Eagles DL Review: Babin Leads the Charge

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason BabinHere’s a player-by-player review of how the Eagles defensive linemen performed Sunday against the Browns, after having re-watched the game. Click here to find all of the game reviews.

The Eagles kept nine defensive linemen active in Week 1. They all saw the field, although the first group played significantly more, and Brandon Graham only saw a handful of snaps.

The table below details snap counts and pass-rushing opportunities from Pro Football Focus. Sacks are self-explanatory. Hurries are official team stats kept by the Eagles coaches. And finally, you’ll see percentages based on opportunities. The reason for those is that a two-sack game for a defensive lineman who rushed the passer 30 times is different than a two-sack game for someone who had just 10 opportunities.

 
Total Snaps
Pass-Rushing Opportunities
Sacks
Sack %
Hurries
Hurry %
Jason Babin402813.6%621.4%
Trent Cole412800%414.3%
Cullen Jenkins422800%310.7%
Derek Landri332200%29.1%
Fletcher Cox301915.3%210.5%
Cedric Thornton211200%00%
Darryl Tapp211200%00%
Phillip Hunt15700%114.3%
Brandon Graham5400%125%

As you can see, Babin led the way with a sack and six hurries. He was constantly around the quarterback and looked to be at full strength, despite missing the entire preseason with a calf strain. Cole had success too going up against All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. He had a sack taken away because of a Babin offsides penalty. Good debut for Cox, who had a sack and a couple hurries. Jenkins had three hurries, and Landri added a couple. Hunt and Graham had one each. Obviously, the small number of snaps skews the percentage.

Below is a player-by-player breakdown of how each lineman played.

Jason Babin – Excellent all-around game for Babin. Not used to seeing him make plays against the run, but Babin was strong in that aspect Sunday. He dropped Trent Richardson after a 1-yard gain in the first. In the third, the Browns ran right at him, but Babin tossed the right tackle aside and stopped Richardson after a 1-yard gain. As a pass rusher, he put a hit on Brandon Weeden on third down in the second after he released the ball. Babin probably could have been called for a flag on the play. Late in the first half, he avoided a chip and hit Weeden. Babin got good pressure off the edge, forcing Weeden to scramble on the final play of the first half. He sacked Weeden in the third. Later in the quarter, he beat the right tackle badly and hit Weeden as he threw incomplete. He and Landri crushed Weeden in the third, helping to force a bad throw.

Trent Cole – He went up against one of the best left tackles in the league but found a way to make plays. Cole beat Thomas and stripped Weeden in the first, but the play was called back because of the Babin penalty. He probably got blocked in the back on the 35-yard reverse in the second, or Cole could have had a tackle for loss. He got good pressure and a hand in Weeden’s face, helping to force an incompletion in the third. The Browns tried to block him with a tight end in the third, and Cole beat his man easily, hitting Weeden as he released the ball. I think he’s in store for a big year.

Cullen Jenkins – He played a lot of defensive end in the preseason, but Jenkins played primarily at left defensive tackle in this game. The only time he shifted outside was on 3rd-and-1 a couple times in the second quarter. Powerful play in the first half by Jenkins, stopping Richardson after a 1-yard gain on a run to the left. He looped outside and pressured Weeden on third down, helping to force an incompletion in the second. Jenkins got some pressure on Weeden, forcing him to roll to his right on third down in the third. He made a great play against the run, dropping Richardson for a 3-yard loss in the red zone in the third. And it looked like he tipped a ball at the line of scrimmage later on the same possession.

Derek Landri – He went right past the guard and hit Weeden on the 24-yard completion in the first. Something I noticed upon re-watching: On DeMeco Ryans’ tackle for loss in the second, Landri took on two offensive linemen and allowed the linebacker to attack freely. In fact, that was something I noticed throughout the game. Ryans often didn’t have to deal with linemen in his face, allowing him to make plays. That’s really encouraging, and different from last year. Landri and Babin might have saved a touchdown by nailing Weeden as he threw incomplete to the tight end, who was open in the end zone in the third.

Fletcher Cox – He played left defensive tackle with the second group, but it might only be a matter of time (as in, possibly Sunday against the Ravens) until he moves up to the first group. Cox got good push up the middle on a screen attempt that went incomplete in the second. He picked up his first career sack in the third. And it’s worth noting that with the game on the line in the fourth, he was on the field with Jenkins at defensive tackle. Cox got some pressure on the final play, looping around the left end. Against the run, he brought Richardson down after a 3-yard gain in the second. And he tackled Richardson after a 5-yard gain on the next play.

Cedric Thornton – He played right defensive tackle with the second group and had a relatively quiet game. On one play, Thornton got good penetration, forcing Richardson to cut back on a 5-yard run in the second. Richardson’s longest run went through the hole between Thornton and Tapp for 9 yards. And I believe it was Thornton who jumped offsides in the second, even though the refs called it on Cox.

Darryl Tapp – He played right defensive end with the second group and had a couple good moments. Tapp helped stop Richardson for no gain in the second. And he made a nice tackle on Richardson after a 2-yard gain in the fourth. On the downside, he picked up a 15-yard penalty for jumping on Weeden after the quarterback was already down in the third.

Phillip Hunt – He played left defensive end with the second group, but only got seven chances to rush the passer. On one play, the Browns tried to block him with a tight end and a running back, but that didn’t work as Hunt pressured Weeden, who had to throw the ball away in the second.

Brandon Graham – Only a handful of snaps for Graham. He came in at left defensive end in the second and tackled Richardson after a 5-yard run. Graham got good pressure, hitting Weeden from left defensive end late in the first half.

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

Eagles Snap Count Notes: Limited Action For Graham

The league is releasing snap count data this year, which is very helpful when reviewing games. Here are some notes from yesterday.

OFFENSE

* Clay Harbor was on the field for 36 percent of the snaps. That’s just slightly more than his number last year (33.6 percent, per PFF). Part of that had to do with the Eagles using two tight-end sets. But Harbor was also needed since the team had just four active wide receivers, and Jeremy Maclin went out on two separate occasions with injuries.

* Speaking of Maclin, he played 83 percent of the snaps. DeSean Jackson only came out on four plays. And Brent Celek only came out on six plays.

* The Eagles used fullback Stanley Havili on 18 plays (19 percent). Last year, they used a fullback 15.8 percent of the time, so just a slight increase. Rookie wide receiver Damaris Johnson played 13 snaps (14 percent). Those included 4-WR sets and also when he filled in for Maclin.

* With Dion Lewis inactive due to a hamstring injury, Bryce Brown was the backup running back, which meant he played eight snaps. The Eagles have talked about spelling LeSean McCoy a bit more this season, but yesterday was not the time to do that. He played 85 percent of the snaps (81 overall). Last year, he played 86.1 percent of the snaps.

DEFENSE

* Juan Castillo likes to point out that the Eagles have eight or nine “starting” defensive linemen since they all rotate in and out. But as I’ve pointed out before, that’s not really the case. Going back to last year, the starters play more. Below is a chart that details the snaps of the defensive linemen.

PLAYER
SNAPS
Cullen Jenkins43
Trent Cole42
Jason Babin41
Derek Landri34
Fletcher Cox29
Cedric Thornton20
Darryl Tapp20
Brandon Graham4

* As you can see, Graham was the odd man out, playing just four snaps. The Eagles had five defensive ends active, and clearly, Graham ranks behind the other four on the depth chart (for Week 1, at least). Phillip Hunt played 15 snaps (24 percent). Cullen Jenkins, Trent Cole and Jason Babin saw the most playing time. That will likely be the case during most weeks.

* Three-down player? DeMeco Ryans played 60 of 62 snaps. Mychal Kendricks 55 of 62. Akeem Jordan 20. Brian Rolle 2. And Jamar Chaney 1.

* In the secondary, Brandon Boykin was on the field for 63 percent of the snaps (39 overall) and played well. Curtis Marsh played one snap and suffered an injury. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a shoulder issue and missed four snaps. Brandon Hughes was called on to play 12 snaps. Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Nnamdi Asomugha all played 100 percent of the snaps.

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

Players Choose: Which Eagle Will Have a Big Year?

Philadelphia Eagles DE Phillip HuntThis afternoon, I posed a simple question to players in the Eagles locker room: Based on what you’ve seen, which teammate do you think is poised to have a really good year?

Selection was based simply on who was available. But it just so happened to be four defensive players and four offensive players. Their responses are below.

Jason Avant: “I would say Darryl Tapp. Tapp or [Phillip] Hunt. One of those guys, because I’ve seen them working all offseason. I know their work ethic, and I know their work ethic apart from here, so one of those guys.”

Jason Kelce: “I think there’s been a lot of guys that have had a really good training camp. On the defensive side, obviously a couple of the rookies have shown some good stuff. Mychal Kendricks has been outstanding. Fletcher Cox has done an outstanding job. Offensively, Damaris Johnson has looked good. Bryce Brown’s looked outstanding. The problem is he’s behind one of the best running backs in the league, so how many opporutnities he’s going to get is uncertain at this point. Obviously, Nick Foles has done an outstanding job, so there’s been a lot of guys who, coming into it, guys didn’t really know what they were going to do, but have surprised.”

Jamar Chaney:Phillip Hunt is one. I would say Phillip Hunt and probably Clay Harbor. With both of them, Clay and Phillip, [Brent] Celek was down in training camp. With Phillip, Babin was down, so they got a lot of reps, a lot of playing time in preseason games and did pretty well, especially Phillip. To get all those reps, to be as talented as they are already, isn’t going to do anything but make the transition easier coming into this year for both of those guys. Phillip had a heck of a preseason, and Clay had a heck of a preseason too. He had a couple touchdown passes. With a lot of teams using two tight ends, I’m pretty sure with just how fast Clay is, it’d be a great complement to Celek, the big tight end, and Clay, the fast tight end.”

Nate Allen: “I think Mychal Kendricks. He’s coming along real well. He’s excited about his first season and I think is going to be a heck of a player.”

Brandon Graham: “Fletch [Fletcher Cox]. For him to come in at d-tackle and to get it right away, it’s big. And I feel like he’s going to have a great year.”

[Right away?]

“Right away. First game of the season, y’all going to see Fletch everywhere.”

Evan Mathis: “There’s a lot of guys here who are ready to have a really good year. [Michael] Vick has been a great quarterback in this league, and I think one thing about him is he’s continued to grow and make progress every single day, every single year, so I expect a big year out of him.”

Cullen Jenkins: “If I had to pick one, I’d say Phillip Hunt. He’s had a pretty good preseason. He’s been out here working. He’s focused and determined, and I’m pretty anxious to see what he’s going to do.”

Danny Watkins: Probably, I’d say [Jason] Kelce. Looking back at where me and him started last year, he’s so far ahead with his football IQ, and I’m trying to learn from him. I think he’s going to do awesome this year. I’m excited for him.

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

Eagles Snapshot: Defensive Line Preview

Throughout the course of the week, we’ll be providing position-by-position previews of the entire Eagles roster. We start with the defensive line. Click here for all of the previews.

The roster: Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Phillip Hunt, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Vinny Curry.

The Eagles decided to keep 10 defensive linemen, parting only with tackle Antonio Dixon when they trimmed the roster to 53. Assuming everyone’s healthy, Babin and Cole will start at defensive end, and Jenkins and Landri will likely be the tackles with the first group. There’s some uncertainty with the second foursome, however. Expect Cox and Thornton to be the tackles. But the Eagles could keep nine linemen active on gamedays and rotate Hunt, Tapp and Graham in at the end spots.

Look for Curry, a rookie second-round pick, to be inactive to start the season.

Player in the spotlight: Brandon Graham

Graham has been playing with something to prove all offseason. As a rookie, he finished with three sacks and 13 quarterback hurries (second on the team). But he tore his ACL late in the season, had microfracture surgery and fell into a funk during his sophomore campaign, battling weight issues and appearing in just three games.

Graham has vowed to get back on track this offseason, turning heads in the weight room back in the spring and making good on his promise to coaches to not miss a single practice at Lehigh. During the preseason, Graham lined up primarily at left defensive end and consistently got to the quarterback, finishing with 3.5 sacks.

The Jason Pierre-Paul comparisons aren’t going away anytime soon. The Giants snagged JPP two spots after the Eagles selected Graham in the first round of the 2010 draft, and he turned in a 16.5-sack season in 2011. But now that he’s healthy, Graham is hoping to prove that the Birds didn’t waste their pick on him.

You should also know that…

* Babin missed almost all of training camp and the entire preseason with a calf strain. He says he’ll be ready to go Sunday against the Browns. Of course, Reid will ultimately be the one to decide that. If Babin can’t play right away, or has to play limited snaps, the Eagles will have to figure out how to replace him. In the preseason, they moved Jenkins to left defensive end to help against the run, but that was when they were playing with extra tackles. Now, they only have four DTs on the roster, so moving Jenkins outside would leave them thin on the interior. The Eagles could go with some combination of Hunt/Graham/Tapp at left defensive end instead.

* Hunt might have been the Eagles’ most impressive player in the preseason, with 3.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. Look for him to be given ample opportunities to rush the passer.

* The Eagles’ second group could feature two defensive tackles who have never played an NFL snap. Thornton spent most of last season on the practice squad, but had a very strong camp and preseason, earning the nod over Dixon. Cox, a first-round pick in April, showed flashes, but will likely need some time to get comfortable with Jim Washburn’s style. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Cox replaced Landri with the first team, and Landri teamed with Thornton on the second team.

* While it’s true that the Eagles play eight or nine defensive linemen, it does matter who is on the first team. For example, the first-team tackles last year were Mike Patterson and Jenkins. They played 66.3 and 61.6 percent of the snaps, respectively, per Pro Football Focus. The backups (Landri and Trevor Laws) played 44.2 and 38.2 percent. In other words, everyone will play, but the most productive players will play more.

* The Eagles tied for the league-lead with 50 sacks last season, and 46 of those came from the defensive line. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Birds used just four pass-rushers 81.8 percent of the time last season. That was the second-highest percentage in the league. In other words, they didn’t need to blitz to get pressure. For the most part, that should be the case again this season.

* Patterson continues to recover from offseason brain surgery and could miss the entire season.

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

DL Review: Tapp Makes His Case

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Darryl TappHere’s a review of how the Eagles defensive line performed against the Browns after having re-watched Friday night’s game. Click here for the linebacker review and here for the review of the offense.

Cullen Jenkins – Once again, he started at left defensive end. The reason for that is to make the Eagles better against the run on early downs, but Jenkins hasn’t given them much as a pass rusher from that spot in the preseason. On obvious passing downs, he moved inside to right defensive tackle.

Fletcher Cox – Played left defensive tackle with the first team, but had a quiet night. Can’t say I was focused in on him, but Cox was not credited with a tackle.

Derek Landri – He certainly made the most of his limited snaps. Landri got in the backfield and tripped Montario Hardesty up for a 4-yard loss. Good hustle to bring Hardesty down after a 2-yard gain later in first. Good penetration on another run play inside the 5, drawing a holding penalty. And of course, there was the sack and forced fumble in the red zone on the first possession. The guard let him go because Cleveland was running a screen, but Landri was still able to get to Brandon Weeden.

Trent Cole – He put the finishing touches on Hardesty for a 4-yard loss in the first and recovered the Weeden fumble after the Landri sack. You know exactly what you’re getting from Cole on every snap – whether it’s at training camp, the preseason or the playoffs.

Phillip Hunt – If we’re handing out an award for best defensive lineman in the preseason, I think Hunt probably gets it. Good pressure on Weeden from left defensive end, before the QB stepped up and completed a pass to Mohamed Massaquoi in the first. Hunt came unblocked from RDE and hit Weeden, forcing an incompletion in the red zone in the second. Impressive job by him and Brandon Graham, sandwiching Colt McCoy for a sack in the second. Oh, and did you notice who made the tackle at the 14 on kickoff coverage late in the first quarter? It was Hunt.

Darryl Tapp – Browns left tackle Joe Thomas has made five Pro Bowls and been named first-team All-Pro three times. Tapp beat him cleanly, sacking Weeden and stripping the football in the first. He also recovered a Hardesty fumble in the first. I still have a difficult time seeing the Eagles just cut him. The guess here is a trade, or they keep him and go heavy on the defensive line.

Brandon Graham – On the first two series’, Graham was not part of the defensive line rotation with the starters. But when he got in the game, he played well. He was unblocked, but still did a good job to not bite on play-action, pressuring Weeden in the first. Graham went right past tackle Mitchell Schwartz to sack Weeden on 3rd-and-1. He got pretty good pressure off the edge in the red zone, forcing Weeden to step up. He was unblocked on third down in the second and forced Weeden to roll to his right and throw incomplete. Graham got good pressure on a 2nd-and-6 completion in the second. And he and Hunt combined for the sack I mentioned above. So far, good signs all around for Graham this preseason.

Antonio Dixon – Still don’t see much from him as a pass rusher. It looked like Dixon clogged the initial hole on the play where Hardesty cut back and fumbled. Dixon was called for an offsides penalty on third down in the first. That happened quite a bit at Lehigh. He’s on the bubble.

Cedric Thornton – Thornton was in on the hit with Ryan Rau where Hardesty fumbled in the first. He was called for unnecessary roughness on one play, but drew a holding penalty on the next. There was a big hole between Thornton and Dixon on Hardesty’s 6-yard run in the second. He stopped Brandon Jackson for no gain in the second with the Browns backed up inside their own 5. He’s making the team.

Vinny Curry – The rookie came in at right defensive end in the second and was in on four tackles. He brought Jackson down after a 4-yard gain in the second. He and Rau stopped Adonis Thomas for no gain in the third. And Curry stopped Thomas for no gain on another play. He was caught way upfield on a 9-yard run right at him and also called for an offsides penalty. Barring an injury to one of the guys ahead of him, it looks like Curry will probably be one of the gameday inactives once the season starts.

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

Reid Reluctant To Part With Defensive Linemen

You can feel Andy Reid’s grip growing tighter. The closer it gets to cut-down day, the harder he clasps onto his collection of talent along the defensive front.

“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.”

10 Things To Watch: Eagles Vs. Browns

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin.Here are 10 things I’ll be keeping an eye on tonight when the Eagles take on the Browns. And remember, as always, Tim and I will be hosting a live chat during the game.

Nick Foles – What? You thought I was going to lead with someone else? The rookie is 24-for-38 for 361 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the first two preseason games. He’ll get the start and go up against the Browns’ first-team defense, although expect Cleveland to keep things pretty vanilla, considering these two teams square off in Week 1. Perhaps the most impressive stat from Foles so far is that he hasn’t been sacked once in 40 dropbacks. That speaks to his decisiveness and comfort level. Andy Reid has had plenty of chances to say that Mike Kafka is going to be his backup quarterback when healthy, and he hasn’t done that. Foles has a legit chance to win the No. 2 job.

The nickel corner battle – Rookie Brandon Boykin mixed in with the first team last week in place of Joselio Hanson. Boykin was not targeted, and Andy Reid said recently that the gap is narrowing between the two. Ideally, the Eagles would like Boykin to win the job. He’s going to make the roster anyway and will be active on gamedays as the Birds’ kickoff returner. Cutting the 31-year-old Hanson would free up a roster spot for someone else. But Boykin’s got to show he’s up for the challenge. The nickel corner will be on the field for nearly 50 percent of the defense’s snaps in the regular season. If the coaches don’t feel like they can trust Boykin in Week 1, Hanson will get the nod.

The left tackle competition – King Dunlap gets the start once again, and if I had to bet right now on who will be on the field in Week 1, he’s my pick. Dunlap looked pretty good in pass protection last week, but he’s not even close to being in Jason Peters’ league as a run blocker. I’d like to see the Eagles try to run to Dunlap’s side a little more tonight to see how he does. Meanwhile, Demetress Bell struggled in the second half of last week’s game and looks generally uncomfortable. If he turns in a good performance tonight, perhaps he’ll start in the final preseason game with a chance to win the spot back. But for now, it’s Dunlap’s job to lose.

DeMeco Ryans – The veteran linebacker doesn’t like answering questions about his Achilles. Seemingly every day this summer, he’s been asked about the injury he suffered in 2010. And every day, he lets reporters know that he’s fine and 100 percent healthy. It’s clear that Ryans has a lot of pride and something to prove after the Houston Texans dumped him this offseason. The veteran looked good last week, diagnosing run plays and getting to the ballcarrier. His coverage skills have produced mixed results. We won’t really know what Ryans is capable of until the regular season, but considering he may sit in the final preseason game, it’d be nice to see him continue to progress tonight.

Dennis Kelly – The Eagles surprised many draftniks in April when they selected Kelly in the fifth round (153rd overall). But the 6-8, 320-pounder out of Purdue will get the start at right tackle as Todd Herremans will miss the game because of a death in the family. In game action so far, Kelly has played both right tackle and right guard. He’s been up and down, but clearly, Howard Mudd likes what he sees. As I mentioned yesterday, line depth is a concern for this team. Depending on how Bell progresses, Kelly could be counted on in a backup role this season.

Mychal Kendricks – He was impressive against New England. Part of being a rookie means building on that experience tonight and not making the same mistakes twice. Kendricks has played fast and shown the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He also diagnosed and disrupted screen plays successfully, but coverage is the key with him. He got beat for a touchdown against the Patriots, and it looked like he got mixed up in zone on another pass play in the middle of the field. He’s slated to be a three-down linebacker, but every snap is important – even in the preseason.

Phillip Hunt – He’s been a beast with three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles through two preseason games. Hunt has lined up primarily at left defensive end, but has also seen time at right defensive end, and was even inside on one snap last week. Hunt’s got a roster spot locked up, but he could earn a bigger role if he continues to impress and shows he can hold up against the run.

Brandon Graham – He got off to a good start against the Steelers and was ok against New England. The Eagles are going to have decisions to make at defensive end when they cut the roster to 53 and when they decide who’s going to be active on gameday. Assuming Jason Babin’s healthy, he and Trent Cole will run with the first team, but after that, there’s some indecision. Given how Hunt’s played, it’s safe to assume he’ll be in the mix. That leaves Graham, rookie Vinny Curry and Darryl Tapp (who might not survive cuts) fighting for playing time. And don’t forget, Cullen Jenkins has been playing a lot of defensive end too. Graham has had a good summer and will make the team, but he’s still got a lot to prove.

Stanley Havili – He put himself in the driver’s seat for the starting fullback job with a nice game against the Patriots, showing the ability to carry the ball with a 14-yard run and acting as a lead blocker on LeSean McCoy’s touchdown run. Perhaps most importantly, Havili made a great play on the punt coverage team. When teams get down to 53, there will be fullbacks available. Havili needs to convince Reid and Howie Roseman to stick with him instead of going after a player not currently on the roster.

Damaris Johnson – He had a great camp and an impressive preseason opener against the Steelers. But last week, Johnson fumbled his first punt return, before picking the ball up, gaining 6 yards and running out of bounds. If Johnson is going to be the primary punt returner, Bobby April and the coaches need to know they can trust him to hang onto the football. He’s a safe bet to make the roster at this point, but needs to avoid miscues on special teams.

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

DL Review: Hunt Shines Once Again

Philadelphia Eagles DE Phillip HuntHere’s a player-by-player breakdown of how the Eagles defensive linemen performed Monday night after having re-watched the game. Check out the linebacker review here, and look for write-ups of the rest of the positional groups on Tuesday and Wednesday. By the way, yes, I’m aware that Tom Brady and other starters did not play.

Cullen Jenkins – To read more about the dust-up with Andy Reid, click here and here. Most of Jenkins’ snaps came at the left defensive end spot for Jason Babin, and he wasn’t particularly effective. Jenkins had one tackle, and I didn’t notice him getting much pressure on the quarterback. On third downs, he often shifted inside to right defensive tackle, and Phillip Hunt took over on the outside. Reid said he likes Jenkins’ size against the run at defensive end, but I’m not sure we’re going to see him out there a lot when Babin gets healthy.

Fletcher Cox – The rookie got the start at left defensive tackle, alongside Derek Landri. As you’d expect, he was up and down, but has flashed the athleticism we saw in college.

Against the run, Cox stopped Shane Vereen after a 3-yard gain on a play where the Patriots were whistled for holding. Cox (2 tackles, 2 solo) later wrapped up Vereen, but not until the running back picked up 5 yards. He had a chance to bring down Brandon Bolden near the line of scrimmage, but couldn’t make the play, and the running back picked up 7. Cox did a nice job bringing Stevan Ridley down after a 2-yard run in the third.

As a pass rusher, Cox beat a double team and pressured Ryan Mallett, but was whistled for a costly roughing the passer penalty that negated a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie interception. It looked like Cox tried to hold up, but it’s the kind of call we see flagged all the time. He did a good job to hit Brian Hoyer, throwing off the timing of a screen in the second. The only time Cox lined up outside was when the Eagles showed the look where the tackles shift out and the defensive ends stand up between them to rush the passer.

Derek Landri – Pretty quiet game for Landri (2 tackles, 1 solo), who ran with the first team. He got into the backfield a couple times but couldn’t get to the ballcarrier. Landri dropped Bolden after a 1-yard gain late in the first half.

Trent Cole – He had some good moments (3 tackles, 1 solo), even though Cole did not notch a sack. He hit Mallett as the QB got rid of the ball for an 8-yard gain in the first. He beat left tackle Nate Solder, pressuring Mallett and forcing him to rush his throw on an incompletion in the first. Cole would have had a third-down sack if not for Nnamdi Asomugha’s holding penalty. He knocked Solder to the ground with a bull-rush and forced Mallett out of the pocket in the red zone in the second. And Cole showed his trademark hustle, bringing Ridley down after a 2-yard gain in the third.

Phillip Hunt – He’s been outstanding in the first two preseason games. Hunt (4 tackles, 2 solo) played with the first team on third down, taking over at left defensive end as Jenkins moved inside and Landri came off the field. He got a hand in Mallett’s face on an early incompletion. He stopped Danny Woodhead after a 2-yard gain on 3rd-and-15 and hit Mallett, forcing an incompletion in the second. Hunt twisted inside from the LDE spot and hit Mallett on third down, but not before the QB completed a pass to Deion Branch for 20 yards.

Great hustle play: Hunt lined up as a rush linebacker, got all the way to the Patriots’ 35 (the line of scrimmage was the 28), then ran back after a completed screen, tackling Vereen at the 8. He beat Marcus Cannon around the edge and stripped Hoyer in the second. Later, he forced Hoyer out of the pocket, but the QB still completed a third-down pass to Donte’ Stallworth late in the first half. In the third, Hunt even lined up at right defensive tackle on one play.

Hunt will be on the roster, and the way he’s playing, he’ll have to be active on gamedays.

Brandon Graham – He played left defensive end with the second unit and was OK. Graham caused disruption, getting into the backfield on a Vereen run that was stopped after 2 yards. As a pass-rusher, he was matched up one-on-one against Cannon, but couldn’t get any pressure on Mallett on the second-quarter touchdown throw. On a different play, Graham got good pressure off the edge in the red zone, helping to force a rushed Hoyer throw and incompletion. He also got some pressure off the edge, forcing Hoyer to step up into a Thornton sack late in the second. And Graham was called for offsides in the first half too.

Overall, an ok performance. He will be on the roster and penciled into the defensive rotation.

Cedric Thornton – He continues to play himself onto the roster. Thornton (4 tackles, 2 solo) played left defensive tackle with the second group and forced Vereen to cut back on a 3-yard run in the first. He burst through the backfield and dropped Bolden for a loss of 1 in the second. And Thornton stopped Ridley for no gain in the third. As a pass rusher, he broke through up the middle against an initial double team and sacked Hoyer.

Antonio Dixon – Just not seeing it with him. Dixon had a pair of tackles (0 solo), but he’s not a factor as a pass rusher. I might have to leave him off my 53-man roster projection this week.

Darryl Tapp – Playing right defensive end with the second group, the veteran picked up a pair of personal foul penalties in the first half. Early on, center Ryan Wendell and Thornton had their hands in each others’ facemasks after the whistle. Wendell was on top of Thornton, and Tapp came over to shove him, drawing a peanlty. Later, he was called for a pretty obvious roughing the passer penalty. He also recovered the Hoyer fumble in the second after Hunt stripped the quarterback. Tapp sits squarely on the roster bubble.

Vinny Curry – The second-round pick didn’t enter the game until the final drive of the third quarter, playing right defensive end. I’d expect him to get more playing time in the last two preseason games.

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

Hunt vs. Tapp: Who Has the Edge?

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Darryl TappWe’ve written quite a bit in this space about the Eagles’ defensive line depth, and specifically the decisions the coaches are going to face at defensive end.

Here are the players in the mix: Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Phillip Hunt and Darryl Tapp.

Of that group, Babin, Cole, Graham and Curry are locks to make the roster. If the Birds keep six defensive ends (a high number, especially considering Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox can play outside), Hunt and Tapp could both make the team.

But more likely, one of them will be cut, or possibly traded. There’s a place in the league for both of them.

Hunt is younger by about 16 months. He’s currently 26, and Tapp is 27. Tapp carries a base salary and cap number of about $2.575M. Hunt, on the other hand, has a cap number of about $487,000, according to EaglesCap.com. Tapp is scheduled to become a free agent after the season; Hunt is signed through 2013 ($555,000) and would be a restricted free agent in 2014.

In terms of salary and future control, Hunt is the more attractive option.

But what about production?

Tapp had 2.5 sacks and 22 hurries in 2011; Hunt had two sacks and 13 hurries. Of course, it’s important here to look at pass-rushing opportunities. Tapp had 172, according to Pro Football Focus; Hunt had 105.

Below is a table looking at sack percentage and hurry percentage.

 
Sack Percentage
Hurry Percentage
Phillip Hunt1.9%12.4%
Darryl Tapp1.5%12.8%

As you can see, the numbers are relatively similar on both fronts, although in terms of upside, I’d say Hunt has the edge.

And while the coaching staff might disagree, there is more to defensive line play than just rushing the passer. Tapp is clearly the better player against the run. As I’ve written in the past, he may be the second-best run defender among defensive ends, behind only Cole. Tapp was tied last year for second on the team with seven tackles for loss.

Hunt and Babin are pass-rush specialists. That means in many ways, Tapp’s value is tied to guys like Graham, Curry, Jenkins and Cox.  If the Eagles are confident one or two of those players can provide depth behind Cole and hold up against the run, Tapp becomes more expendable.

At this point, Hunt seems safe. He’s young and has a relatively small salary for the next two seasons. Considering his upside and the fact that Cole turns 30 in October, and Babin is 32, Hunt is an asset the Eagles will likely want to hold on to.

Tapp’s future is more in question. He’s a productive player, who provides depth behind Cole and is well-liked and respected by his teammates. There are still three preseason games to get through, and injuries can play a factor here, but if things stay the same, the Eagles will have to decide between trading Tapp and keeping six defensive ends.

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

Eagles Practice Observations

Philadelphia Eagles undrafted free agent Damaris Johnson.Damaris Johnson was lined up one-on-one with Brandon Hughes and had a step on the cornerback down the left sideline.

Michael Vick let go of the football, but before it arrived, Hughes made contact with Johnson, broke up the pass and landed on the 5-foot-8 wide receiver.

Johnson grimaced and was slow to get up. You could almost see him consider staying down for a moment, but instead, he fought through the initial pain and jogged towards the sideline.

Later, during 7-on-7s, lining up in Jeremy Maclin’s place, Johnson got behind Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and in front of Nate Allen, hauling in a pass of 20+ yards from Vick.

He’s still got a long way to go, but clearly the coaches liked what they saw out of Johnson Thursday night, and they want to see more. All along, his best chance at making the roster appeared to be as the punt returner. But Johnson continues to look more and more comfortable as a receiver (playing mostly on the outside) and has put himself in position to contribute as a rookie.

More practice observations:

* Coming off a strong performance Thursday night, Phillip Hunt was rewarded today, running with the first team at left defensive end in place of Jason Babin. Hunt played both left and right defensive end against Pittsburgh. He was joined on the first team by Derek Landri and Trent Cole. It looked like Antonio Dixon and Fletcher Cox rotated at the other tackle spot.

* Curtis Marsh started practice, but did not finish. Still waiting on an injury update. But Hughes took his place on the outside in the “Nickel Nnam” package where Nnamdi Asomugha covers the tight end.

* Casey Matthews left practice early, and Jamar Chaney did not participate. That left Ryan Rau as the backup middle linebacker to DeMeco Ryans. Rau played alongside Akeem Jordan and Keenan Clayton with the second team.

* Mychal Kendricks continues to get the first-team nickel reps, alongside Ryans. I think he might be there to stay, even when Chaney returns from injury.

* During wide receiver/cornerback one-on-ones, Mardy Gilyard ran a go-route down the left sideline. Nick Foles dropped back and unleashed a deep ball, but this time, Hughes broke it up. Other than the incompletion, it was identical to the 43-yard touchdown on Thursday night.

* People have talked a lot about Foles’ arm strength, and it was on display again today when he fired a 10-yard out to Marvin McNutt. Trevard Lindley thought he had a chance for an interception and broke on the ball, but it was too late. The ball was already in McNutt’s hands.

* Oshiomogho Atogwe, the veteran among the safeties, called out and blew up a screen to Bryce Brown. If Jaiquawn Jarrett continues to play like he did Thursday night, Atogwe has a good shot to make the team.

* King Dunlap continues to get first-team reps at left tackle. Demetress Bell is with the twos. Andy Reid seemed to indicate this morning that it’ll stay that way for the week.

* If opponents continue to play their safeties deep against the Eagles, I wonder if we’ll see Reid and Marty Mornhinweg get more creative in how they get DeSean Jackson the ball. Today, we saw a wide receiver screen to him in the red zone. Oh, and the shovel pass to LeSean McCoy down there is alive and well.

* Jackson also beat Rodgers-Cromartie for a 40-yard bomb from Vick.

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

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