August 18 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Rich Hofmann
“Morning practice at Lehigh is over on the day before the Eagles are to be set free. With that reality in sight, everybody is pretty much all smiles, all day. Showered, dressed, cooled down, relaxed, it seems like the right time to approach defensive tackle Mike Patterson.
“No, I’m good,” he says, not even breaking stride as he heads toward the parking lot. Which is just about perfect, in its own way.
Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are the Eagles‘ starting defensive tackles. They share a position and they share anonymity. Nobody ever talks to them or about them, which seems to be their preference. They might be the least-discussed starting players on the team, and have been for several years. You really get the impression sometimes that they wish nobody would ever write their names, except on their paychecks.
Both drafted in the first round – Patterson late, Bunkley in the middle – the two have evolved into first- and second-down players. They do not get to play on the glory downs, when Sean McDermott (like Jim Johnson before him) does the mad-scientist thing along the defensive line, mixing and matching and sometimes trying to create a pass rush with four defensive ends and no tackles.
Patterson and Bunkley do not, as a consequence, bask in all that much glory.
“They’re steady,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid. He was walking off the practice field yesterday, in as good a mood as any of his players, having joined the handshake line of players along the barriers to thank the fans. He thought for a second before he came up with “steady.”
“There’s nothing glamorous about playing that position, and they understand that,” Reid said. “They just show up for work every day, every game, every practice and they play their hearts out.
“They’re kind of big hard-heads in there.”
Reid would go on to say that he thought that they were certainly above-average NFL players. The numbers, compiled by the Eagles, would say that the team’s run defense has been the fifth-best in the NFL since Patterson and Bunkley were paired as starters in 2007. Reid said they have both been Pro Bowl alternates, and that, “Their peers respect them for what they do.”
Bunkley is classically strong. Patterson is more of a determined grinder. People who watch football will tell you that one of the greatest measures of how a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense is doing is the play of the middle linebacker. Simply put, if Patterson and Bunkley can keep the guards out of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley’s lap – as they did in 2008, before Bradley’s knee injury, when he was beginning to emerge as a difference-making player – then Bradley can have a chance to make a difference again.
“Obviously, those guys are the main deal with the linebackers,” Bradley said. “If they don’t go, we don’t go. If we play well and have good games, it’s because they’re keeping linemen off of us, they’re shooting gaps, they’re creating pressure in the middle, they’re plugging holes.”
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