As promised (sorta), here are observations and 53-man roster predictions on the defense (Sorry for the one-day delay. I forgot I had jury duty Monday.):
Defensive end: There is very little you can gather from watching a defensive lineman practice in shorts. “Boy, that Darryl Tapp really knows how to power through that tackling dummy. And look at that Brandon Graham hustle over to the next drill!” That being said, I’d have to say I came away most impressed with Graham and rookie Daniel Te’o-Nesheim among the new guys. Graham looks to have a quick first step, but also had the good fortune to often be matched up against King Dunlap. Te’o-Nesheim just looks relentless. He’s going to play some inside on passing downs, which is remarkable (unsafe?) considering his size (6-3, 263).
Trent Cole is the man once again at right end and Juqua Parker looks like he’ll hold down the starting spot on the left side – at least for now. Graham, Te’o-Nesheim and former Seahawk Tapp will be part of the rotation.
I’m not sure what to make of Alex Hall and rookie Ricky Sapp. Each has practiced with both the defensive linemen and linebackers. They ended OTAs with the d-line. It’s no secret they’ll have a role in Sean McDermott’s assortment of blitz packages and faux 3-4 looks. I’m just not sure how big of a role it will be.
Makes the cut (8): Cole, Parker, Graham, Tapp, Te’o-Nesheim, Sapp and Hall. Cut: Eric Moncor. IR or PUP: Victor Abiamiri.
Defensive tackle: There was a long stretch during one of McDermott’s installation sessions when neither Mike Patterson nor Brodrick Bunkley saw any action. McDermott was running specific plays in which his nickel defense – with two defensive ends substituting for Patterson and Bunkley – would blitz. It was one blitz package out of countless others, but it really put into perspective how much the defensive tackle position is devalued in McDermott’s overly-aggressive defense. I think its one reason why the Eagles have drafted only one defensive tackle in the last two years -- Jeff Owens in the seventh round of this year’s draft – and haven’t signed any via free agency.
Nevertheless, Patterson and Bunkley are serviceable tackles that effectively clog the middle on running downs and occasionally get to the quarterback even though they aren’t out there very much on passing downs. They’re entrenched as the starters. Antonio Dixon, the Eagles’ latest undrafted rookie find, wore down as the season progressed a year ago, but appears to have dropped some excess weight in the off-season. Trevor Laws, meanwhile, is in jeopardy of losing his spot on the roster. The Eagles’ No. 1 draft pick in 2007, Laws was left off the gameday roster in the final five games last season. Needless to say, he has something to prove in training camp. I was mildly surprised that he wasn’t required to be at rookie and selected vets camp, but as a team official pointed out to me, there’s only so much a defensive tackle can learn/show during OTAs.
Makes the cut (4): Patterson, Bunkley, Owens and Dixon. Cut: Laws, Boo Robinson.
Linebacker: There were all sorts of storylines to come out of OTAs that revolved around the linebackers, which isn’t much of a surprise considering last season’s debacle and the player movement in the off-season. There was also the return of Stewart Bradley to the middle. He “tweaked” his left calf early in the OTAs and the team is saying its minor, which is probably the case. But you’d rather see Bradley remain unscathed for awhile as he attempts a comeback from an ACL tear.
Ernie Sims, acquired in one of several off-season trades, came as billed: He’s super quick, but can get caught over-pursuing. He was given the starting weak-side linebacker spot before he even put on an Eagles uniform. Akeem Jordan appears to have taken his demotion in stride. His versatility virtually assures him a roster spot as it does for Omar Gaither, who is still not 100 percent after foot surgery.
Moise Fokou maintained a tenuous hold on the strong-side linebacker spot, at least that’s how he frames it. I’m not sure, however, that he’s in much danger of losing the job. Jordan could slide over and steal it, but that seems an unlikely fit. Keenan Clayton is the backup right now, but he’s small and only a few years removed from playing safety. His explosiveness, though, should get him on special teams.
With trusty Gaither backing up Bradley, Joe Mays is likely the odd man out. Jamar Chaney has "future middle linebacker" written all over him.
Makes the cut (6): Bradley, Sims, Fokou, Jordan, Gaither and Clayton. Cut: Mays and Simoni Lawrence. IR: Chaney.
Safety: Marlin Jackson’s Achilles tendon injury, while tragic, really wasn’t that devastating. There was a good chance he wasn’t even going to make the team coming off two ACL tears. Jackson may have been with the first team before his injury but that was based solely on his seniority over rookie Nate Allen.
Allen was going to get the job at some point, barring some unforeseen genetic disorder. The Eagles didn’t expend the No. 37 overall pick – the “McNabb pick” – to have Allen sit and watch. It was obvious the Eagles were clearing the path when they moved Macho Harris to cornerback before rookie camp.
They could always go back to Harris if Allen has a hiccup, and Quintin Demps appears to be extra motivated after dropping the ball last year, but the rookie has the inside track. He made some glaring mistakes during practices, but has the obvious tools. It’ll be interesting to see how he hits once the pads come on.
Quintin Mikell suffered an MCL knee sprain just before camp broke. That bears watching as does his return from a below-average season.
Makes the cut (3): Mikell, Allen and Demps. Cut: Kurt Coleman and Ryan Hamilton.
Cornerback: This position may be of the greatest concern heading into training camp. Of the starters the Eagles let go during the off-season, the one could you honestly say they may live to regret getting rid of is Sheldon Brown.
Brown might have tailed off last season and might have only so much left in the tank, but he’s the consummate pro that you can rely on week-in and week-out. I’m not sure the same could be said of Ellis Hobbs, who is coming off back surgery. Hobbs was held back through most of OTAs so his recovery remains a bit of mystery. Simply put, that’s not reassuring. Because Hobbs was still hobbled, Joselio Hanson, Dimitri Patterson and Harris were able to occasionally work with the starters. Hanson is lobbying for the starting job, but he’s better equipped to play the nickel. Patterson is a special teams hand, but nothing more than that. Harris is an interesting case study. He showed during camp that he can handle the finer points of playing cornerback, but I’m not sure if his lack of speed and over-aggressiveness will allow him to play on the outside. He could supplant Hanson as the nickel, however.
And then there’s Trevard Lindley. He may be the wild card. The rookie doesn’t have much to say off the field, but he impressed on it. He’s still adjusting from the move from left cornerback, where he played in college, to right cornerback. But he’s shown that he has the instincts to play the position.
Asante Samuel, meanwhile, did what he does during OTAs: yack it up for the first week and then skip the second.
Makes the cut (5): Samuel, Hobbs, Hanson, Harris and Lindley. Cut: Patterson, Geoffrey Pope, Devin Ross, David Pender.
No change here from last year: David Akers is the kicker, Sav Rocca will remain the punter, despite his inconsistencies and the training camp presence of Ken Parrish, and long snapper Jon Dorenbos will continue to hold the greatest job in all of sports.
Makes the cut (3): Akers, Rocca and Dorenbos. Cut: Parrish.