We posted earlier our roster projections for the Eagles offense. Now we’ll look at the defense and special teams.
DEFENSIVE END (5)
Starters: Trent Cole, Jason Babin
Backups: Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt
Trent Cole will continue to be an elite yet under-rated player (ask him) on one side, and free agent acquisition Jason Babin along with veteran Juqua Parker should prove a nice tandem on the other. Darryl Tapp has looked good himself, earning a spot.
CFL import Phillip Hunt has shown flashes, and while he’s unproven and way undersized, the Eagles would have a problem stashing him on the practice squad as another team would likely snatch him up.
The only way second year player Daniel Te’o Nesheim makes the team is stubbornness from the front office. They likely do not want to part with a third round pick this early, but the guy just can’t play. Hopefully this will be the last wasted reach of a pick on a defensive player that doesn’t fit their scheme and/or who just isn’t any good. Maybe DT-N can get a job wherever Bryan Smith is working.
It’s important to note that last year’s first round pick Brandon Graham will start the year on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list. He won’t be eligible to return until Week 7 at the earliest. While he’s out, he won’t count against the 53-man roster. If Hunt isn’t producing, he will likely be the one to make way for Graham.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5)
Starters: Mike Patterson, Anotonio Dixon
Backups: Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Anthony Hargrove
Mike Patterson is a great story, beating the odds to return to the field after suffering a seizure caused by a nerve condition in his brain called AVM. While he’s not a dominant player, he’s a solid veteran presence and him lining up with his teammates should inspire everyone around him. Next to Patterson, Antonio Dixon gets the starting nod simply because he’s more of a run stopper.
The real star of the line should be free agent and recent Super Bowl champion Cullen Jenkins, who is the Eagles most talented and disruptive tackle. He provides the first pass rushing threat on the inside this team has seen in many years. Jenkins could end up being the most important signing of the Dream Team era.
Derek Landri was thought at first thought as nothing more than a camp body, brought in off the street only once guys started getting hurt, but he’s played his way onto the team.
Normally, the Eagles don’t carry five defensive tackles and go heavier at end, but free agent pickup Anthony Hargrove’s versatility gives them options. He has legit talent, and after working both inside and out, he can serve in the Darren Howard role. This team always values flexibility.
Trevor Laws has been hurt yet again, and even when he sees the field he doesn’t show much. They should finally give up on this wasted second round pick, a pick amazingly exercised two slots before DeSean Jackson. Sayonara.
Starters: Moise Fokou (WILL), Casey Matthews (MIKE), Jamar Chaney (SAM)
Backups: Brian Rolle, Akeem Jordan, Keenan Clayton
While the right side of the offensive line has been the biggest emergency area, this overall group of linebackers is by far the weakest area on the team. Last season Jamar Chaney showed serious potential in the middle, but now he’s playing a new position, one he may not have the physical size for as he tries to cover big tight ends. Moise Fokou makes zero plays and is much better suited in a backup role. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see third year linebacker Keenan Clayton see the field some if Fokou can’t show something. Clayton has experience as a safety and can cover, one area the Eagles linebackers have struggled in. He just doesn’t have the talent to compensate for his lack of size so he’ll likely never play regularly.
Rookie Casey Matthews has been shoved into a starter’s spot in the middle even though when he drafted it was assumed he was nothing more than the Eagles next high energy special teamer. Matthews has shown some ability, but he’s also shown he’s nowhere close to being ready to start at middle linebacker in the NFL. His learning curve needs to bend straight up starting now.
Another rookie, Brian Rolle, has been seeing time as a nickel backer, with Matthews coming off the field. He’s undersized but has great speed and instincts. He’s another guy better suited for special teams, but when considering what else the Eagles have he’s probably as good an option as anyone. Rashad Jeanty was signed as a veteran but he’s barely played and may not be healthy.
Lastly, veteran Akeem Jordan needs to be retained simply for depth and special teams play, and rookie Greg Lloyd could end up on the practice squad. It’s just hard to imagine that the Eagles haven’t brought in a veteran, especially considering the number of guys out there who have been willing to sign one year deals in the aftermath of the lockout. As teams start making cuts, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the Eagles add somebody last minute.
Starters: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel
Backups: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Trevard Lindley, Curtis Marsh
Probably the most rock solid unit on the team, a definite plus over last year’s debacle. Nnamdi Asomugha is the darling free agent signing and is one of the best players in the NFL, position-wise or otherwise. Asante Samuel is still a playmaker and shouldn’t be traded. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has elite speed and skills and should technically be considered a starter. It will be fun to watch these guys line up and make plays all over the field.
Behind them, the Eagles should retain third year player Trevard Lindley and rookie Curtis Marsh. They could also hold on to journeyman Brandon Hughes, who has looked solid, but with them likely keeping four safeties it again comes down to a numbers game.
Lastly, look for the Eagles to see what they can get in trade for Joselio Hanson. Andy Reid likes to take care of his players and the veteran nickel corner deserves a shot somewhere else. Plus, there’s no way they pay Hanson what he’s making to at best be a dime back.
Starters: Kurt Coleman, Jarrad Page
Backups: Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett
Kurt Coleman has played himself from seventh round pick to a very solid starter. He’s always making tackles and is constantly looking to lay the wood. A classic overachiever who is fun to watch. Nate Allen should be starting next to him but a ruptured patellar tendon that ended his season last year is still lingering this year. Still, Allen’s not going anywhere. In his place, free agent pickup Jarrad Page has played fine and will help provide some veteran experience to the group.
Rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett has definitely shown ability but like all rookies has really seen his development compromised by the NFL lockout. He won’t start but he looks like a keeper.
Special teams ace Colt Anderson is yet another victim of the NFL’s lame new kickoff rule. He’s just not worth keeping around over the guys they have at the position.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker: Alex Henery
Punter: Chas Henry
Long snapper: Jon Dorenbos
Rookies Alex Henery and Chas Henry have looked good enough this preseason to stick around. The Eagles didn’t use a fourth round pick on a kicker, plus let go of long-time veteran and fan favorite David Akers, just to cut him. With Henery’s skills coming out of school he could potentially become a fairly high level kicker in the league. He obviously has the leg, he just needs to show he has the guts.
Henry is a punter. Yeah, if he can’t hack it the Eagles can sign one of the many punters that will be on the street who are capable to doing the job. Magic man Jon Dorenbos gives them a steady snapper and solid special team tackler.
So that’s 25 defensive players and three special teamers, and when added to the 25 offensive guys, we get to the league-mandated 53.
These projections will obviously be a little off but it gives a good idea where the team stands talent-wise. Expect some more additions and subtractions as 1,000+ players from around the around the league are let go and start a last minute meat market. Hopefully the Eagles can solidify the offensive line and the linebackers group with some solid veterans.
If Michael Vick can prove he’s not the guy the league seemed to figure out at the end of last season and the rest of the team stays or gets healthy, the Eagles will have no excuse for not making the Super Bowl.
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