Eagles Wake-Up Call: Projecting the Starting Defense
Today’s question comes from Brian via email:
What’s your best guess at what the starting defense will look like Week 1?
Many weeks to go and some competitions that need to play out, Brian, but let’s give this a shot:
RDE: Fletcher Cox
NT: Bennie Logan
LDE: Cedric Thornton
Quick thoughts: This unit should be a point of strength once again. Cox, just 24, was arguably the team’s best player last year. He is on the doorstep of All-Pro status. Logan (25) and Thornton (26) have developed nicely under Jerry Azzinaro. Vinny Curry racked up nine sacks last year and has carved out a niche as a productive pass-rush specialist.
Jack: Connor Barwin
Predator: Brandon Graham
ILB 1: Kiko Alonso
ILB 2: DeMeco Ryans
Quick thoughts: Alonso (ACL) and Ryans (Achilles) are both coming off major injuries, but assuming health, I think these two will end up as the starters. Where does that leave Mychal Kendricks? Great question. He was the subject of trade speculation near draft time. Chip Kelly said he envisions Kendricks being part of the team. If he is on the roster, it will be fascinating to see what kind of rotation Billy Davis comes up with to maximize the talents of three starting-caliber ‘backers.
Barwin and Graham are the clear favorites to start on the outside. The intrigue here is whether Marcus Smith can take a step forward and contribute in a meaningful way in Year 2. Also curious to see what Travis Long brings to the table. The coaches seemed pretty high on him before he went down with an ACL tear last summer.
Left corner: Eric Rowe
Right corner: Byron Maxwell
Safety 1: Malcolm Jenkins
Safety 2: Earl Wolff
Quick thoughts: Training camp drama ahead. Rowe will be competing with Nolan Carroll and Walter Thurmond for a starting gig on the outside. Can Thurmond stay healthy? If Carroll was unable to beat out Bradley Fletcher last year, how much confidence should we have that he is the upgrade the Eagles are looking for? Rowe is relatively inexperienced at corner and will be tackling a steep learning curve, but the opportunity is there.
There is no clear-cut answer for the safety spot opposite Jenkins. Jaylen Watkins has bulked up some with safety in mind. Jerome Couplin, Ed Reynolds and Chris Prosinski could be in the mix. We’ll see where they decide to train Randall Evans. Wolff is coming off microfracture surgery. Can he rebound? Is that lingering knee injury now behind him? I’m guessing Jenkins’ partner will change at least once over the course of the year, but I’ll say Wolff wins the job out of camp.
WHAT YOU MISSED
The Eagles agreed to terms with Jordan Hicks Thursday.
“Philadelphia upgraded immensely in [the running back] department.” Michael Irvin says the Eagles, with the addition of DeMarco Murray, are the team to beat in East.
Kelly and the Eagles propose a two-point conversion rule change.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Football Outsiders projects the Eagles to finish 9-7 in 2015. From ESPN.com (H/T Jimmy Kempski):
Dallas Cowboys 11-5 (11.2 mean wins, SOS: 18)
New York Giants 9-7 (9.4 mean wins, SOS: 24)
Philadelphia Eagles 9-7 (8.7 mean wins, SOS: 23)
Washington Redskins 5-11 (5.0 mean wins, SOS: 17)
Improved health is also a big reason we have the Giants projected to improve, but there are clearly some issues in the Giants’ training room. Big Blue has led the league in adjusted games lost for two straight seasons. So while this projection assumes some regression toward the mean, it doesn’t assume as much as it would with other teams. And if the Giants have another season as the most injured team in the league, this forecast is clearly going to be too high.
Just as there are subjective reasons to believe that the Giants’ may not get a boost when health regresses toward the mean by improving, there are subjective reasons to believe that the Eagles (and Chip Kelly’s sports science program) may not get worse when their health regresses toward the mean by declining. But we do have to penalize the Eagles for introducing a new quarterback to their system, which usually means an offensive step back, all other things being equal.
Dave Spadaro recently caught up with Kiko Alonso and provided an update on the linebacker.
Alonso is on the field every day now during the team’s Phase Two offseason program. There are no pads and no contact, and Alonso isn’t yet all the way back from his knee injury. He’s making good progress and feels like he’s on the right track. The Eagles, devastated at the inside linebacker spots in 2014, welcome back a healthy Mychal Kendricks, who started and played very well last year after returning from a calf injury.DeMeco Ryans says he will be reading for Training Camp in the late summer after missing half of last year with a torn Achilles tendon. Najee Goode is healthy. Emmanuel Acho returns. Brad Jones signed as an unrestricted free agent. Jordan Hicks was a third-round draft pick.
And Alonso could end up as the key piece in much of what the Eagles do defensively.
“He’s going to be a big help for us,” said inside linebackers coach Rick Minter in a post-trade Chalk Talk event with corporate partners at the NovaCare Complex. “He does all the things that we want our linebackers to do. He’s big, he’s tall and he moves side to side and attacks the football. He’s really the prototype of what we’re looking for inside.”
A closer look at offensive line hopeful Malcolm Bunche.