The defensive line rotation for the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles has a legitimate chance of being down-right scary. This is because the secondary line could be just as strong as the first unit.
Last season, the Eagles’ defensive line accounted for 46 of the team’s 50 sacks. 37 of the line’s 46 sacks were from the four starters: Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson.
Those four players are slated to be the starting line again in 2012. However, it’s the second unit that will see a few new faces this upcoming season. This is where we could see a surge in production as compared to the 2011 secondary unit of Darryl Tapp, Derek Landri, Trevor Laws and Juqua Parker.
For one, Laws and Parker are no longer with the team. Tapp could also get caught up in a numbers game for roster spots, which could lead to him getting released. Landri is the only sure-fire player who will be a part of the second unit.
In 2012, this is what our secondary DL unit should look like: LDE Brandon Graham, DT Derek Landri, DT Fletcher Cox and RDE Vinny Curry. Those guys should be the primary rotational players.
Of course, we’ll see players like Antonio Dixon and Phillip Hunt mixed in and possibly even Cedric Thornton. One thing is for sure, the defensive line is the deepest area on the team.
But the first two waves have the potential to be extremely formidable.
There are a few key things to consider here, though. One, is that Cox and Curry need to play as well as everyone thinks they will. They are, after all, just rookies. But, they are rookies that come into the league with excellent pedigrees and possess the type of talent that translates well to the NFL.
Consider their college production from the past two years:
Curry notched 23 total sacks, 40 tackles for a loss and nine forced fumbles. Cox notched 7.5 sacks, 20 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. That is excellent production from their respective positions!
They both played multiple positions along the defensive line in college and are capable of producing well from any of them, whether it’s from the inside or outside. Another thing they have in common is they make a lot of plays in the offensive backfield.
Making plays in the backfield are signs of penetration and being disruptive, which is exactly why they were drafted. Jim Washburn absolutely loves both players and it appears that they were hand-picked by him to play in his scheme.
The other key for the success of the second unit is Brandon Graham’s recovery from his injury. He’s determined to come back and show why the Eagles traded up in the first round of the 2010 draft to select him.
Before he was injured in his rookie season, Graham was somewhat mis-used by then defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. He spent a lot of time inside at defensive tackle in passing situations as McDermott tried to mimic the New York Giants’ approach.
However, it’s hard enough to make an impact in your rookie season at your natural position, let alone playing a different position and one that doesn’t usually put up great stats to begin with.
However, he did manage to get three sacks and was credited with 27 QB pressures as per Pro Football Focus. PFF also graded him out with a +8.7 overall in 2010.
Some Eagles fans have already called Graham a bust, but I completely disagree. He was played out of position in his rookie year and then his injury wiped out his second season. I’ll wait just a little longer before I proclaim him as the second-coming of Jerome McDougle.
However, 2012 is an important year for Graham. This is the year he needs to show what he can do. He’s been getting in shape, appears fully recovered from injury and is eager to get back on the field this season.
Graham should see the majority of his time at defensive end in Washburn’s pass-rush friendly scheme. Therefore, assuming he stays healthy, this will be the year we see what kind of player he’ll be.
And I, for one, am expecting big things from him.
Even if Graham doesn’t pan out as expected, the Eagles could simply slide Curry over the LDE and put in Phillip Hunt at RDE. In very limited playing time last season, Hunt produced two sacks and 15 QB pressures. A season of experience should do wonders for the former CFL standout.
Furthermore, the Eagles have options such as moving Cox out to defensive end and playing Antonio Dixon or Cedric Thornton at DT. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see a secondary line of Cox, Dixon/Thornton, Landri and Curry/Hunt.
The point is, the Eagles have options…and plenty of them.
Just imagine watching the first wave of Cole, Babin, Jenkins and Patterson followed by Graham, Landri, Cox and Curry. That could be a 1-2 punch with no drop-off in production and ability.
If people think the Giants’ defensive line rotation is the best in the NFL, just wait until we see what the 2012 Eagles can do.