My wife knows a few things about sports; she has picked them up via osmosis over our 9+ years as a couple. One of those things is “defense wins championships.” She likes to throw this out whenever we discuss sports. In this case I believe it to be true. If the Eagles want to win a championship, things will have to start with their defense. In addition, the Eagles need to cut down on their penalties this season. Last year, they gave the opposition 35 first downs via penalties, the second highest in the league 1 behind the Packers. It doesn’t do the team any good to have a team that performs well defensively only to allow the opposition extra chances to score.
Defensive Line: Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Trevor Laws, Antonio Dixon, Victor Abiamiri, Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Ricky Sapp, Eric Moncur, Boo Robinson and Jeff Owens – The 2009 d-line crew was solid, if not spectacular. The Eagles finished 9th in the league in rushing yards surrendered, and but were in the bottom half in terms of yards per carry. On the passing side, the Eagles sacked the opposing quarterbacks 44 times last season, good enough to finish tied for third in the league. It was obvious from the Eagles’ draft strategy that they were looking to continue to pressure the quarterback this season. The Birds traded up in the first round to draft Brandon Graham out of the University of Michigan. Graham played linebacker in college, but the Eagles see him as a left-sided Trent Cole clone. The Eagles could do much worse than finding a clone of Trent Cole. Last season, Cole had 12.5 sacks and was selected to his second Pro-Bowl. Graham, who as of writing was still unsigned, needs to get into camp in order to make in impact. Observers believe that Graham will be an impact player for the Birds this year, with ESPN blogger Matt Mosley considering Graham as his preseason defensive rookie of the year. Graham will likely split time with Juqua Parker who had 8 sacks last season. Beyond Graham, the Birds also drafted Ricky Sapp out of Clemson and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim out of Washington to bolster the current crop of defensive ends.
In the middle of the line, the Birds are set with Bunkley and Patterson. While neither has lived up to the hype that surrounded them when they were drafted, both are solid and are locks to be in the starting lineup. Returning players Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon will likely be their backups. In a further effort to strengthen the d-line, the Eagles traded for Darryl Tapp from Seattle. Tapp had fallen out of favor in Seattle, but should fit in nicely with the Birds. Given the Eagles’ strategy of rotating their d-linemen, I suspect Tapp (who can play at defensive tackle on passing downs) will play a big part in the Eagles’ defense.
With 14 players in training camp for no more than 11 spots (based on last year’s roster), at least 3 of the players listed will be cut. Locks to make the roster: Cole, Parker, Bunkley, Patterson, Abiamiri, Tapp, Graham. That leaves 4 sports up for grabs based on my projections. I suspect that Laws and Dixon will make the squad based on their familiarity with the Eagles defense. As for the rookies, expect Sapp and Te’o-Nesheim (who can play defensive tackle) to fill out the roster.
Linebacker: Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims, Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan, Alex Hall, Moise Fokou, Joe Mays, Simoni Lawrence, Jamar Chaney and Keenan Clayton – The linebacker position was in a constant state of flux last season. The Eagles lost their starting middle linebacker, Stewart Bradley, before the season even started and then lost his replacement (Gaither) during the season. The Eagles saw 7 different players start a game at linebacker. Going into 2010, the Eagles are looking for more stability and production from their linebacking corps. The Birds traded a 5th round pick to the Lions for Ernie Sims in an effort to solidify the weak-side. Sims, a former first round pick, had a productive first three seasons, averaging 124 tackles per season. Last year, Sims started only 8 games and fell out of favor with Lions’ management. Still just 25, Sims has not lived up to his potential as a dynamic defensive weapon. If the Birds can get a 100 tackle season out of him they’ll be happy. In the middle, Stewart Bradley is due to come back from his ACL injury and, if healthy, should provide the Eagles with a great quarterback for the defense. Bradley was very good in 2008, racking up 108 tackles. A return to that form would provide the Eagles with two solid backers. On the strong-side, the early favorite to start is Moise Fokou. Fokou, a 7th round pick in 2009, started 4 games last season and racked up 28 tackles. It remains to be seen whether Fokou is ready to start an entire season at linebacker, but he showed promise in his cameo last season. Gaither will provide cover for Bradley and Sims, while Akeem Jordan will provide cover at both outside positions. Alex Hall, added via trade with the Cleveland Browns, will also be in the rotation at linebacker and can play defensive end as well. Last season, the Eagles carried 8 linebackers, so expect 2 of the players listed above to not make the cut. Joe Mays will likely make the roster, as he started one game last season and appeared in 11. He knows the defensive system and is just 25. As for the rookies, my guess is that 4th round pick Keenan Clayton will make the roster.
Just as with the offense, there are several questions marks about the Eagles’ defense. How will the linebackers fair after an injury filled 2009? Who will make the final cut? What kind of impact will Brandon Graham have? The final part of my pre training camp preview will be posted later in the week.
Tomorrow look for a post on Football at Fenway, as Celtic FC takes on Sporting Clube de Portugal in the first soccer game at Fenway Park since 1968.
You might also be interested in: Are You Ready for Some Football? – Eagles Pre-Training Camp Preview – Offense