Leading up to Sunday, I will go position-by-position and player-by-player to preview what could be in store for all 53 members of the current Philadelphia Eagles. Click here for the breakdown on the running backs, here for the linebackers and here for the wide receivers. Today, we move on to the defensive line.
Trent Cole - How will the Eagles' best defensive lineman fare with fewer snaps and a better defensive line coach? Cole had 10 sacks and 34 hurries a year ago; both were team-highs. He's averaged 11 sacks per year since 2007. But, as I detailed back in January, Cole was not as productive at the end of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 901 snaps last season, seventh-most in the NFL among defensive ends. Overall, Cole played about 89.4 of the team's defensive snaps, rarely coming off the field.
That's notable, because when you look at the Titans' snap counts under Jim Washburn last year, nobody played that much. Jason Babin led the group with 731 snaps, which accounted for about 59.7 percent of the total plays.
Cole is 28 years old and signed for the next two seasons. His already impressive career could take another leap forward with Washburn.
Jason Babin - I believe whole-heartedly that the single biggest factor in Babin returning to the Eagles was Washburn. If the defensive line coach went elsewhere, I think Babin would have followed him, assuming he got a reasonable offer.
Think of the strange career arc we've seen with Babin. A first-round pick in 2004, he was considered a disappointment until last year when he totaled 12.5 sacks. Now Babin's got the new contract, but you get the feeling he still has something to prove and is excited to have finally carved out a place in the league, even if it didn't happen until he was 30.
Babin should provide the Eagles with a capable complement on the left side. As Babin told Cole many times at training camp, "Meet you at the quarterback."
Cullen Jenkins - If the preseason is any indication, Jenkins is going to provide the kind of pass rush up the middle that the Eagles haven't had in years. Jenkins had seven sacks and 10 QB hits a year ago, despite starting only eight games and playing in 11. We saw the blueprint many times in the preseason: The Eagles' defensive ends rushed upfield and got pressure off the edge, while Jenkins waited to crush the quarterback when he stepped up. I expect to see it play out that way quite a bit this season.
Mike Patterson - Seeing him convulse on the ground at Lehigh was the scariest thing I've ever witnessed on a football field. Fortunately, the veteran defensive tackle is OK, and he even picked up a sack in the third preseason game. Patterson and Antonio Dixon are the Eagles' best defensive tackles against the run. It'll be interesting to see how his role changes in Washburn's system. Only Cole played more snaps than Patterson (603) among Eagles defensive linemen in 2010.
Antonio Dixon - He's a tough guy to project. Dixon really flourished in the Eagles' system last year, taking over as a starting defensive tackle and becoming a force against the run. He dealt with injuries in the preseason but still figures to be a key part of the rotation. Dixon wasn't much of a pass rusher in 2010 but will be asked to get some pressure up the middle this season.
Darryl Tapp - He came on at the end of last season with five hurries and two sacks in the Eagles' final five games (not counting Week 17). Tapp's a veteran, but he's only 26 years old. He'll get his chance on the outside, likely spelling Cole at right defensive end, and Tapp will likely see some snaps inside in pass-rushing situations.
Juqua Parker - He restructured his contract and stays for another year. Parker finished with six sacks and 12 hurries in 2010, playing the third-most snaps among Eagles defensive linemen. He showed he could hold up against the run and ended up replacing Brandon Graham as a starter. Parker's 33, and the Eagles know what they're going to get from him. That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering Parker's averaged six sacks per season since 2006.
Trevor Laws - As I mentioned last weekend, it was probably silly to think Laws had to prove himself in the final preseason game. The Eagles used a second-round pick on him back in 2008. Last summer, I thought Laws was in danger of being cut, but he showed a lot of progress in his third season and was the Eagles' best interior pass rusher. We all know DeSean Jackson is in the final year of his contract, but Laws is too. Washburn spells sacks with dollar signs to motivate his linemen. Laws could earn himself some money with a strong 2011.
Phillip Hunt - He snuck onto the Eagles' roster ahead of Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. It'll be interesting to see if Hunt is active this Sunday. He's only 25, but it's clear the Eagles want to see what he might evolve into. If one of the four defensive ends ahead of him goes down, Hunt will be called on to play a bigger role.