Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Defensive Line
This is the fifth in a series. Throughout the next week or two, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Eagles’ roster. What you’ve missed so far:
Take a look at the defensive linemen who took the field for the Eagles in Week 1 of the 2012 season: Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Trent Cole, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Cedric Thornton, Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham.
Of that group, three (Babin, Jenkins, Landri) are gone, along with Mike Patterson. Three are expected to make the switch to outside linebacker (Cole, Hunt and Graham). And two (Cox and Thornton) remain on the defensive line.
Vinny Curry, who was inactive for the first 10 games last season, will also stay at defensive line (for now).
In the offseason, the Eagles added veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga from the 49ers. Ronnie Cameron was added to the practice squad at the end of last season. And the team acquired Clifton Geathers via trade with the Colts. Veteran Antonio Dixon is back with the Birds as well.
The Eagles added competition in the draft, selecting LSU’s Bennie Logan in the third round, along with Utah’s Joe Kruger and Oklahoma’s David King in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s Damion Square and Oregon’s Isaac Remington joined the team as undrafted free agents.
A lot of bodies, but few proven commodities.
Among the 14 teams that ran a 3-4 or some kind of hybrid last year, the average number of defensive linemen kept on the 53-man roster was 6.9.
Here’s a look at the players on the roster:
Pencil ’em in: Cox, Logan, Sopoaga.
It flew under the radar because of the 4-12 record, but Cox had a really good rookie season. He had seven tackles for loss and was the Eagles’ best defensive tackle against the run. He improved as a pass-rusher, finishing with 5.5 sacks to go along with 24 hurries. It seems clear that he has a Pro Bowl ceiling, but Cox is already on his third defensive line coach.
As for fit, Cox’s versatility is part of what the Eagles found attractive when they traded up to get him in last year’s draft. He can line up at the 5-technique (defensive end) in a 3-4, and he can be an interior pass-rusher in four-man fronts.
Meanwhile, Logan, a third-round pick, is a lock to make the roster. He’s only 6-2, but has long arms (34 inches). In four-man fronts, Logan is a defensive tackle. In three-man fronts, it remains to be seen where he lines up. At 309 pounds, Logan can play nose tackle, and he could probably line up at the 5-tech too.
One thing that stands out from the table above is that the Eagles only have one defensive lineman with more than 10 career starts, and that’s Sopoaga. He’s not a three-down player, but is probably the favorite to line up at nose tackle. Sopoaga will also be expected to fill the leader/veteran presence role with this group.
Fighting for spots: Curry, Thornton, Kruger, Cameron, Dixon, Geathers, King, Remington, Square.
There are clear favorites in this group: Thornton, Kruger and Curry.
Curry saw limited action last year and didn’t show much as a pass-rusher. A 2012 second-round pick, he’ll get every opportunity to make the roster and should stick. But there’s not an obvious fit for him. It’s possible he could move over to outside linebacker at some point.
Thornton showed last year that he can be an effective rotational player, and he will likely make the team too. But I wasn’t ready to mark him down as a lock. He has good length and fits as a 5-tech in 3-4 fronts and a defensive tackle in four-man fronts.
Kruger is a developmental player. He’s 6-6 and only 20-years-old. It would be a surprise if he didn’t make the team.
Assuming those three stick, that will likely only leave a spot or two for Cameron, Dixon, Geathers, Remington and Square. Dixon does not present much versatility. He could be a nose tackle in a 3-4 or a run-stopping DT in a 4-3, but he doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher.
Geathers (6-8) takes over for King Dunlap as the team’s tallest player, but has played very little since entering the league in 2010. King was a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma. Remington (Oregon) and Square (Alabama) are undrafted free agents.
Again, lots of bodies, but not a lot of known quantities. It’s not out of the question that the Eagles add a piece or two between now and the start of the season.
UPDATE: After this was posted, the Eagles signed DE Daryell Walker (Hampton) and released Cameron.