The Eagles enter their second week of OTAs this week, and they will practice throughout the next three weeks. After those practices, Chip Kelly will have a better idea of the Eagles roster. But there’s a lot that will happen between now and then.
To get you up to date, The Inquirer is spending two weeks assessing where the Eagles stand at each spot. Last week, we looked at offensive line, wide receiver, tight end, quarterback, and running back.
Here are defensive linemen:
DE: Fletcher Cox (6-4, 300), 22, 2nd season; Cedric Thornton (6-4, 309), 24, 2nd season
The Eagles are counting on Cox, the 2012 first-round pick, to become a blue-chip player in the Eagles’ new defense. He showed flashes of stardom last year, including 4.5 of his 5.5 sacks after joining the starting lineup seven games into the season. Cox has the ability to be the disruptive presence a strong 3-4 defense needs, as he can penetrate and rush the passer and also remain stout against the run. The scheme changes won’t stunt his progress because he’s a versatile player who was considered a strong prospect either as a 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end last season. Of all the players on the Eagles, Cox has the best chance to be a Pro Bowler.
Thornton is an unproven player, but he’s been in Philadelphia for three seasons and the organization is high on him. In fact, when he was on the practice squad two seasons ago, Tampa Bay tried to sign him to the active roster and the Eagles actually increased Thornton’s salary to that of an active player to persuade him to stay. Now, he’s slated to be a starter at the five-technique spot, which is actually where Thornton played in college at Southern Arkansas. This spot won’t be gifted to him, but Thornton is an athlete with good size who could be an under-the-radar contributing player for the Eagles this season. He must prove worthy of it, though, and third-round pick Bennie Logan could threaten for playing time.
DT: Isaac Sopoaga (6-2, 330), 31, 10th season
The Eagles signed Sopoaga for a specific purpose. He was an outlier among their free agents, considering his age. But in a new defense, the Eagles needed someone who can play nose tackle. That’s Sopoaga, who has started 80 career games and has played different positions along the defensive line. He must occupy blockers and be a strong presence in the middle of the line, but there’s a track record of solid production. Sopoaga won’t be a star, but that’s what the Eagles need at that position. They need reliable play and experience on an inexperienced line, and he provides that much.
Bennie Logan (6-2, 309), 23, rookie; Vinny Curry (6-4, 279), 24, 2nd season; Antonio Dixon (6-3, 325), 27, 4th season
After the starters, the situation gets cluttered. Logan will be on the team and likely contribute as a rotational player, considering his record as a solid defensive lineman at LSU. He still can size, but his versatility will be needed as the Eagles try to figure out what defense and mix of players are the best fit.
Curry and Dixon are wild cards. Curry was a second-round pick last season and was expected to contribute as a pass-rushing defensive end. He struggled to get on the field under defensive line coach Jim Washburn and might not fit in the Eagles’ new defense. There were questions about whether he’d be a defensive end or an outside linebacker, but the Eagles appear to want him to play end. It remains to be seen how he’ll be used. Clearly, the team believes he’s talented if they invested a second-round pick. He just might be a better in a different scheme, or on a different team.
As for Dixon, the Eagles believe he can play nose tackle. He’ll need to prove that. His best games with the Eagles came in a traditional 4-3 defense, and he could not last in Indianapolis as a nose tackle in the 3-4. He has size, but that position requires more than size. Similar to Curry, time will tell if he can transition to this defense.
Joe Kruger (6-6, 269), 20, rookie; David King (6-4, 285), 23, rookie; Clifton Gaethers (6-8, 340), 25, 5th; Isaac Remington (6-6, 305), 23, rookie; Damion Square (6-3, 286), 24, rookie; Daryell Walker (6-6, 285), 22, rookie.
One thing you might notice about this group – and this position overall – is the inexperience. Outside of Gaethers, a huge lineman who has played 15 career games over three seasons with two teams, this group is all rookies.
Kruger and King are both seventh-round picks who are developmental players. That’s especially the case with Kruger, who is the youngest player on the team and one that the Eagles believe would have been a high pick had he stayed in school. They’ll let him grow and learn in their system. King is a strong athlete who the Eagles hope can blossom in the NFL.
Remington played for coach Chip Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon, so there’s at least familiarity with him. Square played in a 3-4 defense at Alabama, so he has experience in the scheme. Walker made the team after a tryout in rookie camp.
Gaethers was acquired from the Colts for Stanley Havili. The Eagles like his size, and that can be helpful in a search for a reserve line.
Don’t expect anyone in this group to be a major contributor. This is also a position that can have roster turnover during the next few months while the Eagles figure out their personnel and their scheme.
Contact Zach Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.