Predicting the Defensive Starters for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012
The Eagles defense had its issues in 2011, but you aren't going to see much personnel change in 2012. Andy Reid will add some more talent through free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft. A couple rookie linebackers who can come in and compete for starting jobs will be good for everyone on the defense. An up-and-coming pass rusher added to the line wouldn't be a bad thing either.
The Eagles defense is in much better shape than most experts will give them credit to be. Better coaching and an offense that doesn't put the defense in tough situations through untimely turnovers will do more then any overpaid free agent or first-round draft pick will this season.
Look for the Eagles to add a couple key veterans to the defense along with several rookies to compete at linebacker. The rest of the defense will look like the defense of last season on paper, but with more chemistry and an emphasis on the fundamentals heading into the season.
Defensive End: Jason Babin, Trent Cole
Last year's starting defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin combined for 29 sacks last season. That number should go up even more now that Cole will have a full offseason to learn from defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
Both players are two of the best pass rushers in the NFL and should put up even more impressive numbers in 2012. Cole missed two games due to calf strain. Twenty-nine sacks in 34 games for both players is incredible.
Defensive Tackle: Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon
The Eagles will be really deep in 2012 at defensive tackle. Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins are both under contract with Antonio Dixon listed as a restricted free agent that is almost assured of being back. Cedric Thornton, an undrafted free agent from last season is also under contract with Derek Landri and Trevor Laws unrestricted free agents that could both be back next season. There is also a very good chance the Eagles spend their first-round pick on adding another defensive tackle to the mix.
The Eagles will use four defensive tackles in Jim Washburn's rotation in gameday. Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon will be the starters playing against the run most of the time while Cullen Jenkins will team up with either Derek Landri, Trevor Laws or a rookie to be named later in pass rushing situations.
The Eagles had 11 sacks from defensive tackles last season including 5.5 from Jenkins. Patterson and Dixon are the best run defenders which became evident when Dixon went down with a triceps tear in October. The run defense greatly suffered after that.
Weak Side Linebacker: Brian Rolle
Weak side linebacker is a position that keeps getting brought up in free agency and the draft as a need for the Eagles, but I don't think they will aggressively try to upgrade there. Why should they? Brian Rolle played well at the position last season as a sixth-round draft pick with little time in the offseason to both learn the defense and get used to the speed of the game.
Rolle is short but very strong and very fast for the position. He plays with great intensity and can stay with running backs down the field. He started the final 13 games of the season but started seeing an increased amount of action in Week 3 against the Giants.
In that game against the Giants where Casey Matthews got the start at weak side linebacker, he was burned by Giants running back Brandon Jacobs on a wheel route. He was later replaced by Brian Rolle who was flawless while covering their fullback down the field on the same wheel route.
Rolle's height is the only real concern for him going into the 2012 season. His speed fits right in with the defense and his hard-hitting style of football is a breath of fresh air in a otherwise soft defense, at least at linebacker.
Middle Linebacker: London Fletcher
Your guess is probably as good as mine. The Eagles could sign Curtis Lofton or Stephen Tulloch in free agency as well, but only if they are available, which isn't likely at this point. They could spend their first-round pick on Luke Kuechly but they would probably have to trade up a few spots to get him, and I believe the Eagles would like a veteran presence at middle linebacker next season.
London Fletcher makes the most sense for the Eagles this season. Adding a 37-year-old veteran who can mentor a young linebacking core while still being a huge factor against the run is exactly what the Eagles need.
Fletcher is a punishing tackler with good football instincts. He had at least seven solo tackles in nine games last season. The Eagles really just need a middle linebacker who can play the run very well. They will most likely keep linebackers Keenan Clayton and Casey Matthews in nickel packages. Overpaying for a middle linebacker who won't play in passing situations doesn't make a lot of sense when you are trying to re-sign both DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy to long-term deals.
The Redskins will most likely try to bring their defensive captain back this season but he won't take a hometown discount to play for a 5-11 team when he probably wants one more shot at winning a Super Bowl and going out on top.
Strong Side Linebacker: Jamar Chaney
Jamar Chaney was all set to be the strong side linebacker in 2011, but after Casey Matthews was deemed a failure at middle linebacker, Chaney was moved back to his original position.
2012 will be another shot for Chaney as an outside linebacker. He struggled in the open field and at shedding blocker at middle linebacker, and I believe defensive coordinator is already planning to move him back to the outside.
Chaney has the athleticism and the strength to make it as an outside linebacker, plus with a full offseason this year, he will get more time to get settled into the position as well.
The only real obstacle for Chaney as a strong side linebacker will be if the Eagles draft someone who can win the starting job right away. Keenan Robinson out of Texas is probably the most likely player to do that. It's unclear if the Eagles have any interest in drafting an a player at the position with Chaney, Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou all under contract.
Cornerback: Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
The Eagles were loaded at cornerback last season. Too loaded in fact. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was forced to play in the slot while the regular slot corner, Joselio Hanson was only used in dime packages.
This season will be a much easier one for both Hanson and Rodgers-Cromartie. They will go back to their regular positions this season, and we should see much better results.
Nnamdi Asomugha is an automatic starter opposite of Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside. Both players are Pro Bowl caliber players and they should both be back to that level of play this season.
Free Safety: Nate Allen
It was an up-and-down season for Nate Allen in 2011, but a season that ended mostly up. Allen was still recovering from knee surgery from December or 2010 and wasn't quite at 100 percent until later in the season.
Allen was benched early in the season but earned his spot back next to Kurt Coleman and started to show the potential the Eagles saw in him when they spent a second-round pick in 2010.
With new defensive backs coach Todd Bowles added to the staff, Allen improved even more and maybe even earn a spot on the Pro Bowl. If there is still a Pro Bowl that is.
Strong Safety: Kurt Coleman
Kurt Coleman had a very similar year to Nate Allen, minus the knee problems. Coleman lost his starting job when the Eagles placed him at free safety but eventually became the starter at strong safety, replacing Jarrad Page.
Coleman isn't as fast or as strong as you would like at safety, but he flies all around the football and has a knack for making plays.
Some experts believe the Eagles could be in the market for an upgrade at strong safety but I disagree. Coleman played well enough to keep his spot in 2012, especially late in the season.