“You know how I feel about that. If I can keep them all, I will,” said Reid. “As many as you can keep. I think that’s an important position. Put a lot of responsibility on them. We’ll have to see how the numbers turn out, but I don’t like giving up good defensive linemen.”
The Eagles need to get their roster number from 90 to 53 by August 31. There are currently 11 defensive linemen that have done enough to earn a roster spot (and that’s assuming Mike Patterson starts the season on PUP). For a refresher, they are: Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton and Antonio Dixon. That’s over 20 percent of the roster.
It’s a particularly tricky situation at defensive end, where you have six legitimate contenders to go with Jenkins, who has been working with the first team at left end while Babin continues to work back from a calf injury.
“I’m used to playing D-tackle,” said Jenkins. “End is something I need more learning reps at. So they’re just trying to work me in, get me more learning reps.”
Those reps are affecting the current rotation. On Friday against the Browns, Jenkins played opposite Cole with the first team, followed by the pairing of Hunt and Tapp. Hunt had a half-sack and two quarterback hits, and continues to show explosiveness off the ball. Tapp was a menace himself. He blew up a running play with six minutes left in the opening quarter and forced a Montario Hardesty fumble, which he recovered.
Graham got no snaps with the first unit but certainly made his presence felt when he got the call. The former first-round pick was credited with 1.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss and a pair of quarterback hits. He and Hunt combined for a simultaneous blast on Colt McCoy at the end of the first half, dropping the QB for a 10-yard loss. Even though they are pitted against one another in a sense, Graham seemed to thoroughly enjoy teaming up with Hunt for the takedown.
“That sandwich is better,” said Graham. “We talked about it just before the play. We said, ‘Man, I’ll meet you at the quarterback,’ and we actually did.”
Graham said the coaching staff may simply be getting Jenkins ready to play defensive end in short-yardage situations, but acknowledged that he is fueled by the competition.
“I don’t know what coach is going to do, but I know that I’m going to show them that I can get in there too,” said Graham. “It motivates me a lot. That’s why every time I get plays I go as hard as I can and let them know, to build that trust. I haven’t been playing so I understand the trust might not be there because I haven’t been in the game and he don’t know what I can do, but I took this preseason to gain the confidence of Coach Wash.”
The idea of Tapp being moved in a trade has been thrown around. He is set to earn around $2.6 million this season and is a free agent next year. Graham, who signed a five-year, $22 million contract in 2010, is making a base of around $1 million.
Would they deal one of their ends to gain strength in another spot? There’s an argument for holding on – and tightly – to all of them.
“Depth is something you want at defensive line, especially in this system,” said Jenkins. “You want to have guys you can rotate in and out and have fresh guys on the field. That’s something that you expect to have, that you need to have.”