The Eagles will narrow their roster from 90 to 75 by Aug. 26 and to 53 for the regular season by Aug. 30. The Inquirer’s beat reporters will spend the next eight days predicting who stays and who goes. Here’s the lineup:
Aug. 18: Defensive line
Aug. 19: Linebacker
Aug. 20: Wide receiver/tight end
Aug. 21: Offensive line
Aug. 22: Cornerback
Aug. 23: Safety
Aug. 24: Running back
Aug. 25: Quarterback/specialist
LIKELY TO KEEP: 6-7
Jeff McLane: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, Brandon Bair, Taylor Hart.
The Eagles have spent the last two years remarking their defensive line to suit their two-gap, 3-4 needs, but they could still field a good 4-3 front. Their best linemen – Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry, not to mention outside linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham -- are not ideal fits for Bill Davis and Jerry Azzinaro’s preferred scheme. Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan are the returning starters and will likely begin the season that way. All three are 26 or younger. Cox is still, amazingly, only 23. He had a good, not great, 2013. It took time for him to adapt to the 3-4 switch. I’m not sure if he’s there yet or if he ever will be. He has great athleticism for a man of his size (6-4, 300), but two-gapping may not play to those strengths and his aggressive mentality. Still, he’s more than talented enough to be above average in this defense. Thornton was the Eagles’ best run stopper up front last season. He struggled getting to the quarterback on pass rushing downs. Logan improved in his rookie season, especially when Isaac Sopoaga was traded and he was handed the starting job in Week 9. He can play both the nose and defensive end. He isn’t a traditional space eating 3-4 nose, but has good two-gap technique. Logan took some criticism for how the Saints were effective on the ground in the playoffs, but Davis’ stop-Drew Brees-first game plan had as much to do with the run defense in that game as anything.
Defensive line is probably the Eagles’ deepest position. They kept only six linemen last season, but I can’t see them retaining any less than seven this year. Eight is a possibility, although it would be difficult to keep two linemen inactive on game days. Beau Allen, despite not having yet played in an NFL regular season game, is already entrenched as the backup nose. He’s had a strong camp, has flashed in the preseason games and will only improve as a rookie. I’ve been high on Allen since they drafted him. Curry is the best pure pass rusher of the group, but he won’t be more than a situational linemen. Many have been clamoring for more Curry, and he’s certainly earned it, but he just doesn’t fit in schematically with what the Eagles do up front on base downs. He’s at his best as a one-gap penetrator, and the Eagles need two-gapping ends to hold up blockers and fill gaps for the scheme to work at its best. There has been some talk about the Eagles trading Curry before the season. Another team would have to be willing to part with a lot. Curry may not be an ideal match here, but he has a skill the Eagles are lacking up front.
If you asked me before training camp if Brandon Bair had a shot at making the 53-man roster, I would have said no way. But he’s played well in camp and the preseason and now I’m finding it hard to leave him off. He’s a prototypical two-gapper. He can take on his blocker, disengages quickly and makes the stop if the running back is in one of his two gaps. He’s just an OK pass rusher, but he should be able to get the job done on run downs with the second rotation. Taylor Hart is like a younger Bair, only more gifted. The rookie out of Oregon still needs to develop and muscle up. I’d imagine he’ll be inactive early in the season as the Eagles coach him up. He’s looked strong in one on ones during camp, but hasn’t carried that over into the preseason games.
Zach Berman: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Benny Logan, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart, Brandon Bair.
Damion Square, Joe Kruger, Wade Keliikipi, Alejandro Villanueva, Frances Mayes.
It was difficult leaving Damion Square off the roster, but he essentially lost his spot to Allen. It would be a waste to keep three nose tackles. He isn’t explosive, but is heady and plays hard. The Eagles will have a hard time cutting him, but he should catch on elsewhere. Joe Kruger has practice squad eligibility. I think the Eagles can stow him there. He spent all of last season on Injured Reserve and bulked up to 290 pounds. To me, he’s looked better in the games than in camp, but he still has a ways to go. It looks like he’s still adjusting to playing with 20 additional pounds. Wade Keliikipi has some talent, but he’s one of the few Ducks Chip Kelly won’t be able to find space for. Alejandro Villanueva was always deemed a project. He’s made progress, but has physical limitations to go with having never played the position before. Frances Mays is another 6-9 giant, but hasn’t stood out, despite his size.