Movin’ right along this week, we’ll preview the Philadelphia Eagles defensive and special teams units. We’ll open up today with a look at the Eagles deepest group, the defensive line. Led by All-Pro DE Trent Cole.
So you don’t believe that depth on the defensive line is important? Ask the New York Giants if they wish for more depth in that department. Instead, they’ll be debating if Michael Strahan’s return to Gotham is worth the $8 million he’s reportedly is asking for in the wake of DE Osi Umenyiora’s season-ending knee injury.
The Eagles defensive line rebounded from a dismal 2006 campaign. Among the improvments was the play of second year defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley, who rebounded from a disappointing rookie season. Bunkley paired with Mike Patterson to form one of the better DT combinations in the NFL. Bunkley and Patterson were a huge reason the Bird’s run defense improved from 26th in 2006 to 7th last season. Both were able to provide significant pressure in the middle to compliment the ends. In the 2nd round the Eagles drafted Notre Dame standout DT Trevor Laws (built similarly to Patterson) to provide depth the will enable defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to throw what he termed “Fastballs” at the opposing offense. Montae Reagor and Dan Klecko will battle for the final spot, as the Eagles will keep at least four defensive tackles.
The production of Trent Cole at defensive end seemed to offset the lack of production by Jevon Kearse on the other side. Kearse was replaced in week 11 by Juqua Thomas (now Juqua Parker) who would finish second on the team in sacks with 5. In the end, the season proved to be about Cole who would be named the team’s 2007 Defensive MVP and earn his first trip to Hawai’i as a Pro Bowl alternate. Cole would finish third in the NFC with 12.5 sacks.
Beginning with Hugh Douglas, the Eagles have gone the way of the undersized, speedy defensive end. Players like former Eagle Derrick Burgess and Trent Cole are in the Douglas mold as is current free agent acqusition Chris Clemons. At 6’2″ 240 lbs. Clemons recorded 8 sacks last season with the Oakland Raiders. In Jim Johnson’s complex system, Clemons will be asked to line up at linebacker if the Eagles flirt with a 3-4 formation other than that he will line up opposite Cole on passing downs. The Eagles hope to get some production from 2006 prized free agent pickup Darren Howard, who has been a disappointment to say the least.
On the right side of the line there, is a starter looking to improve on his surprise success last season (Juqua Parker), an up and comer currently on the mend (Victor Abiamiri) and a forgotten man looking to get back into the mix (Jerome McDougle)
When Juqua Parker replaced Jevon Kearse in week 11 last season, it all but ended the Freak’s run in Philadelphia. It gave Parker, an undrafted free agent in 2005 the opportunity to start in a rotation whose youth was matched by their aggression. Parker will try to hold off Victor Abiamiri who was used last season as a third down specialist. Abiamiri is currently nursing a broken wrist and is working feverishly to get back before the September 7th opener against the Rams.
The wild card in this equation is the star-crossed Jerome McDougle. McDouglehas spent the better part of his 6 seasons in Eagles green on some type of injury list. Heading into camp this season McDougle has again opened some eyes and has made the most of his opportunities in the preseason. It’s not guaranteed that McDougle will be given a roster spot, but he must be commended for coming back again and again, defying the odds.