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The Eagles have a real intriguing defensive tackle trio

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Eagles training camp position preview: Defensive tackle.

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles training camp is almost here. Players report to the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, July 24. 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 tackle position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line | Defensive end.


The players

FLETCHER COX

Cox ultimately fell short of his stated Defensive Player of the Year goal for 2018 but he still had one hell of a season. Cox finished last year with a career high 10.5 sacks. He was named first-team All Pro for the first time in his career and he notched his fourth career Pro Bowl honor as well.

So, how will the 28-year-old follow that up in 2019?

He’ll have to get on the field first. Cox is still recovering from a foot injury he suffered during the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Saints. Cox missed all of spring drills and it’s unclear exactly when he’ll be healthy, though the expectation is that he’ll be ready for Week 1.

Whether he’s 100% or not, the Eagles need to do a better job of managing Cox’s snap count this season. He played 926 snaps last year. Contrast that figure with totals of 783 in 2017 and 772 in 2016. Of course, the Eagles basically HAD to use Cox a ton in 2018 because a number of their other defensive tackles were injured and/or ineffective.

Things should be different this year, though. The Eagles are looking much deeper on the interior defensive line. It’d be ideal if the Eagles could get back to their 2017 rotation where they try to keep Cox relatively fresh so he’s not spent by the time the playoffs roll around.

In any case, Cox should continue to be an absolute beast for the Eagles.

MALIK JACKSON

Jackson was the Eagles’ most expensive offseason acquisition; Philadelphia signed the 29-year-old to a three-year deal worth $30 million ($17 million guaranteed). The Eagles are really counting on Jackson to bounce back following a season where he was benched by the Jaguars for poor run defense.

The Eagles are seemingly willing to overlook any run defense deficiencies since Jackson offers juice as a pass rusher. The thought of him lining up next to Cox is really intriguing. Cox is going to draw extra attention and Jackson should be able to take advantage. That is, assuming Jackson isn’t just washed up. He knows he has a lot to prove in 2019.

Another thing to consider with Jackson is that he could take some defensive end snaps. The 6-5, 290 pound Jackson has experience playing as a 4-3 edge rusher.

TIMMY JERNIGAN

It’s crazy that Jernigan is now a BACKUP on this team. He was a pretty good starter for the Eagles in 2017. Jernigan only managed to play 45 total snaps last year after almost suffering a career-ending back injury. Jernigan is seemingly healthy now; he didn’t miss any reps during spring practice.

The trio of Cox, Jackson, and Jernigan looks real strong on paper. All three interior defenders have pass rush ability. Cox and Jernigan are also dependable against the run as well.

TREYVON HESTER

Hester should always be remembered for his playoff heroics in the Eagles’ 2019 Wild Card win over the Bears. He got just enough of his hand on Cody Parkey’s field goal attempt to lead to the unforgettable double doink.

Even putting the magnitude of that play aside, Hester was a solid in-season pickup for Philly last year. Pro Football Focus actually had him graded 13th out of 129 interior defenders, which ... what? PFF had him graded out especially high as a run defender.

Hester should be a nice fourth defensive tackle to have behind the Eagles’ main trio. He deserves some rotational playing time, assuming he earns his roster spot.

HASSAN RIDGEWAY

The Eagles traded the No. 246 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to the Colts in exchange for Ridgeway. Indianapolis originally selected him with a fourth-round selection back in 2016 so 2019 will be the final year of his rookie contract. Ridgeway isn’t a lock to make the Eagles’ roster but he will compete for a fourth or fifth defensive tackle spot. Jim Schwartz did praise Ridgeway in the spring, if that means anything.

BRUCE HECTOR

Hector spent his rookie season bouncing between the 53-man roster and the practice squad. He might spend the 2019 season on the latter.

KEVIN WILKINS

The undrafted rookie free agent from Rutgers is likely a camp body.

ANTHONY RUSH

Rush reportedly received the fourth lowest amount of guaranteed money among the Eagles’ UDFA signings.

How will it play out?

The Eagles employed a heavy defensive tackle rotation back when they could afford to do so in 2017. Snap count percentages:

Fletcher Cox — 59.0%
Beau Allen — 40.9%
Timmy Jernigan — 47.7%
Destiny Vaeao — 22.3%
Elijah Qualls — 10.0%
Justin Hamilton — 4.3%

I think the Eagles will be looking to get back to this setup in 2019. Cox, Jackson, and Jernigan should all see significant playing time. Either Hester or Ridgeway will end up as the fourth defensive tackle and their playing time will resemble Vaeao’s count above.

The Eagles have some question marks at defensive end but their defensive tackle position is shaping up really nicely. Philadelphia should be able to generate a lot of interior disruption in 2019 if Jackson can bounce back and Jernigan can stay healthy.

Who could be a surprise cut?

No real shockers here but it’d be at least a little surprising to see Hester and/or Ridgeway get cut. Hester was a playoff hero! And the Eagles gave up a pick (albeit a late seventh-rounder) to get Ridgeway back in April.

Poll

On a scale of 1-5, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ defensive tackle position? (5 being the most.)

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    5
    (1721 votes)
  • 28%
    4
    (713 votes)
  • 2%
    3
    (57 votes)
  • 0%
    2
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    1
    (14 votes)
2516 votes total Vote Now