The defensive line is the deepest position on the Philadelphia Eagles and could prove to be one of the NFL’s best in 2012. They usually keep 10 DL on the final roster and the 10th and final spot could very well be a battle between DTs Cedric Thornton and Antonio Dixon.
First, here are all of the defensive lineman on the current roster:
Mike Patterson (NFI list)
That makes 15, not counting Mike Patterson. At this point, I’m going to assume Patterson will not be ready for the start of the season so he won’t be factored into the initial cuts.
However, if we also assume Patterson will, in fact, play at some point this season, there is definitely no way the Eagles keep more than 10 DL on the initial roster. That’s their normal number anyway and if they add Patterson at some point, it’s possible they carry 11 then.
So, who will the initial 10 players be? Nine are fairly easy to determine from the above list: Cole, Babin, Graham, Jenkins, Landri, Cox, Curry, Hunt and Tapp.
All throughout the May mini-camps and training camp, most of us have thought that Dixon would make the roster. Heck, after the draft in April, all you heard were Dixon and Cox jokes (“Romo had Dix’on Cox all in his face!”).
But what about now? Is Dixon still a lock for the roster? He has had a relatively quiet training camp with not much buzz surrounding him. If anything, he’s been struggling a little bit.
I attended camp on two occasions and didn’t see anything for myself that stood out about Dixon. Nor have I read any other reports out of training camp offering any real positive news about the fourth-year player either.
Dixon isn’t a flashy guy or a pass rusher; he’s a run-stuffing specialist so his kind of play isn’t as likely to stand out unless you either have the eye for that or have access to study his tape.
He is coming off a season in which he landed on injured reserve last October for a torn triceps and then had back surgery in the offseason as well.
With that said, he’s still running with the second-team defensive line so for now, he appears to be headed for a spot on the roster.
However, Cedric Thornton has been quietly making a lot of noise in training camp and in the first preseason game.
The Eagles signed Thornton as an undrafted free agent last season and ended up on the practice squad for the first 13 games. He was promoted to the active roster in December after Steve Smith was placed on injured reserve.
Jim Washburn loves both Dixon and Thornton and has raved about each of them this summer. As a matter of fact, here is what he had to say about each of them last month (courtesy of Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com):
“You talk about defensive tackle Cedric Thornton a lot. What do you like about him?”
Washburn: “He’s big, strong, tough. Just raw. Doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. But he wants to be a football player, and you think I’m just BS’ing you, but he’s just another great kid. That room’s just full of great people. I’m not just saying it. I’m not lying. I can’t lie.
That’s why they don’t want me to talk. But it’s the absolute truth. My wife went out to Del Frisco’s, big dinner, my wife’s the only female in there, she said this is the best bunch of kids I’ve ever been around.”
“What do you think about defensive tackle Antonio Dixon?”
Washburn: “A lot more after the spring. He’s a talent. I couldn’t tell [last year]. He was so heavy and out of shape. I couldn’t tell what he was. It was disgusting how out of shape he was. He had all these injuries and no off-season, but he looked so much different in the spring, I’m so excited about him. Got himself in shape and made a commitment.
I didn’t know what he had, but he got himself in shape. … He worked his butt off, and he’s down to maybe 330 from 360 or whatever it was. I said, ‘Wow, this guy has some quickness and he likes to play.’ He’s tough, and he has ability. I was pleasantly surprised.
“I’m excited about him. He’s a really good person, and he really wants to be a good player. I like him a lot and he’s going to help us.”
These are glowing comments about both men. However, I must point out that Washburn made these statements just two days after the veterans reported to training camp. Therefore, I’m sure he was filled with all kinds of optimism at that point in time.
Since then, Thornton has been the guy that has stood out more and seems more like a Washburn kind of player. I’d be curious to see if the always-candid Washburn would say the same things about both guys now.
Those same two days I attended camp and didn’t notice much about Dixon, I did notice Thornton. He was getting nice penetration into the backfield and getting some pressure on the QB.
This carried over into the first preseason game last week against Pittsburgh. He performed well in recording four tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss (including a nice one on third down) and multiple QB pressures.
Of course, this was against third and fourth stringers, but Thornton stood out the most out of any defensive tackle during the game.
At the least, Thornton is going to make the coaches decision extremely tough. Despite this being Dixon’s fourth season with the team, it’s only his second with Washburn and he didn’t play much last year before going out with an injury.
In other words, Dixon isn’t a “staple” on this defense and is certainly “cutable.”
Much will depend on how the Eagles play the roster numbers game. Some folks think Darryl Tapp is either a trade or cut candidate, which would leave room for both Thornton and Dixon to make the roster.
While that is certainly a possibility, I have liked what I’ve seen from Tapp so far during camp and the preseason. He’s extremely vocal, is productive and seems to fit in very well with the DL rotation.
So, assuming Tapp makes the team, the 10th defensive lineman will be either Dixon or Thornton.
Dixon might make it if Washburn feels he needs to at least have one “big guy” to clog the middle on occasion and serve as a primary run-stuffer.
Thornton might make it because he’s more of a pass-rusher and seems to be a better fit for Washburn’s primary scheme.
I could see them going either way on this, but right now, I think Thornton has the edge and will be the 10th man.