Quarterbacks are breaking records. Running backs are looking for new contracts. Wide receivers are changing the dynamics of the game and forcing defenses to adjust accordingly.
In this article, we pay homage to those who do battle in the trenches and may often get overlooked when talking about stars.
Even with the infusion of young talent, Cullen Jenkins is still the most versatile player along the Eagles defensive line. He can penetrate the middle as a tackle or get to the quarterback as an edge-rusher.
Simply put: there’s nothing he can’t do.
Last season, he finished as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-most productive pass rushing defensive tackle and will again be a factor in stopping the run.
His presence is what allows Jim Washburn to mix and match his linemen so freely, and gives rookies like Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry a role model to learn from.
If Cullen Jenkins is the most versatile player on the defensive line, then Todd Herremans definitely deserves that distinction for the offensive group.
Herremans will start the season at right tackle and draw the assignment of protecting Michael Vick’s blindside. However, if any injuries were to occur up front, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get shuffled around.
The do-it-all player made a living at left guard before last year’s switch and has filled in for Jason Peters at left tackle as well.
His versatility and ability to play both outside spots make him an invaluable commodity for the Eagles and one of their most important players.
Andy Reid didn’t call upon Alex Henery during big-game situations as a rookie, but let’s not forget how important the kicking game really is. If Philadelphia wants any shot at a Super Bowl run, chances are they’re going to need him to make a clutch kick here or there.
Henery will be looking to build on a solid first season while easing fans from the memory of David Akers’ record-setting performance with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Eagles selected him in the fourth round last season believing that his leg strength and accuracy would help alleviate some of the pressures placed on Michael Vick and the offense.
Henery has already kicked off the preseason in good fashion, but the true test still lies ahead.
Two-tight-end sets are becoming more of a norm in today’s pass-happy NFL, and if you haven’t heard, the Eagles are looking to employ more this formation themself. This all begins with Brent Celek, who is an all-around talent and has taken tremendous strides as a blocker.
Celek is as sure-handed as they come, and commands the center of the field in order for DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to be playmaking threats on the outside.
Without his toughness and grit, the Eagles would lose their best red-zone target and another dynamic to their offense.
After two successful years under Jim Washburn’s tutelage, it’s safe to say that Jason Babin was made to play in his Wide-9 scheme.
In the earlier part of his career, Babin’s aggressiveness was something that often left him out of position or lost. However, Washburn has been able to garnish that aggression and turn it into quarterback sacks.
Now I’m not saying that Babin is the most complete player along the defensive line, but the pressure he generates is hard to replace and the timeliness of his sacks have saved Philadelphia an estimated 27 points.
If he were to miss any significant amount of time, you could take the Eagles out of talks for best defensive line immediately.
My sentiment towards Jason Babin can double for Trent Cole as well.
The combination of the two give Juan Castillo arguably the best set of defensive ends in the NFL, but make no mistake, Cole is far and beyond the more complete player. He has recorded double-digit sack numbers for the past three seasons and is a stout run-stopper as well.
His discipline and consistency are what allow teammates like Babin the freedom to solely focus on getting to the opposing team’s quarterback. And although Cole’s name doesn’t come up very often in discussions about elite defenders, Philadelphia would be quick to explain his value.
Aside from Michael Vick, there may not be another offensive player who is more closely watched than Demetress Bell.
Bell, of course, will be replacing All Pro left tackle Jason Peters for the entire season, and is the only new face on an offensive line returning four starters. If that isn’t enough reason for him to feel the pressure, you can bet that the lineup of pass-rushers he’s scheduled to face will.
DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck, Brian Orakpo, James Harrison, Cliff Avril, Jonathan Abraham, Will Smith, Charles Johnson and Geno Atkins are all scheduled to lock up against Bell at some point during the season. So if Bell can’t keep Vick safe and on his feet, expect there to be more than just eyes direct towards him.
This marks the second year in a row that Philadelphia will be featuring a rookie linebacker in their starting lineup. The only difference this time around is that Mychal Kendricks should be ready to handle that role.
The former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year put on a show at the NFL Combine and proved himself to be one of the most physically-gifted players at his position.
So far, the Eagles have been slowly introducing him to their coverage concepts—something an elite athlete like him has grasped with relative ease. If he continues to develop at a rapid pace, his potential and ability to become a difference maker could be something the Eagles enjoy for years to come.
Playing center in the NFL is no walk in the park.
With 350-pound behemoths towering over and ready to attack at the snap of the ball, it almost seems as if delivering the football to the quarterback wasn’t made to be easy.
Jason Kelce will still be subjected to these physical challenges as the focal point of the offensive line, but will also be taking on the responsibilities of making line calls as well in 2012. This means that Howard Mudd is trusting his second-year pro to identify any oncoming blitzes and relay his reads to Michael Vick so they can make appropriate adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
Kelce’s ability to make a quick and accurate pre-snap read will determine a whole lot for the Eagles offense this season, and just may be what keeps Vick from getting injured.
If the quarterback is the most important player on offense, then why should the defensive signal-caller be treated any differently?
DeMeco Ryans was acquired by Philadelphia to be the leader of a defense that lacked stability amongst their linebacking corps.
Not only will his presence provide the defense with some much-needed physicality, but also an intimidator in the middle.
Too many times last season, we saw missed tackles at the second level that would expose the secondary and lead to big gains. If Ryans can simply tackle the way he did in Houston, he should earn his way back into the Pro Bowl.