Here's a player-by-player look at what might be in store for the Eagles' defense this year.
Trent Cole - He stands out pretty much every week as the best player on the Eagles' defense. Prediction: He will set a new career high in sacks, breaking the mark of 12.5 that he tied last season. On the flip side, the Cowboys neutralized Cole at the end of last season. Will other teams be able to copy Dallas' formula and bottle him up? I say no.
Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley - We are not allowed to talk about them separately. It's a rule. Patterson and Bunkley need to cause disruption in the middle of the line and free up the linebackers so they can use their speed and fly to the football. They'll both be replaced in nickel situations.
Brandon Graham - I'm very interested to see how he performs now that the games count. Graham really couldn't have been more impressive since joining the team at Lehigh. However, can he keep his high-motor style going for an entire game? What about an entire season? Those will be the factors to keep an eye on during his rookie season.
Juqua Parker - He is no longer a starter, but Parker could be brought in at left defensive end if the Eagles want to move Graham inside in pass-rushing situations. Don't be surprised if he replaces Graham at times either. Sean McDermott will want to keep his linemen fresh. Parker had eight sacks in 2009.
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim - Coaches love him, but he hasn't shown much production at camp or in the preseason. He will get a chance to play inside in the defensive line rotation. Of all the linemen, Te'o-Nesheim might be the most likely to drop back into coverage. Look for McDermott to move him around pre-snap and stand him up also.
Trevor Laws - He had a good camp. Now it's time for Laws to show he can be productive as an inside pass rusher, alongside Te'o-Nesheim. If Patterson or Bunkley goes down, Laws could see increased playing time, but it's probably just as likely that they'd turn to Antonio Dixon in those situations.
Darryl Tapp - I'm not sure where he fits in if everyone else is healthy. Tapp could be called to fill in either on the inside or on the outside if the Eagles suffer injuries. He could get a chance to rotate inside in place of Te'o-Nesheim or Trevor Laws also in nickel situations.
Antonio Dixon - He'll be a backup to Patterson and Bunkley, but could be rotated in to give those guys a breather from time to time. Seems better suited to stop the run than rush the passer, but we've only seen Dixon in limited action.
Antwan Barnes - Another guy who is tough to project since he just arrived from Baltimore last week. It sounds like the Eagles want Barnes to get after the passer, but his skill set suggests he is probably able to drop back into coverage also.
Stewart Bradley - Not sure what exactly to expect from him this season, but he pretty much has to be better than the Eagles' 2009 middle linebackers. Bradley is a three-down player, which will help with continuity and communication on defense. His height should help the Eagles cover the middle of the field. Bradley assumes leadership responsibilities from Quintin Mikell.
Ernie Sims - We saw him take out unsuspecting teammates at training camp. Now, Sims will have to prove he can stand his ground against offensive opponents who are trying just as hard to drive him into the ground. He shows good quickness, but will struggle if offensive linemen are able to get their hands on him.
Akeem Jordan - He'll get a test right away against Packers tight end JerMichael Finley. Jordan is an active player, and the Eagles' linebacking corps could be the unit that is most improved from a year ago
Omar Gaither - He's spent time, either in practice or games, at all three linebacking positions. The Eagles will almost definitely need Gaither to fill in at some point this season.
Keenan Clayton - Not sure he'll have much of a role as a rookie. Clayton admitted to me a couple weeks ago that there are practices where he feels overwhelmed with all the new information. He's on the depth chart as the backup WILL, but the Eagles would probably be more likely to go with Gaither there (or even shuffle Jordan over) if Sims were to go down.
Moise Fokou - Hopefully he can cut down on the penalties in his second season. If Jordan is injured, Fokou will be counted on to fill in as the SAM 'backer. I don't anticipate the defensive end experiment to continue, but I could be wrong.
JaMar Chaney - He could have a special teams role, but don't expect to see him on the field other than that.
Asante Samuel - Turnovers helped mask some flaws on the Eagles' defense last season. Samuel has 13 interceptions the last two seasons. Well see how the tackling looks.
Ellis Hobbs - He did everything he could to make believers out of doubters (me) during training camp. Now Hobbs has to show it will translate in the regular season. Like the rest of the secondary, he'll get tested right away against Aaron Rodgers and company.
Joselio Hanson - After returning from suspension last season, Hanson did not look like the same player. He was never really a threat to take Hobbs' job at right cornerback, but the Eagles are counting on him as the nickel corner.
Dimitri Patterson - It looks like he'll be tried out at safety as well, but Patterson will likely be the first corner called on if one of the first three guys goes down with an injury.
Trevard Lindley - He showed the ability to play special teams, and Lindley's play is one of the reasons Macho Harris is gone. The future looks bright, but his progress throughout the season is something to keep an eye on.
Jorrick Calvin - Don't see a role for him on defense, but special teams seems like a possibility.
Quintin Mikell - I'm predicting a bounce-back year. Mikell's contract is up at the end of the season, and he was asked to do too much in '09. With Bradley back in the fold, he can concentrate on doing his job as the strong safety, rather than worry about helping everyone else.
Nate Allen - He's been impressive, but now Allen will have to prove he's up to the task of starting as a rookie. I was impressed with his ability as a blitzer in the preseason, and Allen seems to have good instincts.
Kurt Coleman - The Eagles showed great confidence in Coleman, choosing to keep only three safeties on their roster. If Mikell were to go down, we'd see if the Eagles played Coleman or made a move to add a veteran safety. He looked capable on special teams in the preseason also.
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