Eagles Wake-Up Call: D-Line Training Camp Preview

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Leading up to training camp on July 25, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. We start with the defensive line.

The pressing question: Can Fletcher Cox make the leap?


Cox has been a productive player and shown off his unique blend of power and athleticism on several occasions. But he's yet to put it all together. The third-year player has had three different defensive coordinators and three different defensive line coaches in his first two seasons. Now he gets some continuity under position coach Jerry Azzinaro. Cox demonstrated in 2013 that he could indeed play defensive end in a two-gap 3-4 after firing off the ball as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 as a rookie.

Now, he needs to prove he can be a game-plan player. What do I mean by that? When opposing offensive coordinators install their game plans, they should be thinking: How the *&^% are we going to block No. 91? The key with Cox is the pass-rush. He had just three sacks, but led the Eagles with 21 hurries (per team stats) in 2013.

Many are wondering whether the outside linebackers can do more to get to the quarterback, but Cox could provide answers by consistently getting pressure up the middle. Given that he's able to renegotiate his deal after the season, Cox could have a nice payday waiting for him if he can make the leap in 2014.

Roster battles

The starters are set at this spot with Cox and Cedric Thornton at the end spots, along with Bennie Logan at nose tackle. Vinny Curry should make the squad as a rotational player, and it would be a surprise if the Eagles didn't keep rookie Taylor Hart. That potentially leaves two roster spots open.

One of them will go to a nose tackle: either second-year player Damion Square or seventh-round pick Beau Allen. Square practiced with the second team in the spring, but Allen has a good chance to steal this spot. Expect the coaches to go with whichever guy performs better in the preseason.

If the Eagles keep seven defensive linemen, second-year player Joe Kruger is the favorite to snatch one of the final spots. If Kruger plays well, he could earn some playing time. Others on the roster, including feel-good story Alejandro Villanueva, will have to open some eyes this summer to make the final 53.

One thing I think

The football-watching public will become more familiar with the name Cedric Thornton. Last year, Thornton was the Eagles' most productive lineman against the run. He plays with great effort, great technique and consistently gets to the ball-carrier in the defense's two-gap scheme.

With the Eagles getting a lot of national TV love in 2014, don't be surprised to see Thornton's name on some most underrated lists in the coming months.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sizing up the talent on the Cowboys' roster and notes on the Giants and Redskins in Josh's weekly NFC East roundup.

"This looks like a team on the rise." T-Mac catches you up on some weekend reading.

"Chip Kelly did a great job of getting people wide open." Jaws talks Eagles, Nick Foles and more.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

Earl Wolff wants six or more interceptions in 2014, writes Philly.com's Jimmy Kempski:

“This year, my goal is to have six or more,” said Wolff, who attended, but did not play in LeSean McCoy's "Shades of Greatness" celebrity basketball game Saturday afternoon.

Wolff had a target number of interceptions picked out, but still has to determine his other individual goals. “I haven’t sat down and (figured out my season goals) yet. I plan on doing that next week before we start camp, but I’m going to build on my goals from last year.”

DeSean Jackson was impressive during McCoy's basketball game, writes the Inquirer's Matt Breen:

Jackson was the game's star, scoring 45 points. The star receiver declined to speak before the game.

"He's not an Eagle anymore, but the friendship and bond is still there. He supports me in everything I have and vice-versa I do the same. I'm happy to have him," McCoy said.

COMING UP

I'm back from vacation and have the football itch. Training camp is right around the corner, and there are rumors of an All-22 post later this afternoon.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • DirtyWaters

    I’m sure Sheil’s family was thrilled that he spent the entire vacation in the basement bathed in the glow of computer monitors watching game film. You’re the best in the biz, SK!

    • sofiarconlon

      Josiah . although Jacqueline `s stori is surprising,
      last week I bought themselves a Chrysler from having made $5060 thiss month
      and-in excess of, 10/k last-month . it’s realy the easiest-work I have ever done
      . I started this 4 months ago and pretty much straight away was bringin in at
      least $78 per-hour . why not look here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • dislikedisqus

    I watched a clip of DeSean scoring all those points. He hit some respectable perimeter shots. But basically there was no defense. The guys guarding him looked like fire hydrants and moved as much.

  • Joe from Easton

    DJax would’ve been shut down if Boy-King was guarding him. Hmm, sounds similar to what’s going to happen this season.

  • aub32

    I find it very doubtful that Cox will get a raise next offseason no matter how well he performs. He was a first round pick. So the Eagles can always use the 5th year option to keep him for the next 3 seasons. He’s not in the same boat as Foles and Boykin who are being grossly underpaid due to their draft position. He’s making first round money.

    • Joe from Easton

      ^^^ I’m a fan of this notion ^^^

    • william20

      I disagree they have shown numerous times in the past where they reward a player earlier in his rookie contract. If Cox puts up solid numbers I believe Rosebud rewards him and locks him in like he did with others. They save money because in the final year if the player becomes an All Pro numbers go way up.

      • anon

        but do you just hit FA and see if a 43 team will pay you more than eagles? i guess it depends on how well eagles do in the post season.

        • william20

          When you are at the end of your contract they can out a franchise tag or another tag on you so you get to counter the other teams offer. I believe if he has a great year the birds will resign him and give him a boat load of signing bonus money like they always done in the past. That’s how they get them to bite the signing bonus are huge.

      • JofreyRice

        I’m not sure if it’s “rewarding” them, so much as locking them into long term contracts when they’re young, ascending players that might be very receptive to a lump sum payday. It was a Joe Banner specialty, but it seems to be happening less frequently now. One could make the argument that it helped the team to all the early ’00′s success by keeping moderately underpaid high-performing guys on the roster, but I think there were some cases where 2 or 3 years into the deal, the player felt they had been hoodwinked, and it created some discontent. I honestly don’t know where I fall in that argument. I think Shawn Andrews was one of those guys, but he had a whole host of other stuff going on, anyway.

        At any rate, like I said, I doubt it happens. I don’t know all the details, but it certainly *feels* like the new CBA took some of the bargaining leverage out of player’s hands in terms of holdouts.

        • william20

          If he has a great year trust me they lock him in to another deal with tons of signing bonus lettuce

          • JofreyRice

            if he has a “great” year, yeah, totally agree, can’t argue, they’ll lock him up. If it’s just a solid year, like this was…I dunno. I’d be less inclined to say it’s a slam dunk.

          • william20

            I totally agree just going by what the Bird’s normally do. That’s why after a player signs his second contract he normally wants a new one because the Eagle’s show them a boat load of signing bonus money but the contract per year doesn’t really pay high figures because the Cap is their first and only priority when dealing with any contract. Hence why you will see contracts in the 4th and 5th year with giant numbers but they usually cut them before it kicks in and like they did with TO they protect themselves with clauses Sven thou Banner isn’t around his salary cap methods are used.

          • Token

            I dont know what a good year is for the guy in this system? You cant really look at sack numbers playing a 2 gap DE can you? If im Cox, I dont want to run my head against a wall every snap in this 2 gap system my whole career. Its not what he does best. Its taking his skill set and making it kind of irrelevant.

            Another guy that im not sure is still around in a couple years…..

          • Andy124

            Might actually be best in the long run. If we can get good run stuffing ability out of Thorton, Hart, and Kruger without have ot pay big money to a 3-4 DE, that frees up money to spend on other positions that can have a greater impact, like slot-corners.

          • Token

            Need to find pass rushing OLBs first. Cant have everyone on the fields best ability be stopping the run in a league where that means less and less.

          • Clamdigger

            When your DL gets more respect, your OLBs get more opportunities on the edges. Your pass rushers look great when they’re getting blocked by RBs and TEs.

          • Token

            Ive seen Connor Barwin blocked pretty effectively by tight ends.

          • Andy124

            Marcus Smith!

          • aub32

            It meant quite a bit in that playoff game against the Saints

          • Token

            And to think, that happened even with all out run stuffing specialists on the field.

            The Eagles have to hope Smith is more then a Connor Barwin clone. If they dont come up with a pass rushers its gonna be a tough next couple of seasons.

          • aub32

            Agreed. I just think they did the best with what they were willing to spend. Good, not great pass rushers were commanding top dollar this off season. I would have loved for us to make a push for Ware, but the Broncos have a better shot of making it back to the SB and paid him very well. So I do not know if there was a pass rusher that could have been had. Suggestions?

          • aub32

            Why? He will still have 2 years left on his deal with guys like Foles and Boykin definitely looking to cash in. I don’t see very many 1st round rookies getting extensions before their 4th year. Why waste the fifth year option?

        • RIP illa

          Exactly right. Gotta start reading down more before posting, cuz I said the same thing.

      • aub32

        That’s where the 5th year option comes into play. Next year will not be his last year under contract if he plays well in 2014.

      • RIP illa

        That was more of a Banner thing also. Undercutting a player’s value by signing them early was invented by the evil genius himself.

    • Scott J

      So if you were the Eagles GM, you wouldn’t renegotiate Cox’s contract if he played a pro bowl level next year?

      • aub32

        Absolutely not. JJ Watt hasn’t gotten a contract extension. Why Would Cox?

  • DoctorRick

    hmmm “rumors of an All-22″
    I’ll be back.

  • myeaglescantwin

    still would have liked to see us add another beast NT.
    Allen looks like a ManBearPig & should do well with a full year in an NFL program. But outside of him, there are no big hogs on that DL.

    I understand chip wants long armed athletic NT’s, but that last Saints drive strikes back to a pain i felt for the entire Andy Reid erra.
    I’d like 2014 to wash that funk from my mind.

    • DirtyWaters

      Half Man. Half BearPig.

      • Brennan Hildebrandt

        No! No! Half man. Half bear. Half pig

    • myeaglescantwin

      excuse me.

      Andy did have Corey Simon and Hollis Thomas. and that just so happened to be at the peak of our defenses dominance.. . . weird coincidence.

      • Max Lightfoot

        My favorite Hollis Thomas quote:

        “Can a leopard change his stripes? I don’t think so.”

    • JofreyRice

      Yeah, I think Logan does give them more versatility than a guy like Casey Hampton ever could, but there is something to be said for walling off the center of a line.

      • Clamdigger

        I’m not sure Davis will ever consistently use a huge NT like that. He runs a ton of stunts and disguised blitzes to cause breakdowns and create pressure.

        I think Fletcher Cox has to start being more disruptive in the running game. He’s the difference maker on the line. Logan needs to improve there as well.

        Thornton plays the run about as well as anybody, though.

        • Token

          Davis said himself he would love a big lane clogging NT but they dont come around often. The idea that he doesnt want that is a myth.

          Davis – “Well, those monster noses are ideal,” he said. “There’s not very many of them out there and they come around every five years maybe. And what we do is we have good football players, like I said, and we get them at the heaviest weight that they can function well at and make ‘em fit and ask ‘em to do the things they can do the best. And when that monster comes along and you’re in a position to acquire him, you acquire him.”

          So the answer for now is taking a 3-4 DE prospect in Logan and having him gain weight in hopes of being a average NT.

          • RIP illa

            Still think Justin Ellis would have been the perfect fit for what we’re trying to do. Size, strength, and athleticism. The only thing he was missing was the length. Bennie’s too undersized and kinda weak for the position, for my taste, but we shall see how improved this offseason. Allen is too lacking in athleticism, from what I think I know. And Square should not make the roster. Also still wishing that we coulda got Jessie Williams when we picked Logan, but hey…whatevs

    • Andy

      Totally agree that Saints sequence was painful. But let’s face it, not everyone has Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans on their interior offensive line. To structure our D-Line to counteract only that kind of opponent may be shortsighted.

      • aub32

        Do you not think that SEA and SF would not have had just as much success running it down our throat? Playoff teams in the NFC can run the ball.

        • anon

          Yeah Nola’s not even know for running it.

    • RIP illa

      1/2 man, 1/2 bear, and 1/2 pig…that’s all we should need! LMAO…great and fitting reference.

  • JofreyRice

    I think Earl Wolff should set his sights on being a starting safety, first. He showed flashes of football instinct, and has the athletic ability to play in the NFL. He should be able to beat out Nate Allen, who dangled out in FA for a long time, without any bites.

    • Andy124

      I think that goal is implied. But yeah, I really, REALLY hope he can beat out Allen. And if he doesn’t, that it’s because Allen has magically morphed in to the all-around play making safety with prototypical size/speed for the position that he was projected as when we took him with the McNabb pick (yeah, right).

    • Clamdigger

      Boykin 2.0. Let’s see if he can turn those flashes in to something consistent like Boykin did.

    • cliff henny

      should…BETTER! Howie aint signing any pro bowl free agents, need these drafted D guys to step up