starters on the inside and Connor Barwin is the building block on the outside. Losing Jason Phillips hurts the depth on the inside and hurts on special teams where he was a standout. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are the big name defensive ends trying to make the shift to playing outside linebacker this year, but each will get plenty of chances to rush the quarterback as well. I thought Cole had the skills to move outside years ago, but I worry it may be too late in his career at this point. He is a hard worker and seems like a good guy, committed to playing well so I’m hoping for the best. Graham, meanwhile, doesn’t seem like a natural fit and may have to be really impressive this season if he wants to stay in Philly. Phillip Hunt, like Graham and Curry, could be a casualty of the new system as he does not seem ideal either. Also on the outside are former 2nd round pick Everette Brown and 7th round pick DE/OLB tweener Joe Kruger, brother of former Raven and current Brown Paul Kruger (they also have a third brother who recently signed with the Browns too). Brown is yet another undersized pass rusher and I haven’t heard or seen anything from either player yet this offseason. Odds are Brown gets cut and Kruger goes to the practice squad unless they can show something in preseason action. Chris McCoy, on the other hand, is another journeyman like Clifton Geathers, who is impressing people in camp. The former defensive end is showing a knack for the coverage aspect of playing outside linebacker and could end up as the 4th linebacker kept after Cole, Graham and Barwin. Travis Long was also recently signed to replace Phillips after he tore his ACL, but Long himself also recently tore his ACL and probably isn’t back at 100% yet. He is an interesting player with 3-4 outside linebacker experience, and may end up getting stashed on IR or on the practice squad. On the inside, returning vets Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney lead the way but rookie Jake Knott and recently traded for Emmanuel Acho sit ready to take their spots. Acho and Matthews are yet two more players with brothers in the NFL and Matthews probably has the inside edge over the others thanks to strong special teams play.
Brandon Boykin is having the best camp of any Eagle. He has played well both inside and outside and will be a key player on the team this year. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were signed to be the starters to replace the mess that was Asomugha and DRC, and will be the top corners with Boykin. Curtis Marsh has gotten a lot of looks on the outside at camp and at OTCs as Fletcher and Williams both keep missing time, and I would love for him to finally take the next step. He is a big, physical corner with speed, something that everyone is looking for right now. 7th round pick Jordan Poyer was an amazing college player and will be given every opportunity to make the team as well. Also competing to make the roster are special teams standout Brandon Hughes, and a guy who seemingly makes the team every year only to get cut and later resigned, Trevard Lindley as well as corner/safety tweener Eddie Whitley. The cornerbacks this year might not have the big, sexy names as the guys over the past few years, but I absolutely expect them to play at a much higher level collectively.
Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips were signed to bring experience and attitude to the secondary. Chung should start alongside holdover Nate Allen. Phillips can challenge for a starting role if his knee is healthy, but that is a big if. If not, his NFL career could very well be over. Colt Anderson is a special teams maven who is good enough as a backup to stick around. Earl Wolff is the rookie who, if he picks up the game quickly enough, could challenge for a starting gig before long. Kurt Coleman has started for the Eagles in the past and he will give 100% on every play, but he lacks the athleticism to be a starter in the league and got burnt more than a few times last year. David Sims is also competing for a spot in the safety rotation. Expect Chung, Allen and Wolff to be on the team this fall, with Colt Anderson also highly likely. The last spot (or 2) will come down to the health of Philips and will depend on how many cornerbacks are kept. Eddie Whitley might be a dark horse to steal the last spot at both positions thanks to his versatility.
I didn’t include them on the offense page and there isn’t much to note, so I’ll just do it now.
Alex Henery is the kicker and Jon Dorenbos is the long snapper. Neither has competition on the roster and Henery, in my opinion, has Pro-Bowl level ability.
The punters are consistent veteran Donnie Jones and rookie Brad Wing, a punter so bad-ass he managed to get kicked out of LSU. Jones is the reliable, veteran punter but Wing has a lot of talent and can boom the ball high and deep. Wing has also shanked quite a few punts in camp though. It will come down to whether the coaches want to develop Wing this year and accept some mistakes or not.