Projecting the Roster: How Eagles Will Break Camp On Defense

The following is the second part of a roster breakdown written by staff writer Stephane Hardinger.

Defensive End: This is probably going to be the most competitive position at camp, as the Eagles have a plethora of talented pass rushers coming from the outside. Jason Babin and Trent Cole are entrenched as the starters, and second-round pick Vinny Curry is a lock. It would also be very surprising if 2010 first-rounder Brandon Graham doesn’t make the team now that he’s finally recovered from his various injury setbacks. But Graham will have to produce. The final spot is probably going to come down to Philip Hunt, Daryl Tapp, and Monte Taylor. We posted an article yesterday about Hunt’s potential, and it will be interesting to see if the go with his potential over the consistent play of Tapp . Tapp is a known quantity at this point, but Hunt could blossom into a formidable pass rusher. Combined with Tapp’s contract (roughly $2.6M this year, a hefty figure for a fifth defensive end), I’d keep Hunt and jettison Tapp and Taylor. DE: 5 (Babin, Cole, Curry, Graham, Hunt)

Defensive Tackle: 2011 starters Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are both locks to make the team, as is 2012 first-rounder Fletcher Cox. Cox and Patterson will compete for the starting job next to Jenkins, but regardless of who wins, both will get plenty of snaps in what figures to be an active rotation. After retaining Antonio Dixon in restricted free agency despite a disappointing 2011 season that was marred by injuries, I’m sure the Eagles will give him another shot to deliver on the promise he showed towards the end of the 2010 season. That means that the last spot will come down to veteran Derek Landri, who played well in limited action last year, or second-year tackle Cedric Thornton, who was a surprise inclusion on last year’s roster when the team broke camp. The Eagles are probably going to be inclined to take Landri over Thornton because of the production they know they’ll get out of him, but it’s not a complete stretch for Thornton to grab the last spot if he has a big camp. DT: 5 (Jenkins, Cox, Patterson, Dixon, Landri).

Linebacker: Now we get to the bane of the Eagles’ existence over the past decade. Newly acquired DeMeco Ryans is a lock to start at MLB, and second-round pick Mychal Kendricks has been penciled in at WLB. Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney will likely compete for the starting SLB job, and Casey Matthews will be a backup linebacker who sees time on passing downs. That leaves one more spot between Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Greg Lloyd, Ryan Rau, and Monte Simmons. I think the competition will come down to Clayton, Fokou, and Jordan. Fokou and Jordan have both gotten opportunties to start and have proven to be very mediocre players which makes me think that Clayton will get the final job based on versatility. LB: 6 (Ryans, Kendricks, Rolle, Chaney, Matthews, Clayton)

Cornerback: Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will start in the defense’s new press coverage-oriented scheme, and veteran Joselio Hanson and fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin will battle it out to be the nickel CB in training camp. Two spots on the roster would seem to be available between Cliff Harris, Brandon Hughes, DJ Johnson, Trevard Lindley, and Curtis Marsh. Marsh will probably make it because he was a third-round pick in 2011 despite his struggles last year. Cliff Harris is somewhat off the radar at this point, but has a chance to make this team out of camp. He was an extremely talented and productive player at Oregon, but struggled to stay out of trouble. In addition, he’s a speedster and an excellent punt returner, so he could compete for that role as well. Lindley and Hughes didn’t show muchh in limited action last year, so both players would have to turn some heads at Lehigh and in the preseason. CB: 6 (Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, Boykin, Hanson, Marsh, Harris)

Safety: The trio of Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Jaiquawn Jarrett will likely compete for the two starting safety jobs, while recently acquired veteran OJ Atogwe will provide depth and a potential replacement if the youngsters in front of him falter. If Colt Anderson has recovered from his torn ACL that he suffered late last year and is healthy, he’ll make the team as a fifth safety and special teams dynamo. If he isn’t healthy, the Eagles will probably take 4 safeties and add another player at another position. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say that Anderson is healthy. S: 5 (Allen, Coleman, Jarrett, Atogwe, Anderson)

There’s the defense: 27 players, with Babin, Cox, Jenkins, and Cole starting on the defensive line; Kendricks, Ryans, and Rolle starting at LB; and Asomugha, Allen, Coleman, and Rodgers-Cromartie forming the defensive backfield. Curry, Graham, Hunt, Patterson, Dixon, Landri, Chaney, Matthews, Clayton, Boykin, Hanson, Marsh, Atogwe, Jarrett, and Anderson will provide the depth.

The specialists are pretty straightforward: Alex Henery will be the kicker and Jon Dorenbos will be the long-snapper. Chas Henry didn’t have a very good season last year, but no strong competition was brought in during the offseason, so it looks like he will remain as the team’s punter.

So there’s my 53-man roster. Thoughts? What changes would you make? How do you see things shaking out? Sound off in the comments.

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