Roster battles on Eagles defensive line

Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach Jim WashburnJim Washburn is not a magician.

He cannot wave his wand and turn just any defensive lineman into a Pro Bowler.

But he can work with guys built to play in his system and get the most out of them, even if they struggle to succeed elsewhere. See Jason Babin if you want an example.

Washburn needs talent. And he’s got it this year, as the Eagles defensive line returns most of the key parts from a unit that was responsible for 46 of the team’s league-high 50 sacks last season.

“I’m excited. I got good players,” Washburn said. “I’ll tell you what, I’ve said it before, this ain’t no company line, but the Eagles get you players. I’ve been other places where if you lost a player, you were dead in the water.”

Barring injury, when the Eagles trim their roster down to 53, they will be forced to cut ties with a couple players who will likely contribute elsewhere.

Here’s a look at where things stand right now on the defensive line.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

It’s unclear when Mike Patterson will return, but right now, he’s not participating in camp. Assuming he’s on the 53-man roster, the locks are Patterson, Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox.

That likely leaves two spots for Derek Landri, Antonio Dixon and Cedric Thornton. Right now, Landri is playing with the first unit. He signed a one-year deal with the Birds after thriving under Washburn last year. Landri didn’t join the team until the fifth game of the season, yet he still led the Eagles with eight tackles for loss to go along with two sacks and 18 hurries.

Dixon was tremendous against the run in 2010, but suffered a season-ending injury during the fourth game of the 2011 season. Thornton, meanwhile, was signed last year as an undrafted free agent. He spent most of the season on the practice squad, and while he was active for the final three games, did not play.

If Patterson’s healthy, Landri, Dixon and Thornton are likely fighting for two spots. But remember, one of them won’t be active on gameday. There’s a chance all three could be with the team in some capacity if the Eagles sneak Thornton back on the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE END

Here are my locks to make the roster: Jason Babin (assuming he’s healthy), Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.

That leaves Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt likely fighting for one final spot. And keep in mind, it’ll be an important spot. Because while Curry will certainly make the roster, he’s no lock to be active on gamedays.

Tapp battled injuries last year, but was effective as a rotational player. He also is a better run defender than Babin or Hunt, having finished tied for second on the team last year with seven tackles for loss. Washburn said last week he probably should have played Tapp more in 2011.

Hunt, meanwhile, showed flashes of pass-rushing ability in nine games.

Of course, these things sometimes work themselves out. The defensive linemen still have to avoid injuries the rest of training camp and in the preseason before the coaches have to make their decisions.

But if everyone’s healthy, Washburn, Juan Castillo and Andy Reid will be forced to make some tough decisions when they cut the roster down to 53.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

  • whiskeybill

    I like Tapp. Not as a starter obviously but he always makes plays when he gets in the rotation. I sorta get the feeling though that he is not gonna make this team. Any idea what we could get in return for him in a trade? Or do you think we just cut him. Also, in hindsight it looks like we got the short end of the stick trading Chris Clemons and a 4th round pick for Tapp.

  • aub32

    Is Thorton #72 because if so he has been destroying people in one on one drills from what I’ve seen on PE.com

  • Run Eagles Run

    Whether its in Philly, or somewhere else, Phil Hunt is going to do damage this year. The guy just makes shit happen. I see the same things I saw in Babin his first time with the Eagles. Babin just caused chaos when he was on the feild, got to the QB. Hunt does the same thing. You CAN learn something from preseason. Watch Hunt this summer. he is an animal.

  • ICDogg

    The big guys usually take a little longer to get going in camp, so let’s not jump to any early conclusions