Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2016 is almost here. Coaches and players report as soon as Monday, July 25. 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. We continue today by taking a look at the defensive line.
Defensive Tackle: Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Mike Martin, Taylor Hart, Beau Allen, Aziz Shittu, Destiny Vaeao, Connor Wujciak
Fletcher Cox is obviously the star of this unit. He's the best player on the entire team. It's scary (for other teams, at least) to think Cox hasn't even hit his ceiling yet. He's still only 25 years old and now he'll finally be playing in a scheme that maximizes his strengths. No longer will Cox be asked to two-gap on a regular basis. Under Jim Schwartz, Cox will be able to use his rare combination of pure strength and explosive ability to burst through the line and pressure the quarterback. Cox is going to be worth every penny of the monster contact extension he signed earlier this offseason.
Cox may be the star, but the guy starting next to him on the interior is certainly no slouch. Bennie Logan is arguably one of the most underrated players on the team. The 26-year-old defensive tackle has already proven to be one the best run-stuffers in the NFL. Now Logan, like Cox, will have more of an opportunity to rush the passer. The duo of Cox and Logan will be a big problem for opposing offensive lines to deal with.
Though the Eagles are set with starters at this position, their defensive tackle depth is questionable. Mike Martin took first team snaps during spring practice while Cox was absent so it seems like he's the top backup. The veteran may be a little undersized for the position (6-1, 298) but he's very athletic.
Beyond this top three, the Eagles have a number of bodies competing for a fourth spot. Taylor Hart and Beau Allen have a lot to prove after being drafted to play in the 3-4. One of the undrafted rookies could surprise and steal a roster spot.
Defensive End: Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman, Alex McCalister, Steven Means
Vinny Curry is arguably the biggest beneficiary of Philadelphia's defensive scheme change. The Eagles likely wouldn't have been able to re-sign him if they had kept their 3-4 defense. Curry is a very good pass rusher. He has a very quick first step that allows him to fire off the edge. He's also capable of rushing from an interior position on obvious pass rushing downs. Curry's transition from role player to significant contributor will be a key factor in improving the Eagles' pass rush.
Brandon Graham, like Curry, is another player who was thought to be miscast playing in the 3-4. Despite this, he earned a long-term extension last offseason to be one the team's starting outside linebackers. Graham proved to be a good starter but he wasn't a star. Now Graham is returning to the 4-3, where he belongs. Graham was very successful when he last played in the wide-nine. In 2012, Graham led the NFL in PFF's Pass Rush Productivity stat. He also was the best defensive lineman at drawing flags from opponents (likely for holding). Graham's skill set will be maximized in Schwartz's scheme.
While Curry and Graham are expected to benefit from Philadelphia's scheme change, it remains to be seen how Connor Barwin will be impacted. Barwin has been a key member of the Eagles' defense for the past three seasons. Now he'll moving from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 end. Part of Barwin's value as a linebacker is being able to drop into coverage. He was actually asked to do that quite often when Bill Davis was in charge. But now he won't be doing that as much because Schwartz wants his ends to attack the quarterback. Barwin isn't completely new to the 4-3. He played the position during his first two seasons with the Texans. Still, it remains to be seen how effective he'll be in Schwartz's scheme.
The Eagles don't have a clear fourth defensive end. It could be 2014 first round pick Marcus Smith, who has been nothing but a bust to this point. Saying Smith has a lot to prove would be an understatement. He has everything to prove. Bryan Braman has mostly been a special teams player to this point in his career. He might be a little light in weight to really contribute at end. Alex McCalister is a talented rookie but he's very raw. Schwartz even said he wants McCalister to add weight.
An interesting long shot guy to watch this summer could be Steven Means. The Eagles signed him away from Houston's practice squad during the season last year. Means earned praise from the Ravens last offseason before he suffered an injury and got waived. The 26-year-old Means flashed at times during Philadelphia's spring practices.
How will it play out?
The defensive tackle position is pretty cut and dry. Cox and Logan are the starters. Martin could get some rotational playing time.
It'll be interesting to see how the defensive end rotation works out. Curry, Barwin, and Graham are all getting paid like starters. Curry and Barwin took most, if not all, of the first team reps during the spring so it seems like they're the leaders at the position. With that said, Graham will likely get his fair share of playing time as well.
Who could be a surprise cut?
It shouldn't be a surprise to see Marcus Smith get cut after doing virtually nothing in the two seasons since he's been drafted. Maybe the Eagles give him one last shot, though.
Alex McCalister could be a practice squad candidate. Or the team might try to stash him on the injured reserve list with a phantom injury.
Seeing Bryan Braman get cut would be notable since he's been a demon on special teams for the Eagles over the past two seasons.