Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2014 is fast approaching. Coaches and players report as soon as Friday, July 25th. The entire Eagles training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here.
As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. Today we look at the defensive line. [QB] [RB] [WR] [TE] [OL]
DE: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart, Joe Kruger, Brandon Bair, Alejandro Villanueva, Frances Mays
NT: Bennie Logan, Damion Square, Beau Allen, Wade Keliikipi
As already stated in the title of this entry, the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line features a lot of youth and talent. The average age of the projected starters (Cox - 23, Logan - 24, Thornton - 26) is 24.3 years old.
Speaking of age, it's hard to believe Fletcher Cox is only 23. He's already in his third NFL season. Cox hasn't necessarily been the dominant player he's capable of being yet but he's certainly flashed potential. Cox, previously a 4-3 defensive tackle, made the transition to 3-4 defensive end last season. He's had another full offseason this year to get adjusted to the system. While Cox only racked up 3 sacks last year he amassed an impressive 39 quarterback hurries. Cox was getting to the QB but he just wasn't getting him down for whatever reason. Look for that to change moving forward. Cox has the potential to be a really special player and I think this is the year where he emerges as a force to be reckoned with.
Fellow starting defensive end Cedric Thornton has been a pleasant surprise. Originally a UDFA that spent his rookie season on the practice squad, Thornton flourished as a run stopping 3-4 defensive end. He was a big reason why the Eagles run defense was so effective last season. The issue with Thornton is that his pass rush seemed sub par. He only finished with one sack and didn't generate pressure often. Thornton (and his wife) knows he needs to improve in as a pass rusher and he's undertaken new training (boxing) this offseason in order to advance.
Eagles starting nose tackle Bennie Logan loves to play his position. Don't just take my word for it. Some have wondered if Logan is too small to play at the nose but those concerns seem unsubstantiated. The Eagles run defense was fine last year with Logan playing in the middle. Logan has spent the 2014 offseason bulking up and getting stronger. While former Eagles NT Isaac Sopoaga provided almost nothing last season, Logan could step up and be a disruptive play-maker in the middle.
The Eagles have young starters on the DL but the backups are just as youthful.
Vinny Curry (26) returns to the Eagles as a backup defensive end despite his impressive pass rush ability. Curry figures to have a limited role yet again 2014. He's stuck behind talented starters like Cox and Thornton and he's not exactly an ideal fit for the Eagles two-gap defensive line. Expect Curry to contribute in a rotational role.
Taylor Hart is the Eagles rookie fifth round selection from Oregon. Hart has great size at 6-6, 281 and he obviously has experience playing in the kind of defensive system that the Eagles run. Still, he'll have to earn his playing time.
Joe Kruger is an interesting player to watch because he spent his entire 2013 rookie season on the injured reserve list. Kruger reportedly gained 20 pounds this offseason. He nows measures in at 6-6, 290. Kruger wasn't allowed to practice with the team last year but he had the benefit of learning the playbook and attending film sessions. Kruger just has to prove himself during game action now.
Brandon Bair spent last year on the Eagles practice squad. The former Oregon defensive end turns 30 this season. Can Bair actually challenge for a spot or is he just a former Duck camp body?
Alejandro Villanueva is the U.S. Army Ranger that the Eagles signed earlier this offseason. Everyone should be rooting for a guy like Villanueva despite his long odds of making the team. At 6-9, 277 lbs, the former Army wide receiver and offensive lineman could be a project worth developing on the practice squad.
Frances Mays, whom I profiled last week, is also very large. The rookie undrafted free agent is 6-9, 291 and has a long road ahead of him to earn roster consideration. He's only been playing sports for a few years now so he's also a very raw but talented prospect.
Damion Square earned a spot on the roster as a backup nose tackle in 2013 but he didn't stand out. Square has another chance to prove himself this summer.
Seventh round rookie Beau Allen will be competing with Square for the Eagles backup nose tackle job behind starter Bennie Logan. Allen is the heaviest nose tackle on the Eagles roster at 6-2, 333 lbs.
Former Oregon nose tackle Wade Keliikipi, a native of Waianae, Hawaiii, figures to be an extra body at nose tackle for the Eagles this summer.
How will it play out?
Cox, Logan, and Thornton will end up as the starters. Curry will rotate in off the bench. The same could be said for Hart and Kruger. Logan will be occasionally spelled by the winner of the backup nose tackle battle.
Who could be a surprise cut?
Nothing too shocking here. Second year Damion Square could realistically lose out to rookie Beau Allen.