When you think of the Eagles defensive line, Trent Cole is the first name that comes to mind. He is the poster child for players described as having a non-stop motor. Unfortunately, for as much as they have tried, the Eagles haven’t been able to find a counterpart along the line that can team with Cole to form a 1-2 punch. As such, that leaves Cole punch drunk by season’s end. The Eagles have invested many high draft picks on the defensive front but haven’t yet netted a stud (Cole was a 5th round pick, ironically). We didn’t spend any draft picks on the DL this year so what do we have and what do we expect in 2011?
If we were playing word association and I said “Eagles defensive line”, what would be the 1st word that comes to your mind? And no, “sucks” should not be the word! For me, that word would be “injuries“. Last year, we had injuries to Graham, Bunkley, Sapp, Abiamiri, and Owens. We’ll be hoping all of these guys can recover to 100% and at least have a few of them make good contributions to the DL this year.
Victor Abiamiri – Talk about injuries, this guy just can’t catch a break. Since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2007 he’s had more injuries than sacks (seriously). The list includes a dislocated wrist, a lisfranc sprain, a pectoral muscle strain, a back strain, and a knee injury. The knee injury of course is the one that eventually caused him to need the dreaded microfracture surgery. Reggie Bush and Marques Colston had the same surgery and have made successful returns, hopefully Victor can too. However, his contract has actually expired and they did not tender him so his future with the team is a little murky.
Brodrick Bunkley – After we drafted him with the 14th overall pick in 2006, I thought he would team up with Mike Patterson to form a dynamic DT duo we could have called “Brod and Patterson” (like the streets Broad and Pattison). Unfortunately that hasn’t panned out. Bunkley sustained torn ligaments in his elbow last October and his play clearly suffered. He has been a solid player, particularly against the run, but he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations thus far. He is entering the final year of his contract which usually means it will be his last since the Eagles typically extend their young players before this stage of their contract. He needs a strong showing in 2011.
Brandon Graham – After being misused in the beginning of the season last year by putting him at DT on passing downs, the coaches finally started playing more at DE. He showed some flashes but was then went down for the year with a torn ACL and meniscus. Don’t look for him to be much of a factor in 2011 since his type of injury usually takes a full year to recover from. My guess is he’ll start the season on the PUP list which will open a roster spot for another player. We will have to wait until 2012 to see what we ultimately have in Graham.
Ricky Sapp – Last year’s 5th round pick, he was put on IR at the end of last August due to a knee injury and subsequently had arthroscopic knee surgery to “clean it out”. Initially the Eagles were projecting him as a SAM linebacker but that didn’t appear to work out. He will go into this season to compete at DE and was specifically mentioned by Reid as a player they were counting on in lieu of new draft picks. He’s not a certainty to make the roster though and will need a strong showing in training camp.
Jeff Owens – He was a 7th round pick in last years draft and spent most of the year on the practice squad. In December, Tampa Bay tried to sign him but the Eagles promptly promoted him to the 53 man roster. He was then injured a week later and went on IR. The fact that they made a move to keep him on the team shows that they think highly of him. However, he could be a numbers casualty barring any injuries to other DT’s.
Mike Patterson – The 2005 1st round pick got off to a good start in his career, evidenced by the 7 year contract extension he signed only a year later. He has since leveled off into mediocrity and some believe he could be on shaky ground. Like Bunkley, he seems to be a better run stuffer than pass rusher but will almost assuredly make the roster in 2011.
Daniel Te’o-Nesheim – The 3rd round pick from last year was basically non-existent in his rookie season. Like Sapp, he was mentioned by Reid as someone who they are counting on to fill the void of new pass rushers. Many were surprised when he was drafted, not only because he was another DE but because everyone felt that was too early to pick him. He’s a tenacious player who could be a huge beneficiary of Jim Washburn’s “wide 9” scheme. He will make the 53 man roster in 2011 but will need to show significant improvement if he wants to be an Eagle beyond next year.
Darryl Tapp – He was acquired in a trade with Seattle for Chris Clemons and a 4th round pick. Looks like Seattle got the better end of the deal as Clemons went on to have 11 sacks. However, Tapp played well in limited time last year as he recorded 3 sacks and 4 TFL’s. He looks to be a good rotation kind of player and plays the run and pass well. He will make the roster in 2011.
Juqua Parker – The guy that, no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to replace from the starting line up. He just keeps on chugging along and puts up decent stats in the process. Parker will be 33 in a few days and should be looking at a reserve role this season according injuries don’t force him to play more than he should. He’s also a guy the Eagles could possibly cut if they feel the youngsters are ready to step up. Te’o, Sapp, and Abiamiri will be his main competition for a roster spot. He’ll have to beat out one of them, unless Abiamiri can’t recover from his injury.
Jeremy Clark – He signed with the Eagles as a UDFA in 2007 but didn’t make the roster. He bounced around the league to several different teams and signed here again last year once Jeff Owens went on IR. He will not make the roster in 2011 unless all of the other Eagles D-linemen get taken out by asteroids in a scene similar to one from the movie Armageddon.
Trevor Laws – Our 2o08 2nd round pick has yet to establish himself. Although, he was in better shape in 2010 and showed improvement as he collected 4 sacks on the year. He, like Te’o, stands to be another huge beneficiary of Jim Washburn’s scheme. He will make the roster and I’m predicting big things from him this year. I feel he will “break out” under Washburn and establish himself as a reliable pass rusher that provides the pressure up the middle that we sorely need.
Phillip Hunt – The Eagles are trying to find their version of Cameron Wake, a CFL defensive end turned pro-bowler for Miami last season. He is undersized at 6′, 248 lbs but had 16 sacks last season for the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Cameron Wake stories are few and far between so Hunt is a longshot to make the roster. He will have to hope for injuries to others above him on the depth chart to have a chance.
Antonio Dixon – He’s our biggest interior lineman at 6′ 3″ 322 lbs and was a pleasant surprise last year. Discarded by Washington, the Eagles claimed him off waivers last September just before the start of the season. Hey, one team’s trash is another team’s treasure! His stats only show 2 sacks last season but you could see an immediate improvement in the defensive line when he was in there. Dixon is assured a roster spot and I look for him to make solid contributions next year. He and Laws, could be the future at DT (2012 and beyond).
Bobby McCray – The Eagles signed him at the end of the regular season last year to replace Derrick Burgess. Though he’s on the Eagles roster right now, he’ll have to hope he’s hanging out with Jeremy Clark when the asteroids strike.
Trent Cole – No explanation really needed as he is our best DL and one of the best in the league. While I love his energy, the Eagles play him so much that he just wears down at the end of the season and becomes a non-factor. I’m not quite as high on him as the folks at PFF are, who ranked him #4 on their top 101 players of 2010 list. However, he just needs to have someone on the other side who can take some of the pressure off of him. That and the coaches need limit the number of snaps he takes throughout the season to maximize his effectiveness.
That’s 15 defensive linemen on the current roster. The Eagles usually keep a total of 10 and break it down with 6 DE’s and 4 DT’s. The 4 DT’s are pretty much set with Bunkley, Patterson, Dixon, and Laws. I consider Cole and Graham as the only true “locks” at DE. Tapp is pretty close to being a lock as well. That leaves Parker, Sapp, Te’o, and Abiamiri as the 4 most likely candidates to fill 3 spots. Who will be the one to go?
But as I said earlier, Graham will probably start the season on the PUP list which could open the door for that fringe guy. And of course there are always injuries. There is also the possibility we sign a free agent but there aren’t many available who would be an upgrade. Reid and the Eagles are counting on a dramatic coaching and philosophy change to improve our overall defense and that improvement must start up front.