Let’s get it back to the Eagles.
Training camp starts tomorrow at NovaCare and we’ll soon have the opportunity to overreact to every completed pass and dropped ball and bobbled hand-off. But as divorce lawyer Joe Cordell would say, “that’s okay,” because we’re talking about the defending Super Bowl champions here. Of course people are gonna be excited and probably overdo it.
We took a look at the the offense yesterday in part one of our training camp preview.
Today we’re looking at the defense.
Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Tre Sullivan, Ryan Neal, Jeremy Reaves, Stephen Roberts
Two sure bets in the starting roles and not much behind them. There’s still a chance the Eagles bring back Corey Graham to be the third safety this season, a theory/rumor that picked up a bit of steam yesterday when the Birds waived CB Randall Goforth. Graham got 367 defensive snaps (36%) and 180 special teams snaps (39%) last year, so I think he played a bigger role than most people realize.
At the top, Malcolm Jenkins is coming off his second Pro Bowl in three years. He really is the prototypical strong safety, able to get down in the box and make tackles, match up with slot receivers and tight ends, and do a bit of everything on the defensive side of the ball.
McLeod has been a solid free safety these past two seasons, but I can understand if people want to see more from a guy on a five year, 35 million dollar contract. He’s going to bring a big cap hit next season, so he might he in line for the Mychal Kendricks treatment unless he has a career year in 2018.
The rest of the group is rather raw. Sullivan had some great moments last preseason before winding up on IR and the practice squad. Reaves is interesting as a converted corner and aggressive playmaker coming out of South Alabama. Neal and Roberts are in the same boat, undrafted free agents with a shot at earning that third safety gig behind Jenkins and McLeod.
And of course Chris Maragos is coming off the week six knee injury. I’d think the ace special teamer will only be called on to play safety in the case of a heavily depleted roster.
- do the Eagles re-sign Corey Graham?
- does McLeod step up his game this year?
- does one of Sullivan, Neal, Reaves, or Roberts impress during camp?
— EaglesFootball 247 (@PEF247) August 11, 2017
Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, D.J. Killings, De’Vante Bausby, Avonte Maddox, Chandon Sullivan
The biggest question at corner is probably the biggest question for the entire defense at this point: who plays the slot?
Patrick Robinson really was excellent in that role last season, playing 69% of the snaps as the Eagles operated much more out of their nickel look vs. the 4-3 base defense. You probably remember Robinson wasn’t even named the starting slot corner until very late in last summer’s training camp, and there really were a lot of questions surrounding that decision, which he answered with relative ease.
So I have no clue who replaces him there. Sidney Jones is healthy now, but he was an outside guy in college. Rookie fourth round draft pick Avonte Maddox looks like a candidate for the gig. I really think Jalen Mills would do a good job in the slot. Maybe they just do it by committee and rotate guys in their nickel package based on what the offense gives you. That means you maybe have Jenkins come down on the slot receiver and let Mills and Darby and Jones take the rest of the receivers while going single high safety (think about what Seattle will throw at you with an empty set). I think the whole slot thing is gonna be similar to last year, where the Eagles just take their time and experiment throughout camp.
Otherwise, it’s a solid group. Jones looks like a player. Mills and Darby showed more than enough quality last year, even if they had some iffy moments. Douglas was a guy I watched in college who I think improves in year number two. And Bausby seems like a guy that the Eagles are high on, someone who made plays in the spring and could push the whole unit in camp.
Jim Schwartz said this about Bausby during OTAs:
“He’s a competitive player. He did a really good job for us on the scout teams last year. He was ready to play for us last year if need be. He did a great job not just on the practice field but in the meeting room, being up on the game plan. We were fortunate that we didn’t have so many injuries there that he needed to go. But he was ready, and he had the confidence of the coaching staff. He sort of spread his wings a little bit, working in some different positions. He’s a very, very competitive player. He’s got good size, but his competitiveness stands out. You guys will see that.”
As far as Maddox, the 4th rounder, he had 7 sacks and 8 interceptions last season as a gritty and maybe undersized player for his position. He did play mostly on the outside at Pitt, but on a sequence like this one, I love how he’s able to hold the line, shed a block, and make a play on Saquon Barkley:
— Bradley Ylitalo (@BradleyYlitalo) April 21, 2018
As for Sullivan, he’s another UDFA coming from a smaller school. A four-year starter at Georgia State, he got combine and Senior Bowl invites and played slot in the spring for the Eagles.
- who plays the slot?
- how does a healthy Sidney Jones fit into the secondary?
Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks, Corey Nelson, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry, Asantay Brown, Joe Walker, LaRoy Reynolds, Kyle Wilson
I’m high on Nigel Bradham, probably more than the rest of the Crossing Broad dudes, but whatever. I thought he was phenomenal last year and really stepped up in a play-relaying/leadership way when Jordan Hicks went down.
Speaking of Hicks, can he stay healthy this year? He’s played just one full season since turning pro.
They need him to remain healthy, because there really aren’t any sure bets behind him. Last season the Eagles were able to roll with Bradham and Mychal Kendricks and play a ton of nickel to limit their usage of Najee Goode and Joe Walker, but the Birds no longer have a reliable option at the second OLB spot.
Paul Worrilow was a candidate, but he tore his ACL in OTAs and went on IR. Corey Nelson looks like he’s gonna be the front-runner to play the weakside, a former 7th round pick who came over from Denver in the spring.
Tune in now as Corey Nelson meets with the media. https://t.co/Zxv2phwdw2
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) March 15, 2018
Gerry and Grugier-Hill are both interesting as important special teamers who converted from safety to linebacker. Same with Brown, the undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan. I’m not sure if any of those three push Nelson out of the spot, but it’s definitely wide open heading into camp.
Walker might have his work cut out for him. He got the nod after Hicks went down last season and never really did anything to stand out or impress. Wilson is a long shot to make the roster and Reynolds is going to be a special teams player who can be a backup at linebacker, similar to what Goode did last season.
- can Jordan Hicks stay healthy?
- who wins the other OLB job?
Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls, Aziz Shittu, Winston Craig, Bruce Hector
I guess I’d start out by reiterating that the Eagles do move guys around on the d-line. Brandon Graham was actually lined up at tackle inside of Chris Long when he stripped Tom Brady to seal the Super Bowl win.
They’ll show some stuff like that again this season, specifically on third down and likely also with Michael Bennett, who can play the interior in the same way that Graham does.
The biggest question at tackle is replacing Beau Allen, a player who we all sort of described as a “third stringer” behind Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan. But the fact of the matter is that Jernigan only played 70 more snaps than Allen last year, and the split behind Cox was a lot more evenly distributed than I think most people realize. It’s probably more fair to say that Cox was the #1 last year, while Jernigan and Allen were 2a and 2b.
The second biggest question is plugging the gap until Jernigan returns from back surgery. He’s supposed to be out until at least November, so you’re looking at Cox, 34-year-old veteran Haloti Ngata behind him, and then one of Vaeao or Qualls getting legit #3 snaps unless Hector or someone else really impresses in camp.
Eagles’ starting DT Timmy Jernigan underwent surgery on a herniated disc in his back last week and is expected to be out four-to-six months, league sources tell @FieldYates and me.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 3, 2018
We know that Jim Schwartz loves to rotate his line and get fresh bodies in the game, so it’s safe to say that the 4th and 5th DT options are going to get something like 200 and 100 snaps next season, just going by what the Birds did this past year.
- what does Ngata have left in the tank?
- can Vaeao hold down the fort until Jernigan returns?
- do the Eagles line up some ends at defensive tackle to address the lack of depth?
Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Steven Means, Danny Ezechukwu, Josh Sweat, Joe Ostman
You’ve got a known quantity in Graham, two solid veterans in Long and Bennett, and a sophomore edge rusher in Barnett who should get a much bigger role this season.
Thing with Graham is that he’s coming off ankle surgery and heading into a contract year at age 30. It should be a really intriguing season for him. Bennett, of course, has the legal issue, which I think will probably get tossed out. Long is 33 and will cede some of his snaps to Barnett, who will assume Vinny Curry’s role.
Behind those four, Means has found a way to stick around despite being a healthy scratch on most game days. Sweat is the highly-rated FSU rusher who overcame a horrendous high school injury. He’s got the measurables and the tape and all of that, so he was seen as a bargain as a fourth round selection:
Ostman had 14 sacks and 3 forced fumbles during his final year at Central Michigan. Ezechukwu was a linebacker/d-end hybrid at Purdue and comes in as a UDFA who will have a tough time making the roster.
- how does Derek Barnett handle a bigger role?
- when does Graham get back to 100% health?
- do Long and Bennett regress at all as they approach their mid-thirties?
- does Sweat make a training camp push?