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Training Camp Preview: Eagles Must Get Defensive Quickly

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Jul 16 2010 @ 2:39 pm In Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments

The Eagles used virtually all of their 2010 draft picks on defensive players (9 of 13 total picks). Set aside the fact that these 13 picks were the most for the Eagles since 1994 and the most in the 2010 draft among all teams) because all Eagles fans (not to mention Andy Reid & Howie Roseman) knew that the team had many holes to fill. The McNabb Era is over, but more attention should be drawn to the absence of veterans like Brian Westbrook, Sheldon Brown and Chris Gocong.

With a new general manager running the show, the Eagles appear to have altered their philosophy. No longer is loading up on cornerbacks the top priority. Now, under Howie Roseman, the Eagles appear intent on improving their pass rush with an overload of defensive ends who specialize in getting to the quarterback – an element that has been absent despite the efforts Trent Cole and a cast of many. Getting younger on defense is always a positive effort, but it does require some sort of learning curve. Second year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott seems eager and willing to put his own stamp on this defense, which of course is the descendant of legendary Jim Johnson.


The Eagles added three DEs in the draft – Graham, Te’o-Nesheim (do we call him “T.O.” or is that too dangerous?) and Sapp – and traded for Darryl Tapp (Traded DE Chris Clemons and a 4th round draft choice in 2010 to Seattle) and Alex Hall (Traded CB Sheldon Brown and LB Chris Gocong to Cleveland for Hall, a 4th CB Trevard Lindley and a 5th round draft choice in 2010 later traded to Denver in 3-team trade for LB Ernie Sims). The odds say some of the additions have to work out, and the Eagles hope it’s sooner rather than later. While Trent Cole is a given at right defensive end, it’s just a matter of finding someone to provide the same pressure on the other side. Parker did a good job the past few seasons, but the hope is that first pick Graham and the rest of the newcomers will take it to a more dominant level.

Question Marks
 • How ready is Graham to contribute beginning in Week 1? Some national experts have predicted the Michigan product will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. That’s a lot to ask, especially with the Eagles, who traditionally bring their rookies along slowly. Then again, that’s changed the last few years. Can Graham follow in the footsteps of WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin?  Graham has the skills and the desire but learning at the NFL level is a daunting task for any rookie.

• What can Tapp, Sapp and Te’o-Nesheim contribute? How will the coaching staff find a way to use their talents? Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is expected to use all three in non-traditional roles. Tapp and Te’o-Nesheim likely will move inside on passing downs, and Sapp will have a chance to fill the “joker” role, where he will be playing in various spots on the defense. Can they spark last year’s lackluster pass rush? Let’s just say there has to be room for improvement and remain optimistic until we have reason to do otherwise.

If only …
Brandon Graham lives up to the expectations that come with being the 13th overall pick. The Eagles traded up 11 spots in the first round of the 2010 draft to select Graham. A speedy pass rusher with a non-stop motor, Graham earned second-team All-America honors as a senior in 2009 after finishing his collegiate career ranked second on Michigan’s all-time sack list with 29.5.He also became the first Wolverine defensive player ever to be voted as the team’s MVP twice (2008-09). Graham collected eight forced fumbles and 56 tackles for a loss in his four-year career, also second in school annals. The Eagles should have two Pro Bowl-caliber pass rushers on their defensive line. That not only would immediately improve the secondary and linebackers but also would also take the pressure off the interior defensive linemen to get to the quarterback. In other words, the fate of the Eagles’ defense rests squarely on whether Graham can be a difference-maker. McDermott’s defense last year was unable to provide this pass rush, which exposed other weaknesses in the middle – especially in the season finale and playoff loss vs. Dallas.

Camp Expectation
Graham will split first-team snaps with Parker throughout camp and try to prove he can start Week 1. … Cole’s starting spot is secure, but he will be asked to serve as a mentor and leader with so many rookie defensive ends in camp. … Tapp will need to show more than he did in Seattle to work his way into the DE rotation – and to provide an additional veteran presence. Tapp will be playing behind Cole at right defensive end during camp and will get a chance to prove he’s the team’s best inside pass rushing option in nickel and dime situations. … Te’o-Nesheim’s snaps at defensive end likely will be limited. He will get most of his playing time as a pass-rushing defensive tackle, something he was very successful at in college. … Sapp fell in the draft and needs to prove he was worthy of being a higher pick. He likely will be used in the Eagles’ joker position – like the departed Chris Clemons was – where he’s moved around the line as a stand-up and hands-down defensive end. … Hall, who played linebacker with the Browns, will have his work cut out for him to make the team. … Moncur is a long shot who likely will receive few snaps. … Abiamiri will continue his recovery from microfracture knee surgery. He won’t be ready for camp or the season. If and when he’s ready to get back on the field, there may not be a roster spot for him. Don’t expect to see Abiamiri this season.


NEXT WEEK: Eagles Camp Preview Cornerbacks. Linebackers & DT

TWO WEEKS:  Eagles Camp Preview Wide Receivers, RB & QB

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