Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

State of the Eagles: Defensive line

The Eagles gathered for their first “organized team activity” on Tuesday and will meet for a total of ten practices over the next three weeks before a three-day minicamp in mid-June concludes the spring portion of workouts. Today’s session will be open to the media and The Inquirer will have full coverage.

State of the Eagles: Defensive line

Fletcher Cox and the Eagles defensive line face off against the Oakland Raiders in 2013. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Fletcher Cox and the Eagles defensive line face off against the Oakland Raiders in 2013. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

The Eagles gathered for their first “organized team activity” on Tuesday and will meet for a total of ten practices over the next three weeks before a three-day minicamp in mid-June concludes the spring portion of workouts. Today’s session will be open to the media and The Inquirer will have full coverage.

Over the next two weeks, though, we’ll reset the 90-man roster, looking at each position and where the depth chart stands heading into July’s training camp. We’ve already done the offensive line, tight end, and now move onto the defensive line:

Projected current first team

Nose tackle: Bennie Logan (6-2, 315), 24, 2d
Left defensive end: Fletcher Cox (6-4, 300), 23, 3d
Right defensive end: Cedric Thornton (6-4, 309), 25, 3d

The most consistent unit on defense last season, the Eagles defensive line had an inglorious end in the playoff loss to the Saints. The New Orleans interior offensive line got the better of the Eagles down linemen and when push came to shove or block, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan, et al, couldn’t make a big stop. Perhaps too much blame has been placed on the big guys up front. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had schemed to stop the Drew Brees aerial assault, and for the most part it worked, even if it came at the expense of stopping the run.

Logan, after making steady progress in the second half of last season, didn’t have one of his better outings, but the Eagles still see great potential. He just may not be the long-term solution at nose tackle on base downs. Logan did add about 5-10 pounds in the offseason. Even if rookie Beau Allen takes some of Logan’s run down snaps, there’s still plenty for Logan to do because he can slide out to both end spots either on base downs or when the Eagles go nickel.

Cox had a good season. It didn’t quite show up in the numbers (he notched only three sacks after tallying 5-1/2 as a rookie), but the Eagles credited Cox with the most hurries (21) on the team. He’s not quite Thornton as a run stopper, but he certainly wasn’t a liability in that regard. Cox was drafted to be a three-technique defensive tackle, a one-gap shooter that can get inside pressure. But he had to change his thinking and technique when the Eagles switched to a 3-4 last season. There were some early-season struggles, but Cox did improve at playing two-gap football. Still, there may always be questions about whether he lived up to being a top draft pick because his production may not show up in the stat sheet playing an unglamorous position. The jury is out on Cox, but this is a big season for the 23-year-old, especially if he’s looking for a contract extension next offseason.

Chip Kelly must have singled out Thornton over a dozen times last season for his play. Thornton’s adjustment to playing four-technique end was much smoother than Cox, partly because he played the position in college. He was one of the best run-stopping linemen in the NFL. He didn’t provide much in the pass rush department, however, and was increasingly taken off the field on passing downs in favor of Logan or Vinny Curry.

Projected second team

Nose tackle: Beau Allen (6-2, 333), 22, rookie
Left defensive end: Vinny Curry (6-3, 279), 25, 3d
Right defensive end: Taylor Hart (6-6, 281), 23, rookie

Allen wasn’t drafted until the seventh round, but he could have the opportunity to play a bunch of snaps if the Eagles are looking for a traditional nose tackle to play on run downs. Allen has to obviously prove he can compete at this level, but he has good size and the Jerry Azzinaro seal of approval. He should at least beat out the much smaller Damion Square for the backup spot.

Curry was the Eagles’ most productive pass rushing lineman despite playing only 26 percent of snaps. He recorded four sacks and 11 hurries. The Eagles tried to move Curry before the trade deadline in October, but I’m not sure how active they were in talking to other teams about a potential exchange this offseason. They need help in terms of getting pressure, and while Curry isn’t exactly a schematic fit, he is a legitimate threat to get after the quarterback almost every time he puts his hand in the ground.

The Eagles let free agent Clifton Geathers walk this offseason, freeing up a sixth spot on the roster. Taylor Hart, assuming he isn’t a flat out bust, should have the inside track. Drafted in the fifth round out of Oregon, Hart has a leg up on his competition because of his familiarity with the defense and Azzinaro. Kelly said after selecting Hart that he would even show some of the veterans a thing or two about playing defensive end in the system.

Others

Brandon Bair
(6-6, 285), end, 29, 2d; Wade Keliikipi, (6-2, 303), tackle, 22, rookie; Joe Kruger (6-6, 290), end, 21, 2d; Frances Mays (6-9, 291), end, 23, rookie; Damion Square (6-2, 293), end/tackle, 25, 2d; Alejandro Villanueva (6-9, 277), end, 25, rookie.

If the Eagles carry a seventh lineman (they had only six on the roster last season), Joe Kruger could be a candidate. He spent all of his rookie on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury, but it was more or less a redshirt season. Kruger has bulked up to 290 pounds. He was listed at 269 a year ago. He’s still young (he turns 22 on Wednesday) and the Eagles have some hope that he can push for a spot. Alejandro Villanueva has an interesting back story, but his chances of making the team are slim.

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