Philadelphia Eagles Position Review: Defensive Line
The Philadelphia Eagles defensive line from last season and this season will be night and day. The Eagles have added several new players along with an entirely new scheme and attitude.
The new attitude is being brought to Philly from Tennessee by coaching legend Jim Washburn. Washburn's mentality can be summed by simply by "$acks."
Washburn doesn't use his linemen to cover gaps and try and read the play before attacking like the previous regime. This year's defensive line will just attack like a lion chasing its prey.
Washburn also likes to line his ends wide of the tackles to give them a better angle at the quarterback.
To fully demonstrate this new scheme, the Eagles have added both Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, who both had a combined 19.5 sacks last season. The new players and scheme should fit in nicely with a slew of already talented veterans capable of getting after the quarterback and wreaking havoc in the backfield.
Trent Cole racked up 10 sacks last season and 12.5 in 2009 despite not always having a ton of help from his linemates.
Playing in a more attacking-line scheme with better support and more rotations should all equal even better numbers for Cole. Cole is already a lock to start, probably opposite of Jason Babin.
Mike Patterson appeared to be the only lock to be a starting defensive tackle in 2011. He has the most proven tack record, and no other tackle had looked as sharp as Patt.
But a seizure during practice that may have been caused by a brain condition known as AVM—which can alter blood flow in the brain—has put his season and career in serious jeopardy.
Patterson's health is the No. 1 concern for him right now. I doubt Patterson will be able to fully comeback this season, but with his attitude and work ethic, anything is possible. Get well Mike.
Antonio Dixon is the guy that made Brodrick Bunkley expendable.
After Bunkley was injured last season, Dixon took over next to Patterson on the line and never gave up that spot in 2010. Now headed into 2011, Dixon is fighting for his job.
Dixon has struggled a bit in training camp, jumping at several hard counts. Struggling in practice and camp is one thing; doing it consistently in games is another.
If Dixon can hold his own in preseason, he should save his job and start alongside Cullen Jenkins come Week 1.
Hard to imagine that Cullen Jenkins is someone's (Kris Jenkins) little brother. Jenkins was a free agent acquisition from the Green Bay Packers, where he spent the past two seasons playing end in the 3-4. This season, he will play defensive tackle in the 4-3.
He will be able to stuff the run and get after the pass, which he proved he can do last season with his seven sacks. Jenkins is making the transition back to the 4-3, which looks way too easy in camp.
He will be a starter, and with plenty of support from other talented linemen, should have himself another solid year.
Jason Babin has only had one season with more than five sacks. Lucky for the Eagles, that was last season, where he was coached up by new Eagles line coach Jim Washburn.
Babin had 12.5 sacks last season in Tennessee. This season, his numbers may drop a little, but that's because he will have plenty of competition on his own team trying to sack the quarterback.
He is back in his natural position after several teams in the past tried to make him into a 3-4 edge rusher. Babin is good for one thing—sacking the quarterback—and that's exactly what the Eagles expect from him.
Darryl Tapp is trying to do what he couldn't in Seattle: find his place on the defensive line. Tapp won't be a starter in Philly, but should be an excellent role player anyways. Think of Tapp as the Jason Terry of defensive ends.
Coach Washburn likes to rotate his defensive linemen a lot. He wants everyone to go all out to get in the backfield and either get after the quarterback or the ball carrier.
You wouldn't ask a marathon runner to sprint for 26.2 miles, so you can't ask your linemen to go all out every play and expect the same results for four quarters.
Tapp won't be a starter, but he will see plenty of action at defensive end, especially on obvious passing downs.
Brandon Graham is the reason the Eagles had to sign Jason Babin. Not because he can't cut it as a starting defensive end, but because he tore his ACL so late in 2010.
Graham is still recovering from multiple offseason surgeries and may not be ready to play right away.
I expect Graham to be put on the PUP list during the start of the regular season and would be eligible to come off the list after the Eagles' first six games. The Eagles would have three weeks to get him on the practice field after that; otherwise, he would remain on the PUP list and miss the entire 2011 season.
Having Graham inactive for the first six games is the ideal move. His knee should be good to go after that and could be used as another nice rotation player for the line.
Phillip Hunt was signed out of the CFL, where he spent the last two seasons. Hunt is a bit undersized for a defensive end at 248 pounds, but he fits in with Washburn's wide nine-technique very well.
When he lines up wide of the tackle, his speed makes him very difficult at times to even get hand on him. His overall technique needs work, but he appears to be a nice nickel package defensive end that the Eagles can plug in during obvious passing plays.
He has been abusing backup offensive tackles throughout training camp. He is definitely a player to watch during preseason. He could earn an very important role on the defense or possibly not even make the it through final roster cuts.
If you don't like the term "high motor guy," then you will have a tough time describing Daniel Te'o-Nesheim's game. He isn't the faster of the biggest defensive end out there, but he has a knack for getting after the quarterback.
Te'o-Nesheim had a rough rookie season in 2010, only playing in six games while picking up two total tackles and one sack. Washburn has been very demanding of him in camp, and he appears to be improving.
With Graham on the PUP, Te'o-Nesheim has an excellent opportunity to get a lot of reps, but will have to earn every snap he gets after a disappointing 2010 season.
Don't expect the Eagles to cut him one year removed from taking him in the third round, but with all the competition and high expectations at camp, nothing is a given.
Juqua Parker is an interesting case in Philadelphia. He is listed ahead of Jason Babin on the team depth chart. He is also slated to make about $4.3 million in 2011 on a team that still needs to sign DeSean Jackson very soon.
Parker proved last year that he can still be an effective defensive end, but also that he wears down during the season.
Playing in a system that will rotate defensive ends will greatly benefit him, but I don't expect him to remain an Eagles unless someone else gets hurt. He makes too much money at this juncture in his career.
Trevor Laws is seriously threatening for a starting job on the Eagles line. He is a natural pass-rusher and a perfect fit in Washburn's scheme. If he continues to get better during preseason, he may force Dixon back on the bench.
Laws may be a better fit being rotated in obvious pass-rushing situations. Laws was a disappointment during his first two seasons, making just 27 total tackles and zero sacks. In 2010, he had 15 solo tackles and four sacks despite being fourth on the depth chart.
A more fitting scheme and continued growth should lead to another career year for Laws. With Laws, Tapp and Babin being on the second unit during the first week of preseason, look for them to wreak havoc against the Ravens backup offensive line.