August 20 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Les Bowen
“WE DIDN’T SEE nearly enough of the Eagles’ first-team defense in last week’s preseason opener against Jacksonville, just a pair of three-and-outs, then the starters were out. That’s something that ought to be less of a problem tonight when the Birds visit Cincinnati. Eagles coach Andy Reid indicated the starters on defense will play the first half, along with Kevin Kolb and the starting offense.
I’m especially keen on this idea, because I came out of Lehigh with the growing suspicion that this defense might be pretty good, certainly better than last year’s version. Saying that runs the risk of ensuring that Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will run roughshod tonight, of course, but if Asante Samuel is healthy and the Bengals take as cautious an approach to preseason gameplanning as the Birds do, they really shouldn’t.
The defense was ahead of the offense quite a bit at Lehigh. This engendered some media concern about the offensive line, perhaps warranted, but I thought most days, it was more the hunger of the defense, the intensity the young guys brought to every contact period, that gave the D the upper hand. They had more to prove in those early weeks, and they knew it.
Stewart Bradley has made a huge difference in the middle, as advertised – not only making plays himself but seemingly giving other players confidence around him. The new weakside linebacker, Ernie Sims, has pass-coverage wheels we haven’t seen on an Eagles linebacker in quite a while. I was not a fan of his habit of blasting unsuspecting, defenseless teammates, but nobody on the team seemed to object; maybe that’s one reason, other than a complete lack of athletic talent, why I could never have been a pro football player. I look at a guy who drills fellow Eagles in practice and think “what a bleep.” His coaches and teammates, I sense, think the same thing, but in an admiring sort of way. Certainly, Sims brings an edge. That edge can cut the wrong way, if Sims piles up penalties; we’ll see how it all works out.
The defensive line is still smaller than you’d like, though the work Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon have done in the offseason might help provide a better interior push. That’s a little pie in the sky, of course, every team has guys who look like they’re ready to step up in August, but hey, figuring this stuff out is what the preseason is for.
Reid was asked at Lehigh what he finds exciting about his d-line. He said it was that he thinks he has “potentially 10 guys there that I just think have great motors, and seem to love to play the game.”
The Eagles probably won’t take away Juqua Parker’s starting defensive-end job opposite Trent Cole, because Parker is a faithful warrior who still plays very well in limited snaps, and there’s no reason why Brandon Graham can’t be just as effective coming off the bench. Graham still has a lot to learn, but he has the motor and the leadership chops to be a memorable Eagle.”
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