Eagles Defense Still Answering Questions


Coming into this year’s training camp, there were many questions to be answered on the defensive side of the ball. Would rookie defensive end Brandon Graham start across from Trent Cole on opening day? Would Ernie Sims be the starting weak side linebacker? Would Moise Fokou hold onto the top spot on the strong side? Could Nate Allen play at a high level as a starting Free Safety in his rookie season? Would Ellis Hobbs step up his play as a starting corner across from Asante Samuel? So far, it looks something like this: maybe, yes, probably not, quite possibly and it appears so. Too much to follow? Let’s break it down.

Will Brandon Graham start on opening day?

At defensive end, the battle still continues. The Eagles announced four “starting” defensive ends at Flight Night: Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp. Obviously Trent Cole is a lock, and Parker and Graham seem to be too close to call. Darryl Tapp figures to work into the rotation quite a bit both on the interior and as a defensive end, but don’t expect him to start.

Chances are, the official starter across from Cole won’t matter much. Expect a rotation that keeps everyone fresh, which should make life easier for Cole and the whole defense. “It would be to his benefit, absolutely. And to our benefit defensively, so I’m sure he’s anxious and likes what he sees from the other side from Brandon, from [Juqua Parker] and from [Daniel Te’o-Nesheim] as well,” said defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.”

So while the starting spot at left defensive end still seems to be up for grabs, if you’re the type that likes to really read into what the coaches say, McDermott mentioned his left defensive ends by name twice today after practice. Both times, Brandon Graham came first. Perhaps the rookie from Michigan is running primarily with the second unit to allow him to go up against the first string offensive line, as the ones usually match up against the twos on the other side of the ball.

Will Ernie Sims be the starter at weakside linebacker?

Alright, if the muddy answer at defensive end left you frustrated, here’s some certainty.  Ernie Sims has a firm grasp on the weakside linebacker position, and that doesn’t appear to be changing between now and opening day.  The former Lion flies to the ball, plays aggressively and seems to be bonding well with his fellow linebackers.

Sims and Stewart Bradley have apartments next to each other, and stay close together on the field and on the sidelines.  Once Eagles fans get a chance to see Sims in a real game, he’ll quickly become a fan favorite.  He loves contact and he’s thrilled to be in Philadelphia.  Does it take much more than that to win over the hearts of Eagles fans?

Who will grab the top spot on the depth chart at strongside linebacker?

It’s not official yet, but Akeem Jordan seems to have the strongside linebacker position at the moment.  The starter coming into camp, Moise Fokou, has been taking snaps at defensive end and seems to be a good situational pass rusher there.

Jordan has more experience, and head coach Andy Reid likes his versatility, “I think Akeem, well we moved him from the WILL to the SAM, from the weak side to the strong side, and I like what I see. But, again time will tell here. We’ll just see how it goes. There’s a competition there that’s going on, but Akeem has been in games, has played, it’s all been on the weak side, but he has played and he played a little bit of the MIKE linebacker.”

Could Nate Allen play at a high level as a rookie?

This one’s tough to answer until everyone gets a look at the South Florida product in a game situation, but so far, so good.  Allen is always around the ball in practice, and has come up with quite a few picks during drills and 11 on 11 play in camp.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has been impressed, “If you watch Nate move, he really is quite smooth for a safety that is 210 pounds. He just seems to handle things like that off the field, as well. Like I mentioned earlier in camp, he’s very mature for a guy that’s in his rookie season, and playing that position, the quarterback of the defense, or one of the quarterbacks of the defense, he’s really handled himself quite well to this point.”

Allen may be his own toughest critic, as the second round draft pick admits to making mistakes in camp so far, “Just mental stuff as far as the playbook. Just common mistakes, you know, just misalignment and stuff like that. Nothing that can’t be fixed.”  So far he seems to be fixing his mistakes quickly, and while he’s likely to make some rookie mistakes throughout the season, he’s also going to be around the ball quite a bit if camp is any indication.

Can Ellis Hobbs step up his play this year as a starting cornerback?

People often forget that Hobbs started all 16 games for the Patriots in 2008, and 18 of 19 games in 2007 when New England fell in the Super Bowl to New York.  Clearly he’s a capable starter, but Sheldon Brown was more than that and the Eagles still gave up a lot of big passing plays last year.

That said, Hobbs has stood out in camp this year for good reasons.  He’s broken up passes, grabbed interceptions and been vocal on the defense.  His scrap with Riley Cooper on the first full day of training camp didn’t exactly make him blend into the background either.

Sean McDermott has taken note of Hobbs’ aggression.  “He, in my mind, has always been a guy that’s played football the way it was meant to be played. He plays hard, he’s quick. He has an aggressive mentality, and that’s what I wanted at the corner position, a guy that’s going to challenge any receiver,” said McDermott.  “It’s a little bit like a John Riggins type of running player. Four yards and a cloud of dust, and that’s what happens when Ellis is involved. He’s in, he’s out, he’s here, and he’s gone. He’s all over the place. And he’ll hit you at the same time.”

The biggest remaining concern about Hobbs is his height – at 5’9”, he’s had some trouble going up for balls with the bigger wide receivers on the roster, even when he’s in the right position with good coverage.  Even with that drawback, it looks like the Eagles continue to do a good job of evaluating cornerbacks.  Remember the groaning when they jettisoned Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor?  That didn’t turn out so bad, and trading Sheldon Brown might end up looking like an alright move as well.

Training Camp Coverage

Visit InsideTheIggles.com for training camp coverage, including practice recaps and scouting reports from Lehigh Valley. ITI’s Ryan Messick will be reporting from camp again tomorrow and Sunday, with live Twitter feeds available during the morning and afternoon practices. Check back often for updates and follow along at www.twitter.com/Ryan_Messick and www.twitter.com/InsideTheIggles.