It's hard to figure out what the Eagles coaches really think of players this time of year, based on what they say.
I can't remember Andy Reid, Sean McDermott or Marty Mornhinweg mentioning anything even remotely critical about any of their players so far here at Lehigh. Every guy is working hard. Every one is "going to be a good football player." Even when they cut players (see Alex Hall), they tell you how great the guy is going to be on another team.
Which brings us to the Eagles' defensive line rotation. It's an interesting story line as the team prepares for its preseason opener a week from today against the Jaguars. It's the area the Eagles focused on in the offseason - getting rid of guys like Darren Howard and Chris Clemons, and bringing on guys like Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham and Daniel Te'o-Neshiem.
Let's start with what we know.
We know three of the four starting positions will be occupied by Trent Cole at right defensive end and Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley at the tackle positions. Cole will stay on the field in every situation, as he should. Patterson and Bunkley will come out in nickel and passing situations, as they did last year.
At left defensive end, many of you have asked when Brandon Graham will take that spot from Juqua Parker. With the way Graham has performed so far, it's going to be impossible for the coaches to keep him off the field. But keep in mind his style of play. He wins with energy and effort on every snap. In other words, we have to see how much of that he's able to keep up during game situations. So I think you'll see Parker still on the field quite a bit, at least to start the season.
And then the question that we know the least about to this point: Who will fill in for Bunkley and Parker in passing situations?
The candidates are Tapp, Te'o-Nesheim and Trevor Laws. It's even possible that the three guys rotate.
Tapp was acuired in an offseason trade from Seattle, but hasn't really made much of an impression at camp. He's been rotated inside in passing situations with the first team at times and has also lined up at right defensive end with the second team.
"He can really play multiple positions along the defensive line," McDermott said. "We saw in Seattle he comes off the ball well, and that's the start for a defensive lineman, to come off the ball well. And he's smart and handles the scheme extremely well. It's important that we continue to get him adapted into how we do things in our defensive scheme."
As for Laws, it's easy to forget, but he was actually taken two spots ahead of DeSean Jackson in the second round of the 2008 draft. Coming into camp, it seemed clear that Laws had to show the coaches something just to make the roster. McDemott said he has so far.
"He looks good. He really does," McDermott said. "And it's a credit to Trevor and [head strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin] for what they've done this offseason together. I would say he's added a couple pounds, and more importantly some muscle. He seems focused and hungry."
McDermott was asked what Laws needs to show the coaches.
"Playing every down and playing against the elite competition that you see in the NFC East at the guard and tackle spots," he said. "I just want to see consistency. I've been impressed with what he's done so far in camp, but I want to see it over a period of time."
Laws has seen some reps inside with the first team, replacing Tapp as a pass rusher in nickel and passing situations. The coaches are going to give him every chance to prove himself after spending a high pick on Laws, but I'm still not convinced he's a lock to make the team.
And finally, Te'o-Nesheim. Like Tapp, he has not made much of an impression at camp, and he's clearly not as far along as some of the team's other rookies like Graham and Nate Allen. But McDermott took the praise up a level when talking about Te'o-Nesheim.
"I love the guy," he said. "He's one of the first ones here in the morning and last to leave. And that's what this is all about - guys that want to play for all the right reasons and got it in their heart. What I've known of Daniel up to this point, it seems like he's our type of guy."
What does the rookie need to work on?
"Just adapting his style of pass rushing to the NFL," McDermott said. "You do some things in college and you can get away with some things. Then when you get to the NFL, you've got to test that skill set that you bring and see what you can carry forward and what you need to change and adapt to the tackles and offensive linemen you see at this level."
Those are three guys to keep an eye on as the Eagles move on with another week of practice before Friday's preseason opener: Tapp, Te'o-Nesheim and Laws.
A couple injury wild cards thrown in are Antonio Dixon and Victor Abiamiri, but there's no telling when either of those two will return to the practice field. Dixon is recovering from a concussion, and Abiamiri is on the physically unable to perform list.
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