Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Defensive Line

This is the fifth in a series. Throughout the next week or two, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Eagles’ roster. What you’ve missed so far:

Take a look at the defensive linemen who took the field for the Eagles in Week 1 of the 2012 season: Jason Babin, Cullen JenkinsTrent Cole, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Cedric Thornton, Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham.

Of that group, three (Babin, Jenkins, Landri) are gone, along with Mike Patterson. Three are expected to make the switch to outside linebacker (Cole, Hunt and Graham). And two (Cox and Thornton) remain on the defensive line.

Vinny Curry, who was inactive for the first 10 games last season, will also stay at defensive line (for now).

In the offseason, the Eagles added veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga from the 49ers. Ronnie Cameron was added to the practice squad at the end of last season. And the team acquired Clifton Geathers via trade with the Colts. Veteran Antonio Dixon is back with the Birds as well.

The Eagles added competition in the draft, selecting LSU’s Bennie Logan in the third round, along with Utah’s Joe Kruger and Oklahoma’s David King in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s Damion Square and Oregon’s Isaac Remington joined the team as undrafted free agents.

A lot of bodies, but few proven commodities.

Among the 14 teams that ran a 3-4 or some kind of hybrid last year, the average number of defensive linemen kept on the 53-man roster was 6.9.

Here’s a look at the players on the roster:

Ronnie Cameron6-2295231/0
Fletcher Cox6-4300221/9
Vinny Curry6-3279241/0
Antonio Dixon6-3325274/10
Clifton Geathers6-8340252/0
David King6-4281230/0
Joe Kruger6-6269200/0
Bennie Logan6-2309230/0
Isaac Remington6-6305230/0
Isaac Sopoaga6-2330318/80
Damion Square6-3286240/0
Cedric Thornton6-4309242/0

Pencil ’em in: Cox, Logan, Sopoaga.

It flew under the radar because of the 4-12 record, but Cox had a really good rookie season. He had seven tackles for loss and was the Eagles’ best defensive tackle against the run. He improved as a pass-rusher, finishing with 5.5 sacks to go along with 24 hurries. It seems clear that he has a Pro Bowl ceiling, but Cox is already on his third defensive line coach.

As for fit, Cox’s versatility is part of what the Eagles found attractive when they traded up to get him in last year’s draft. He can line up at the 5-technique (defensive end) in a 3-4, and he can be an interior pass-rusher in four-man fronts.

Meanwhile, Logan, a third-round pick, is a lock to make the roster. He’s only 6-2, but has long arms (34 inches). In four-man fronts, Logan is a defensive tackle. In three-man fronts, it remains to be seen where he lines up. At 309 pounds, Logan can play nose tackle, and he could probably line up at the 5-tech too.

One thing that stands out from the table above is that the Eagles only have one defensive lineman with more than 10 career starts, and that’s Sopoaga. He’s not a three-down player, but is probably the favorite to line up at nose tackle. Sopoaga will also be expected to fill the leader/veteran presence role with this group.

Fighting for spots: Curry, Thornton, Kruger, Cameron, Dixon, Geathers, King, Remington, Square.

There are clear favorites in this group: Thornton, Kruger and Curry.

Curry saw limited action last year and didn’t show much as a pass-rusher. A 2012 second-round pick, he’ll get every opportunity to make the roster and should stick. But there’s not an obvious fit for him. It’s possible he could move over to outside linebacker at some point.

Thornton showed last year that he can be an effective rotational player, and he will likely make the team too. But I wasn’t ready to mark him down as a lock. He has good length and fits as a 5-tech in 3-4 fronts and a defensive tackle in four-man fronts.

Kruger is a developmental player. He’s 6-6 and only 20-years-old. It would be a surprise if he didn’t make the team.

Assuming those three stick, that will likely only leave a spot or two for Cameron, Dixon, Geathers, Remington and Square. Dixon does not present much versatility. He could be a nose tackle in a 3-4 or a run-stopping DT in a 4-3, but he doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher.

Geathers (6-8) takes over for King Dunlap as the team’s tallest player, but has played very little since entering the league in 2010. King was a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma. Remington (Oregon) and Square (Alabama) are undrafted free agents.

Again, lots of bodies, but not a lot of known quantities. It’s not out of the question that the Eagles add a piece or two between now and the start of the season.

UPDATE: After this was posted, the Eagles signed DE Daryell Walker (Hampton) and released Cameron.

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  • JofreyRice

    I hope Logan has the versatility and ability to challenge Ced Thornton for the 5T role right away. I don’t think they’re set on that left side, at all. I was hoping Logan could be a long-term NT replacement for an aging and mediocre Sopoaga, but the instability at LE is more pressing at the moment.

    I’m wondering if Vinny Curry’s best fit is backing up Cox as a 3T, and as a passrush specialist on 3rd downs. Probably wouldn’t have drafted him in the 2nd round, if we had a “do over”, but he might be able to help produce from that role.

    • If Curry bulks up a little more, I wouldn’t mind seeing what he could do at 5-tech if they use a 1 gap system. Definitely would not want him out there trying to take on a double team, but as you said he could used a pass rush specialist.

      I guess the fact that he didn’t play much last year kinda helps, his slate might be more blank than most.

      • JofreyRice

        It’s going to be interesting to see exactly what kind of 3-4/4-3 Under it is. I don’t have any idea how much it will resemble Seattle’s 4-3 under very much, if at all. Red Bryant effectively 2 Gaps in that system, playing head up on the Tackle, and setting the strong side edge. Maybe Logan could do that, at his size, with those long arms, but I don’t think Curry can. Didn’t Vinny mention something about 2 gapping in some of the early installs? Could have been that they were trying him at that left end spot–although, it seems like maybe they’ve decided they’re not sure they want him there, now.

        So much is unknown at this point. I can’t remember another team keeping their basic alignment this Top Secret.

        With the prevalence of passrush packages in modern defenses, I wonder if we’re aggrandizing the base defense, anyway. We could be looking at something like Wade Phillips runs, where they are in Dime almost 45% of the time where the only “LB” on the field might be someone like Kendricks or Ryans, with Boykin and a 3rd safety playing behind a front 4 comprised of Cole or Graham/Curry/Cox/Barwin, pinning their ears back.

        • I’m starting to think they honestly have not decided yet. We’re so used to trying to read between the lines because of Andy, but so far Chip has stuck to his word with what little he has said to us (open QB competition, not forcing his offense on the personnel), and he’s yet to come out and commit to anything yet. We know he’s extremely anti-label, so I doubt we’ll ever hear him say what our basic alignment is, because it’s not set in stone and most likely going to have a lot of hybrid-ness involved.

          • Stephen Stempo

            I really hope that’s true and the players specific talents dictate the scheme on D (within reason, obviously you don’t let the inmates run the asylum, you also can’t be predictable.)

          • JofreyRice

            That’s a possibility. My concern would be that they focus on some core set of things to get good at, though. If you look at the really good defenses in the league, San Fran & Seattle, they’re not running out crazy unpredictable sets constantly. They do what they do at a very high level, through execution.

            SF basically used 12 guys on Defense, switching out Sopoaga with the Nickel back Chris Culliver in dime sets. Seattle stayed in their base D a huge portion of the time, because of KJ Wright’s ability to cover TE’s from the SAM spot, and the versatility of guys like Chancellor to play run fits. I’d hope for that kind of versatility within the framework of the defense that I prefer, rather than just moving guys around every play to try and dictate matchups–I think that kind of thing could lead to a hodepodge of skills and a lot of confusion.

  • Richard Colton

    Anyone think the 4-3 under as well as the 3-4 make it more likely that the birds will keep 7 or 8 D-line as opposed to 6?

    • JofreyRice

      I think it all depends on whom you define as DLine. It’s kind of a hazy situation with guys like Cole & Graham being designated “LB” versus DLine, let alone former 2nd rounder Vinny Curry that they haven’t designated as either.

      From what I remember, Reid usually kept 9 or 10 DL and no more than 6 LBs. I think you have to keep 8 LBs here, so I’m guessing they might carry 2 less Linemen.

      The way I see it:

      RE – Cox, Curry, Square

      NT – Sopoaga, Dixon

      LE – Logan, Thornton, Kruger

      ROLB – Graham, Cole

      RILB – Kendricks, (Phillips or Chaney)

      LILB – Ryans, (Acho or Knott)

      LOLB – Barwin, Phyllis Hunt

      • James

        Phyllis! She is such a monster!

        • JofreyRice

          Nice speed rusher, but I’m worried how she’ll handle run and coverage responsibilities.

      • Richard Colton

        I like who you don’t have at ILB. refreshingly absent.

        • CJ

          I almost wanted to ask why he wasn’t mentioned and troll the guy, but this entire thread hasn’t mentioned his name, which is nice. It’d be a shame to start now.

          • Richard Colton

            we have a no-hitter going into the 5th inning. don’t jinx it.

          • theycallmerob

            Pencil Matthews in as a backup/ST ace!

            …and that is how you break up a no-hitter.

          • cliff henny

            in nickel, 4-2-5, with cole and graham at d-ends, CM and mychael wouldnt be the worst combo at lbr or backing up kendricks as dime lbr. the guy had no business playing base mlb in 4-3, that’s on reid. i hate coleman, but that’s really on reid, how in the f’n world could he go thru 2 camps and still see him s starting safety is beyond me

          • GEagle

            Much rather leave Demeco’s savvy veteran play out there on 3rd down, instead of the ugly duckling…Coverage will never be Demeco’s specialty, but I don’t think he got the credit he deserved last year. I don’t think any player got us off the field on 3rd down more than Meco did, and on a handful of 3rd and 10’s, a WR caught the ball on Ryan, but he stopped the WR short of the 1st down and got us off the field..

            I just think Meco was spectacular last year. no matter how many players quit, how much of a mess the defensive coaching was, he always brought it consistently like a true pro, and I thought it spoke absolutely VOLUMES about the kind of player he is. To have that kind of a year, just his 2nd season removed from tearing his Achilles, playing for new coaches, surrounded by 10 new teammates…I was extremely impressed, and very excited to see how much better he can play now that he has some continuity under his belt since returning from the injury

      • Stephen Stempo

        Could also keep in mind I think that an extra LB could play DE in a pinch if there are multiple injuries, wouldn’t be ideal but multiple injuries never are. OLB’s in the 3-4 4-3 under seem a bit more flexible and tweener type players co you could probably get by for like a game. Probably keep around 7 linemen maybe 8. 3 starters 3 backups and a swing guy.

  • DutchEagle

    Wut, is King Dunlap still on the roster?

    • Furious E

      Last I heard I think San Diego had him penciled in as a starter lol

      • Stephen Stempo

        You know it was funny if you go to San Diego’s SBNation blog they were all really excited about getting king cus of his size and when a couple of eagles fans were like “um.. easy there.” they got shouted down as being negative. Was a funny forum read though

        • CJ

          Just wait till they sign Justice and start him at the other tackle spot. He’s out there for a visit today. If that were to happen, what a sieve of an OL that is! I hope Rivers ups his life insurance.

          • cliff henny

            perfect. all they need to do is trade for the fireman, sign jake scott off the streets, and reynolds off our practice squad. Rivers is in for a long year

  • Safety 1st

    Didn’t realize how thin we are on the d-line until I saw it on put paper. What happens if Cox goes down?

    • cliff henny

      would stink, he’s really good, not a guy you can replace. curry would be his back-up, maybe logan too. it looks thin, if you think like reid, where player are only d-ends, only dts. when you think like kelly, curry could be 3 or 5 tech, dt or dend. logan is nose and 5tech. really like how kelly thinks, it stretches 53 man roster so much more. with reid, couple injuries, we were thin quickly, hopefully with kelly can see us being able to survive injuries better.

    • Yeah I think no matter how stacked you are losing a guy like Cox would be extremely difficult. But take a look at last year, we were what some might called “stacked” at DL and that didn’t do us too well. I think it’s all about getting more reliable play out of our DL, keeping our backers as clean as possible, making contributions in the run game etc. That’ll be the true test.

    • Cox goes down and the Eagles are screwed unless Curry and any of the draftees and free agents make a compelling case. The question is who plays the NT in a three man front, the NT will be the difference maker? Logan with 32″ arms seems best suited for the task, but he has to be disruptive to command double teams to free up Cox who should be covering the tackle. Isolate Cox, or Curry on a Tackle and the chances turn in favor of the Eagles. This leaves Graham or Cole at OLB to rush the QB from the 9 position.

      Ideally, it would be a benefit to have a quick off the ball end playing in the 3 position to exploit the gap, but he has to be the best off the ball defensive linemen the Eagles have and that honor seems to belong to Cox also.

  • cliff henny

    really see little need for more than 6, from the list above. figure nickel/dime (which is over 50% of defense) will go 4 man front, those rush d-ends are olbrs, so have rotion of barwin, cole and graham (maybe curry on occassion). in base, cox is 3tech, sop and logan can man-down nose and 5-tech looks like a group effort between rest. curry can spot cox at 3-tech. there’s going to be alot of crossover between dline and lbrs in this defense. curry is the interesting guy, hear people ask where his position might be…heck, he could be back-up 3tech and 5 tech, along with cox and logan, be nice DTs in nickle and dimes and even get plays at d-end. he showed crazy versatility in college. lawlor had real nice write-up on iggleblitz on this. if a 7th is added, could see a 5-tech specialist who would only need to play inbase on occassion, real monster guy, like gaethers.

    • JofreyRice

      I think we’re mostly on the same wavelength. My only qualification to that is, yes, versatility is nice, but I’m not sure that you’re going to allow a guy to develop at any one position to his potential, if you can’t figure out what to make him, primarily.

      I’m sure you realize there is a reason why people don’t play multiple positions at a high level in the pros–it’s freaking hard enough, just to play 1 position at a high level in the NFL! I think you really have to be a really special athlete and talent (like Fletcher Cox) to do it well. Otherwise, you run the risk of being just a plug-in journeyman type, that never really finds a home. I’d hope for a little more than that from Curry, considering the draft capital they invested.

      • cliff henny

        sure, curry has to be narrowed down at some point, he’s bit of extreme example till we learn more how kelly will use him. but some positions are naturally versatile, that’s why kelly prefers this defense. asking 3tech to slide inside to DT in nickel or logan to play NT and 5-tech are strength of defensive schemes and why certain players are drafted. the skill-set required to be successful at one is similar to the other. seems very smart to me, stretches roster. seemed like after JJ, reid really pigeon-holed his players, and the wide9 made it even worse.

        • GEagle

          not that it matters, but people make a big deal about this sort of thing…
          1st team today was Cox,Sopo,Thorton.
          Vinny Curry didn’t play any OLB today. he was at DE the entire time, for whatever that’s worth