Roster battles on Eagles defensive line
He cannot wave his wand and turn just any defensive lineman into a Pro Bowler.
But he can work with guys built to play in his system and get the most out of them, even if they struggle to succeed elsewhere. See Jason Babin if you want an example.
Washburn needs talent. And he’s got it this year, as the Eagles defensive line returns most of the key parts from a unit that was responsible for 46 of the team’s league-high 50 sacks last season.
“I’m excited. I got good players,” Washburn said. “I’ll tell you what, I’ve said it before, this ain’t no company line, but the Eagles get you players. I’ve been other places where if you lost a player, you were dead in the water.”
Barring injury, when the Eagles trim their roster down to 53, they will be forced to cut ties with a couple players who will likely contribute elsewhere.
Here’s a look at where things stand right now on the defensive line.
It’s unclear when Mike Patterson will return, but right now, he’s not participating in camp. Assuming he’s on the 53-man roster, the locks are Patterson, Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox.
That likely leaves two spots for Derek Landri, Antonio Dixon and Cedric Thornton. Right now, Landri is playing with the first unit. He signed a one-year deal with the Birds after thriving under Washburn last year. Landri didn’t join the team until the fifth game of the season, yet he still led the Eagles with eight tackles for loss to go along with two sacks and 18 hurries.
Dixon was tremendous against the run in 2010, but suffered a season-ending injury during the fourth game of the 2011 season. Thornton, meanwhile, was signed last year as an undrafted free agent. He spent most of the season on the practice squad, and while he was active for the final three games, did not play.
If Patterson’s healthy, Landri, Dixon and Thornton are likely fighting for two spots. But remember, one of them won’t be active on gameday. There’s a chance all three could be with the team in some capacity if the Eagles sneak Thornton back on the practice squad.
Here are my locks to make the roster: Jason Babin (assuming he’s healthy), Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.
That leaves Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt likely fighting for one final spot. And keep in mind, it’ll be an important spot. Because while Curry will certainly make the roster, he’s no lock to be active on gamedays.
Tapp battled injuries last year, but was effective as a rotational player. He also is a better run defender than Babin or Hunt, having finished tied for second on the team last year with seven tackles for loss. Washburn said last week he probably should have played Tapp more in 2011.
Hunt, meanwhile, showed flashes of pass-rushing ability in nine games.
Of course, these things sometimes work themselves out. The defensive linemen still have to avoid injuries the rest of training camp and in the preseason before the coaches have to make their decisions.
But if everyone’s healthy, Washburn, Juan Castillo and Andy Reid will be forced to make some tough decisions when they cut the roster down to 53.