Still Goin' (Two) Deep: A Look at the Philadelphia Eagles' Defense
In part one of this series, we looked at the Eagles’ offensive depth chart.
Now, we’re going two-deep on a defense that got a new assistant in Dick Jauron and a near-total overhaul—with 18 new faces and at least three new starters among the 38 guys in camp vying for jobs.
With a new attitude and a new look, how will Philly’s vaunted defense shake out?
Current Two-Deep: Trent Cole (RDE), Juqua Parker (LDE), Darryl Tapp/Brandon Graham (3/4)
Also in the Mix: Victor Abiamiri, Eric Moncur, Ricky Sapp, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim
The Skinny: This is a group that has changed quite a bit from the one that left the field in Dallas four months ago. Gone are Chris Clemons (traded), Darren Howard (released), and Jason Babin (free agent), with trade acquisition Darryl Tapp and three draft picks in their place.
But one thing hasn’t changed: Cole is the starter on the right end.
Who will bookend him, however, is up in the air.
Parker is the de facto starter, and he is a good run-stuffing end. Tapp and Graham are better pure rushers, so they’re more likely to see action on second and third downs, but could work their way up to the “first team” depending on scenarios.
2010 draftees Sapp and Te’o-Nesheim will also likely see time a la Clemons and Babin, but have no real chance of starting.
The wild card is Abiamiri, who had “double-secret” microfracture knee surgery this off-season; no one knew until after the draft, when it became public knowledge as Andy Reid’s explanation for selecting three speed-rush ends.
He will likely end up on IR, and the injury may derail his career (see also: Tracy McGrady) for awhile—but if by some token he does come back this year, he’s likely to be the top choice to slide inside as a third-down rush tackle (a spot Howard often filled in 2009).
Moncur, meanwhile, is nothing but off-season depth.
Projection: It’s a heavy rotation, but if Parker’s on the roster, he’s the guy you see on the starters’ chyron more often than not. Beyond that, it's all matchups.
Current Two-Deep: Mike Patterson (LDT), Broderick Bunkley (RDT), Antonio Dixon (3)
Also in the Mix: Trevor Laws, Jeff Owens, several defensive ends.
This is pretty easy: Patterson and Bunkley start, and no one will challenge them.
Beyond that, Dixon will be the third tackle due to his rush prowess and special teams ability, and he’ll be in there if and when the Eagles don’t move an end inside on passing downs.
That leaves Laws and Owens to battle it out for the final spot, and both offer similar attributes, so it will come down to whoever has the better camp.
Projection: Bunkley and Patterson are in no danger of losing their jobs, although it won’t take much for Laws to be unemployed come September.
Current Two-Deep: Moise Fokou (S), Alex Hall (2)
Also in the Mix: Jamar Chaney
The Skinny: Fokou, who took over for Chris Gocong last December, is the incumbent starter…but that by no means indicates he’ll stay there.
A seventh-round pick last year, Fokou showed some moments of brilliance but also showed a lack of discipline at times.
But with Gocong gone to Cleveland, his competition comes in the form of two guys making positional switches.
Hall, who came to Philly in the Gocong trade, is more of a pure pass rusher who played the weak side of the 3-4 in Cleveland, while Chaney was both a WILL and a SAM at Mississippi State.
Both are interesting projects, but neither is a true SAM—although Chaney’s speed could give him the edge on passing downs.
Projection: It’s really Fokou’s job to lose, although Chaney is an interesting backup/special teams option.
Honestly, considering they drafted a handful of down ends to help the pass rush, I’m not sure if Hall makes this team unless they need an inside rush linebacker in the middle on nickel plays.
Current Two-Deep: Stewart Bradley (S), Omar Gaither (2)
Also in the Mix: Chaney, Akeem Jordan, Joe Mays
The Skinny: Much like SAM, this is Bradley’s to lose.
Bradley, if he’s 100 percent healthy, would likely reclaim his spot at the MIKE anyway. But with Omar Gaither still a bit gimpy due to a Lisfranc foot sprain, he’s a certainty.
Jordan took snaps at the MIKE last year in an effort to increase his versatility, and could do so again if needed. Chaney could also factor in thanks to his experience there (especially in the nickel), while Joe Mays seems to have fallen out of favor and will likely be released before the season begins.
Projection: Gaither’s injury status could open up a spot for either Chaney, Hall or whoever loses the backup WILL battle for the time being, but otherwise this is pretty solid…until Reid pulls his inevitable bizarre linebacker switch somewhere around Week 12.
Current Two-Deep: Ernie Sims (S), Akeem Jordan (2)
Also in the Mix: Keenan Clayton
The Skinny: Sims would seem to be the projected starter and is listed at the top of the depth chart, but Jordan will give him a run for his money.
The “incumbent” at WILL, Jordan has started 16 games there and in the middle over the last two seasons and compiled some impressive tackle totals.
But Sims has started on the weak side in Detroit for four years, notching 100-plus tackles each season from 2006-08. He was hurt a bit and struggled last year, but has proven to be a playmaker on a bad defense and should flourish in Philly.
It will be an interesting battle, one that comes down, in essence, to experience vs. talent.
Clayton, meanwhile, is a long shot to make the team, at least as a linebacker; he’s a good player and covers well in space, but might need to switch to safety to be effective at the pro level.
His special teams ability will likely determine whether or not he finds a place a la Tracy White.
Projection: Sims starts with Jordan and Gaither splitting time backing him and Bradley up and/or playing the nickel.
Current Two-Deep: Asante Samuel (LCB), Ellis Hobbs (RCB), Joselio Hanson (NICK), Macho Harris (4)
Also in the Mix: Trevard Lindley, Josh Morris, Dimitri Patterson, David Pender, Geoff Pope, Devin Ross
The Skinny: Samuel is set at one side, but the right side could be just about anyone.
Hobbs is there by default, and he has experience—he and Samuel were the Pats’ starting duo in their last Super Bowl run. But he’s coming off a neck injury, so he may not be 100 percent come September.
Hanson is the nickel guy and is great at it, but isn’t quite…well, for lack of a better word, “good” enough to start on the outside consistently. Beyond him, you have Harris (who played safety last year), Patterson (mostly used as a gunner), Pope (did he see the field?), and four rookies.
Of those rookies, the most intriguing are Lindley and Ross.
The former was a fourth-round pick despite having injury issues and only average straight line speed, but the Birds must’ve seen something in him to take him at No. 105.
Ross, meanwhile, is physical and aggressive, can return kicks, and has drawn comparisons to Sheldon Brown.
Morris has the tools but doesn’t seem to know how to use them, while Pender is fast but has poor hands and isn’t physical.
It will be interesting to watch the battles for starting RCB and fourth CB, as some surprises could arise.
Projection: I think Hobbs will end up starting, as he has the experience alongside Samuel and Hanson just fits into the nickel spot better.
However, I think the surprise is that the Birds will keep six CB, and the three “backups” will be Harris, Ross and Pope.
Harris will be there as the kick returner, de facto fourth safety, and guy who fills in at nickel back if Hanson has to be elevated.
Ross, meanwhile, will take Patterson’s spot as a gunner and also learn a bit at CB, while Pope will be the steady straight-up backup.
Lindley just has too many concerns, and Patterson really isn’t a great corner, which the Birds will need if they keep Macho and the raw Ross on the roster.
Current Two-Deep: Quintin Mikell (SS), Nate Allen (FS), Marlin Jackson (3)
Also in the Mix: Kurt Coleman, Quintin Demps, Harris
The Skinny: Mikell is entrenched at strong safety.
The other side, though, is open season.
Allen is the “starter” right now at free safety, as he was drafted with the intention of becoming the No. 1 FS. But Harris started there last year, Demps has played there and Jackson is a versatile DB who might not be able to be a full-time corner anymore.
Then there’s Coleman, who despite a seventh-round pick has a great shot to make the squad.
It’s going to be an open five-way competition, although Harris is most likely to shift back to corner.
Projection: The two-deep stays as is, and since the Birds will likely carry nine in the secondary so they can keep six ends, Harris’ situation will determine whether or not a fourth “true” safety stays on.
I don’t think this will happen, but if Macho stays as a full-time CB and they do keep a fourth, it’s likely to be Coleman. They don’t really need Demps to return kicks anymore, and he hasn’t learned as quickly as anyone would like.
Coleman is a bit small, but he’s a good fit in the nickel, can contribute on
special teams and is a great intangibles guy.
Current Two-Deep: David Akers (K), Sav Rocca (P), Jon Dorenbos (LS)
Also in the mix: P Durant Brooks, P Ken Parrish
The Skinny: The battle here is at punter.
Dorenbos is one of the best long snappers in the league, and with Akers coming off a career season, Andy Reid looks like he’ll pass on bringing in any training camp competition for the second straight year.
Rocca, however, isn’t so lucky.
Despite setting the franchise record for net punting average in back-to-back years, the 36-year-old former Aussie Rules star shanks more than his share, so he could be in trouble.
While Rocca was “holding out” on signing his RFA tender, Brooks was at the NovaCare Complex daily working on his game.
Brooks, who has NFL experience with Washington, is a favorite of new special teams coordinator Bobby April and punted well in six games as a Redskin in 2008.
There’s also Parrish, who spent last pre-season in Eagles camp and can also kick in a pinch as well.
He’s not expected to be much more than extra competition to push Rocca or Brooks in case the other falters, but stranger things have happened.
Projection: The Eagles have a new specialist for the first time since cutting Dirk Johnson.
Rocca has been good, but his age, stigma, and contract status might finally catch up to him if Brooks has a good pre-season.
With a nagging hip injury under control, Brooks could become the incumbent if he even matches Sav’s production this summer.
Remember, Dirk Johnson was both popular and productive when he was cut
in 2007, so it’s not a lock for Rocca.