State Of the Eagles’ Roster: Defense


Kenny PhillipsWe did the offense on Thursday. Now here’s the D.

Below is a position-by-position primer on what to look for tonight as the Eagles get ready to host the Patriots in their first preseason game.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Fletcher Cox is the best player on this defense. Tonight, we get a chance to see how he’ll be used in Billy Davis’ scheme. How much two-gapping will the linemen be asked to do? Will Cox get one-on-one opportunities as the 3-technique in the 4-3 under? It’s finally time for some answers.

Isaac Sopoaga will play nose tackle, and Cedric Thornton will likely start opposite Cox.

Plenty of intrigue with the second and third teams. We’ll find out what Davis’ plans are for rookie Bennie Logan, and Vinny Curry will try to prove he’s a fit in the new scheme. Don’t be surprised if Clifton Geathers mixes in with the first team. And keep an eye on undrafted free agent Damion Square.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

All eyes will be on Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as they make the position switch from defensive end. During practices, they dropped back into coverage a lot because that’s where the coaches wanted to evaluate them. Tonight, we’ll get a better idea of their full range of abilities in the new scheme.

Will Cole and Graham ever be on the field together? Or will Graham just spell Connor Barwin with the second team?

Speaking of Barwin, keep an eye on him when the Eagles go to nickel. He’ll line up all over the place and be used in a “joker” role.

As for the backups, Chris McCoy, Travis Long, Phillip Hunt and Everette Brown are fighting to make the roster.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Mychal Kendricks was tight-lipped earlier this week when asked about his role. The second-year player apparently didn’t want to spill the beans. But he did say in the spring that he expects to be freed up more in the new scheme, and Kendricks has had a good camp. He seems to be on track to make the second-year leap and will be playing alongside DeMeco Ryans.

The backup spots are up for grabs. None of the candidates for roster spots – Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho – have stood out at camp. With Jason Phillips out for the season (torn ACL), the Eagles will need one or two of these players to emerge.

Look for the inside linebackers to spend time up near the line of scrimmage threatening the A-gaps. Even if they end up dropping into coverage, this can create confusion for the offensive line.

CORNERBACKS

Getting torched by Tom Brady during a couple practice sessions is no reason to panic, but the fact remains that the Eagles have question marks throughout their secondary.

Cary Williams skipped much of the spring, got benched for a scuffle Tuesday and has missed more practice because of a hamstring issue. He won’t play vs. the Patriots.

Bradley Fletcher hasn’t done much to impress at camp, but he’ll start on the outside tonight. Brandon Boykin has had an excellent camp and is getting a serious look to be more than just the team’s nickel corner.

Keep an eye on what the Eagles do in their sub package. One option is to move Boykin inside and bring in Curtis Marsh to play outside. Another is to keep Boykin on the outside and bring in a third corner like Brandon Hughes, Eddie Whitley or Jordan Poyer.

And the third option is to bring in a third safety, moving Patrick Chung up to cover the slot. That’s a look we saw some of in practice this week.

SAFETIES

Probably the most wide-open position on the team. Chung and Nate Allen will start, but others like Kurt Coleman, Kenny Phillips and Earl Wolff will get opportunities.

Miscommunication was a constant last year with this group. And tonight, they’ll likely see New England’s up-tempo offense. The defense has had practice with that all offseason. We’ll see how much that’s helped tonight.

Another thing to key in on is how these guys react when the ball’s in the air. During practices against New England, it wasn’t that they were always out of position or getting beat vertically. But when Brady let his receivers try to make plays, they did. And the Eagles’ safeties struggled to react.

As for specific players, Phillips hasn’t done much to eliminate doubts about his health. He’s a player to keep an eye on.

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