Davis Updates Starter Battles On Defense

Billy Davis indicated today that he’ll make his final evaluations on starters after Saturday night’s preseason game against the Jaguars.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a position-by-position look at which spots are up for grabs, along with comments from Davis.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The starters up front have been Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle, Cedric Thornton at LDE and Fletcher Cox at RDE. Cox is a mainstay, but the other two are being pushed.

Bennie Logan has played very well through two games and has the versatility to line up at the nose or defensive end.

“Bennie has had two good games,” Davis said. “Like all of them, they’re pushing and we’ll see with this game. …This is a real big determining factor, this will help see where Bennie is. He’s taken each step, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and has played very solid in the two preseason games he’s played.”

Undrafted free agent Damion Square has also shown flashes. And 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry has been perhaps the Eagles’ best defensive player in the preseason.

Asked if Curry’s still in the mix to start, Davis said: “Absolutely. Nothing has been determined yet in terms of starters, and we are continuing to evaluate all of them, and Vinny’s absolutely in the mix.”

Both Davis and Chip Kelly have indicated that the Eagles will likely rotate six defensive linemen in the regular season. That de-emphasizes the importance of starters, but in the past, the first-team guys have still played the most snaps.

The other thing to note here is that the Eagles will be in their sub packages probably 50 percent of the time. That means, in most cases, two defensive linemen on the field, playing as interior pass-rushers.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

We can pencil Connor Barwin in at one starting spot, and by all accounts, Trent Cole will man the right side.

That means Brandon Graham starting the season as a rotational player.

Asked about the progress Cole and Graham have made with their position switches from the first game to the second game, Davis said: “They’ve done a nice job. We keep putting them in drop situations. Again, we’re evaluating what the package can do and who can do it and we’ve tried to put them in as many drop scenarios as we can. And they’re really working hard at it, they look good. They’re much more comfortable moving backwards.”

“You can see that they’re really getting the feel for the little nuances of how to play the ‘I’m dropping, no I’m rushing’ game with quarterbacks. And it’s really coming along well.”

The truth is, we won’t really know what Davis thinks of Graham and Cole until Week 1 of the regular season when the games count.

* Note: Nothing to add on inside linebackers. It’ll be DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks starting.

CORNERBACKS

Davis went in a couple different directions when asked about Brandon Boykin. The sense I got, though, is that he prefers to have Boykin focus on playing inside, with Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams on the outside.

Davis said Boykin is “pushing the other two” but when asked about the possibility of starting the second-year player on the outside and then moving him inside when the Eagles are in nickel, he sounded a bit hesitant.

“I do think that’s challenging… especially in the same series,” Davis said. “When you start the season, to start at corner and to start at nickel, it becomes more challenging. It is something usually the older veterans can pull off, guys that have played a lot of nickel or played a lot of outside corner. Early on, it’s a little more challenging.

“If you can make it easier without deteriorating from the best 11 on the field, then you can have a guy do one, not both. If there’s clear separation, then you try to get a guy to do both.”

SAFETIES

Patrick Chung seems to have nailed down one starting spot. Nate Allen will get the nod at the other spot on Saturday night. But Davis said he’ll likely rotate other guys in during the first half.

The one player Davis has gotten a lot of questions about is Kenny Phillips. Phillips has had trouble staying healthy and is currently dealing with a quad injury. It’s unclear whether he’ll be on the field Saturday night.

“Anybody that goes through the injury process, doesn’t get into the games or even into the practices, it does make it harder to evaluate when you get less looks at a guy,” Davis said. “I think that just goes without saying.”

Davis added that the Eagles have tape on Phillips, but obviously that was in a different scheme.

If Allen is a disaster against the Jaguars, Davis could shake up the starting lineup before Week 1. But if Allen at least looks competent, he’ll likely get the nod to start the season.

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