Eagles Defense: How the Pieces Fit
Here’s a position-by-position analysis of the Eagles’ defense, as the roster currently stands. If you missed the earlier post on the offense, click here.
Defensive linemen (10): Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton, Darryl Tapp.
There are a few different issues at play here. The first is Babin. He played more snaps than any other Eagles defensive lineman last year, but suffered a calf strain early in training camp and missed the entire preseason.
“I think so,” Babin said earlier this week, when asked if he’d be ready in Week 1. “It’s a bit of a slippery slope because I haven’t been injured, so I’m not sure what I can and can’t say.
“I think the most important thing in their decision-making process is, let’s not re-injure me. But my mentality is I’m ready to go to battle any time, so we’ll see what coaches assess.”
Maybe Babin will be fine for Week 1 against the Browns. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll be somewhere in between and play in a limited role. All those things are in play.
If Babin’s fine, the first group will feature him, Cole, Jenkins and Landri. The second group will likely rotate Hunt, Tapp and Graham at defensive end. The theme of Eagles coaches showing confidence in young players is relevant here too. Cox and Thornton will play significant snaps with the second group. Neither guy has ever played an NFL down. Curry, meanwhile, will likely be an inactive on gamedays to start.
The picture gets clouded if Babin can’t go in Week 1. Jenkins could move to left defensive on early downs. Or the Eagles could just go with Hunt, Graham or Tapp at that spot.
Linebackers (6): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Akeem Jordan.
No real surprises here. Ryans, Kendricks (SAM) and Jordan (WILL) are the starters. Chaney could get a shot to bump Jordan once he gets healthy. And Rolle could get back in the mix too. Ryans and Kendricks stay on the field in nickel.
Matthews is a bit of a wild card. He’s dealing with a high ankle sprain and likely won’t be ready to go in Week 1. Once he gets healthy, he’ll be penciled in as the backup to Ryans, but Matthews could also get a shot at WILL down the road. Juan Castillo talked recently about using most or all of the linebackers in specific packages throughout the course of the game. He’ll have to figure out how everyone fits, depending on the gameplan.
Of course, if Ryans and Kendricks meet expectations, there will be little reason for them to come off the field.
Cornerbacks (6): Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Boykin, Trevard Lindley, Brandon Hughes.
Lindley was perhaps the biggest surprise to earn a roster spot. A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, he was cut last summer and out of the league in 2011. But the Eagles re-signed him in January. He had a good camp and a good preseason, but to be honest, was a complete afterthought, given the guys ahead of him. I’m not sure a single reporter stopped to interview Lindley in the past month. But Howie Roseman obviously liked him as a prospect in 2010, and Lindley earned one of the final spots.
Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie will start on the outside, with Marsh pegged as the first backup. Boykin beat out Joselio Hanson for the nickel spot (more on that here), and Hughes earned a spot as a versatile backup who can play special teams.
Safeties (5): Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, Jaiquawn Jarrett, David Sims.
Allen and Coleman are the starters. Beyond that, the Eagles have question marks. But they’re showing some confidence in Jarrett. Should one of the starters go down, the Temple product would likely be the first man in. A Coleman/Jarrett duo would be particularly concerning in coverage.
Anderson is a special-teams ace, and we’ll have to see what Sims brings to the table.
There’s certainly a good chance that the Eagles aren’t done here and could make a move or two in the coming days.