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Eagles training camp preview: Defensive Line

The defensive line will be an interesting positional group to watch during training camp this year, as there are a number of versatile players competing for several open positions.

Fletcher Cox could be the piece the Eagles build around on defense.
Fletcher Cox could be the piece the Eagles build around on defense.
Rich Schultz

There is a lot of uncertainty heading into training camp in regard to the defensive line. Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly wrote about the defensive line and the mystery surrounding it:

The only certainty is that none of the linemen will be pigeonholed into one position. The coaches spent all of the minicamps rotating personnel -- and alternating three-man fronts with four-man looks -- to gauge which players can do what and which can't.

That jibes with what I saw during OTAs and minicamp as well. Here's what I wrote at the Morning Call during OTAs about Fletcher Cox:

The defensive linemen shifted positions quite a bit today. Fletcher Cox in particular moved all over the place. He played some 3 tech, some 5 tech, left side, right side. At one point he lined up at DE in a wide-9 alignment, and on the next play he was playing NT.

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out from a positional standpoint, but for now, let's just take each defensive lineman one-by-one:

Fletcher Cox: Here's what I wrote about Cox a couple weeks ago at the Morning Call:

In 2010, Jason Pierre-Paul was a rookie with the Giants. He was a role player, but flashed impressive athleticism, and made some plays. In 2011, there was a case for JPP to be the NFL's defensive player of the year:


In 2011, JJ Watt was a rookie with the Texans. Again, Watt flashed talent, and then in 2012 he became the best defensive player in the NFL, by a mile:


Can Fletcher Cox be the NFL's next defensive lineman to make that huge jump from Year 1 to Year 2?


It is wildly unfair to expect Cox to make the kind of jumps that JPP and Watt made, but Cox absolutely flashed legitimate game-changing ability his rookie season, and he could the player that the Eagles build around on their defense.

Isaac Sopoaga: The phrase "pass-rush specialist" has become somewhat of an antiquated term in the NFL, seeing as it's rare that a talented pass rusher will ever come off the field, even if they are a liability against the run. It is probably more apt to apply the "specialist" term to guys who do not excel at getting after the QB, but can clog up running lanes. Sopoaga would fall into the category of a "run-stuffing specialist." Unlike the rest of the line, there isn't a lot of mystery of where Sopoaga will line up when he's in the game. He'll be parked right in the middle of the line.

Cedric Thornton: Our very own Danta Klaus (Dan Klausner) highlighted Cedric Thornton a few days ago. Thornton had a tremendous camp in 2012, and doesn't lack ability. He'll be competing for a starting role this season. Thornton is 6'4, 310-ish, but as Tommy Lawlor likes to say (and I agree), he's "sleek." By that he means that he's a lean, athletic type. In a conference that includes mobile QBs such as RG3, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and even to a lesser degree Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, and Jay Cutler, the more athletic guys you can add to your rotation who can chase those QBs around, the better off you'll be on defense. If Thornton can emerge as a quality NFL starter, he could be an instrumental piece in helping contain those talented QBs.

Clifton Geathers: This is just an enormous human being, standing at about 6'7 and a half. Geathers is only 25, but he's on his 5th team already. His best season was in Indianapolis last season, so Geathers hopes to build on that progress. Pro Football Focus credits the Eagles with 15 batted passes over the last two seasons. By comparison, JJ Watt had 16 of them on his own in 2012. Geathers can be a player who uses his height to affect passing lanes at the line of scrimmage.

Bennie Logan: Logan was such a leader for the LSU Tigers that they gave him the esteemed #18 jersey. That's worth a quick read. It is believed that Logan has more pass rushing ability than his 2 sacks in 2012 would suggest, but because of the role he was asked to play, he was not often rushing the passer in the traditional sense. Logan was a high 3rd round pick, so it is not out of the question to expect him to have a significant contributing role as a rookie. Logan is also a player with some versatility, who could be another guy playing multiple positions along the line.

Vinny Curry: The former 2012 2nd round pick may be the most negatively affected player by the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4. There was some debate as to whether Curry would line up at 3-4 OLB or 3-4 DE this season. So far, it's the latter. Curry's best position is probably as a 4-3 DE, although it is noteworthy to point out that Curry played under Eagles DL coach Jerry Azzinaro at Marshall.

Antonio Dixon: Dixon looks far different than he did last year at training camp. He's trim, or at least as trim as he'll likely ever be, and looks quick. Last season, he was waaaay overweight. He'll be competing for a backup NT job.

Joe Kruger: Kruger is another guy with great size, standing at 6'6, and was great value in the 7th round. Here's Kruger against BYU last season. At some point in this game he hurt his leg, but prior to the injury, he was very active, and occasionally dominant:

Kruger could also potentially see some action at OLB.

David King: I can't say I know much about King, so I'll toss this one over to Tommy, who commented on him shortly after the draft:

David King is an odd player. He finished his career with 4.5 sacks. The guy lists at 6-5, 286, but NFLDraftScout has him at 6-4, 275. He started 18 games at OU, is a solid athlete, and made the Big 12 All Academic team. Size, athleticism, brains, and some experience. How the heck wasn't he more productive? I put on the game tape and liked what I saw. What I need to do is study several games and try to find out why the guy wasn't more of a force. Could be a good backup 5-tech DE.

Damion Square: Here's what an NFL scout told CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher about Square:

The lead horse in this year's rookie free-agent race for a roster spot is Damion Square, a defensive lineman from Alabama who an AFC college scout called a "phenomenal, phenomenal" signing for the Birds.

The scout told that Square is a "make-it" guy on the Eagles, who aren't especially rich in natural 3-4 defensive end talent.

"I'll tell you what, when I looked at the Eagles' rookie free-agent acquisitions, the first guy I saw was Damion Square," the scout said, "and I said that's a great priority free-agent signing."

The remaining bodies along the DL are Isaac Remington and Daryell Walker.

Previous training camp previews:

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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