Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2015 is fast approaching. Coaches and players report as soon as Saturday, August 1. The 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.
DE: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Brandon Bair, Taylor Hart, Brian Mihalik, Frank Mays, Travis Raciti, B.J. McBryde
NT: Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Wade Keliikipi
Philadelphia's two-gap 3-4 defensive line sets the stage for the defense's overall success. The Eagles are very young and talented up front.
Fletcher Cox is obviously the star of this unit. The 24-year-old is entering his fourth season. To put it simply: he's a beast. The stats don't always show the true impact that Cox makes on defense. His ability to both generate pressure and stop the run is invaluable. Cox's ability to dominate the line of scrimmage allowed Connor Barwin to have such a huge season last year with 14.5 sacks. Barwin will even admit it. Cox is a terror for opposing offenses to deal with.
The 27-year-old Cedric Thornton has carved out a nice career for himself after originally joining the Eagles as an undrafted free agent. Thornton doesn't possess dominant pass rushing ability but he's the perfect run-stopping two-gap 3-4 defensive end. The man nicknamed "Swamp" might not get credit since he's not a flashy player but he's also important to the defense.
Starting nose tackle Bennie Logan quieted all of his doubters with a very solid showing last season. Logan led all nose/defensive tackles in tackles with 44. He doesn't generate much pressure but he's very solid against the run.
Vinny Curry is a dynamite pass rusher. While he might not be seen as a perfect fit for Philadelphia's defense, Curry has still produced off the bench. Last year he had nine sacks and 21 hurries on a mere 294 pass rush snaps. The Eagles are seemingly trying to get Curry more involved in the defense by experimenting with him at outside linebacker.
Brandon Bair surprised most by making the final roster last season. Though he's only played one full season in the NFL, he's going to turn 31 this fall. He didn't really stand out either way as a rotational backup defensive end, but he did add value on special teams. The 6-6 Bair blocked two kicks last year.
2014 fifth round pick Taylor Hart returns to the Eagles after essentially redshirting in 2014. The former Oregon player has reportedly gained 25 pounds since last year. Additional strength could help him better push for not only a roster spot but actual playing time as well.
Brian Mihalik is the team's seventh round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft. He's tall at 6-9 and a great athlete for his size, but he clearly needs to gain some strength. Frank Mays spent some time with the team in camp last year. Travis Raciti and B.J. McBryde are undrafted free agents. From this group, Mihalik seems like the favorite to land on the practice squad.
Beau Allen is likely to reprise his role as the team's backup nose tackle behind Logan. Wade Keliikipi might stick around on the practice squad like he did last year.
How will it play out?
Cox and Thornton will be the starters at defensive end with Logan starting in the middle. Curry might rotate in a little more often than he did last year but it's hard to see him earning a full-time role because he's not the best defender against the run. Allen should rotate in for Logan at times.
Bair and Hart are fighting for a roster spot and/or rotational playing time. It would be ideal for the team to see the 24-year-old Hart beat out the aged Bair.
Who could be a surprise cut?
Hart could be cut if he doesn't step up or show progress. Otherwise, there shouldn't be too many surprises at this position.