Despite training camp having just wrapped its second day today, we’re just getting around to putting together our fourth and final preview of the Birds leading into camp and the season. Let’s just say that real life and the damn day job is keeping us a bit too busy.
Looking back to 2004, the Eagles had one hell of a defense, one that could be ranked right up there with Gang Green. They were a group of guys that shut down the run and pass equally, and in part, got the team to only its second ever Super Bowl.
That was a long time ago, and since then the defense has fallen on hard times. Between the departure of stars like Brian Dawkins, and the injuries to promising young talent like Stewart Bradley, the D was a huge problem for the team. Acknowledging this fact, the Birds used 9 of their 13 draft picks on the defense.
Their #1 pick (13th overall) was Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham, who was nabbed after the braintrust traded up 11 spots. Although undersized, his work effort and skill have been praised. He’s a speedy pass-rusher that some national experts say could nab the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He earned second-team All-America honors as a senior in 2009 after finishing his collegiate career ranked second on Michigan’s all-time sack list with 29.5.
While the rookie remains unsigned, and there’s no word on when he’ll put pen to paper, this does not appear to be a holdout situation.
The defensive line we can expect to see on the field this year includes the ever-dependable Trent Cole. He’s incredibly good at right end, pulling down 12.5 sacks last year, but still criminally underrated league wide. I just can’t get over the lack of ink this guy gets because he’s very good.
On the left end, vet Juqua Parker expects to slot in (splitting time with Graham), while Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley will represent the team’s tackles. Chris Clemons is off to Seattle, and taking his place is Darryl Tapp. Third round pick Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is expected to fit in as a pass rusher on third down, a key for the team going into this season.
Keep an eye on Trevor Laws, a wildcard that could give the line some much needed breathing room. He came to the team in the second round of the ’08 draft, and while he’s never panned out like he should have, it looks like he may be starting to put it together.
The linebacker class is led by Stewart Bradley in the middle, and by all indications, it seems that he is ready to return to his 2008 form after a season-ending injury during last year’s Flight Night. This is a guy that can play all three downs, blocking and blitzing with the best of them. If he’s 100%, he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player that can make a hand in truly making this a great defense. If he goes down again, the Birds could be royally screwed if they don’t find a suitable replacement.
Also in the mix is former first rounder Ernie Sims who came over from Detroit. He’s a speedy guy who fits the system well, and most importantly, he isn’t afraid to tackle hard.
With Sims at weakside, we’ll likely see Moises Fokou at strongside, although I’m not totally convinced that he’ll win the starting job out of training camp. His game is still rough, and a guy like Akeem Jordan gives him a run for his money.
Other names that could round out the bench include Omar Gaither (best in the middle), Joe Mays, Alex Hall, and draft picks Keenan Clayton and Jamar Chaney. Chaney seems to be making a good impression, both for his work ethic and his tackling prowess. Don’t be shocked if this guy’s on the team when camp breaks.
When it comes to the secondary, the Eagles saw just how much they missed Brian Dawkins last year. When Weapon X left for Denver after getting a much better offer from the Broncos, the Eagles should have had a good plan to replace him. They didn’t.
While 2009 saw a revolving door at free safety with names like Macho Harris, Sean Jones, and Quintin Demps not quite making it, it appears that it’s just signed second round draft pick Nate Allen’s job to lose. While it’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie, he does have the skills to get it done. Plus it’s not like the team has other options outside of Quintin Demps, who lost the starting job last year.
Strong safety will be held down by the excellent Quintin Mikell, a Pro Bowl alternate last year. The bench could be occupied by names like seventh round draft pick Kurt Coleman, Ryan Hamilton, or Brett Johnson
Pro Bowler cornerback Asante Samuel looks like he’ll continue stealing balls from opposing QBs, but the man needs to learn to tackle guys every now and then. He may be a force on the field, but his knack for running from tackles is detrimental to the entire team.
The dropoff from Samuel is quick, but there is talent to be seen in guys like Ellis Hobbs and Macho Harris. A fight for right cornerback could light the fire under one of these guys, and if anyone gets it, it will be the former. I just don’t have a lot of faith in the second-year Harris who remains raw and a bit lost of the field.
Also in the CB mix are Dimitri Patterson, Geoff Pope, Joselio Hanson, and rookie Trevard Lindley.
This is not the Eagles defense of old, but it is much better on paper than last year. Barring injury we’ll see a unit that is moving in a positive direction. While it’s still a long way from 2004, they’re better than the unit that walked off the field in Dallas this past January.