BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Antonio Dixon is on the roster bubble.
The Eagles defensive tackle has been there before. But this year he may face his toughest challenge even with the team down a defensive tackle with Mike Patterson currently sidelined.
“I was a free agent so I never feel like I got it made -- until you get that big contract,” Dixon said. “But I’m still out here every day grinding, doing what Coach Wash wants me to do.”
“Coach Wash” would be, of course, Jim Washburn. The defensive line coach can be heard from long distance barking at Dixon for long stretches of practice. Washburn likes his defensive tackles to be fast and athletic because he stresses the pass rush above all.
Dixon doesn’t necessarily fit the mold. He’s a big-bodied run stopper, probably better suited to play nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. He came into camp last year after the lockout weighing a whopping 355 pounds. The additional weight put pressure on his back and slowed his motor. Dixon suffered a season-ending torn triceps in October and then needed back surgery in the offseason.
Despite Washburn’s system, the Eagles retained Dixon, who was an unrestricted free agent, in March. They still need run-stoppers, after all.
“He’ll sort of treat me different,” Dixon said of Washburn. “He let’s me do more stuff on my own. Let’s say there’s a big gap, he’ll tell me to jump over and play the run because I’m a legitimate nose tackle.”
With Patterson out till who knows when because of his January brain surgery, Dixon could be assured a roster spot based on his run-stopping abilities alone. But he hasn’t looked as swift as he did in 2009 and 2010. He said he currently weighs 335 pounds, slightly more than his listed 322.
Defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox and Derek Landri are guaranteed roster spots. If Patterson starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List that could leave Dixon and second-year defensive tackle Cedric Thornton fighting for the last spot. The Eagles could keep five defensive tackles, though, depending on how many ends they keep.
“We’re going to miss Mike P. Hopefully he comes back soon,” Dixon said. “But we’re really going to need a run-stopper. Last year we struggled in the run game. I think I can be a big help especially now that we got [middle linebacker] DeMeco [Ryans].”