Eagles Depth Chart Predictions: Defense

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Entering the 2009 football season the Philadelphia Eagles are faced with replacing a number of long time players in the starting line up. Gone are offensive strongholds Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas. No longer will Correll Buckhalter make a needed play in relief of Brian Westbrook. LJ Smith will try to find his potential in Baltimore. But nobody will be more missed on this edition of the Philadelphia Eagles like future Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins.

Dawkins did a lot more than pour every ounce of strength on the field. He provided a leadership quality few possess. However the Eagles faithful in the stands were feeling, Dawkins was feeling twice as much, good or bad. To say that Dawkins was the soul of the Eagles is a gross understatement.

Still though Dawkins has flown the coop and saddled up with the Denver Broncos, leaving Eagles fans wondering who can fill his spot. What about the loss of Lito Sheppard, who is now wearing a different shade of green and white up north in the Meadowlands? Are the linebackers up to par for this season?

When projecting the Eagles depth chart on the defensive side of the ball it is important to remember the way the team handles their defensive line. The Eagles rotate their defensive lineman on a routine basis that few teams in the NFL can. The apparent depth at the position allows the Jim Johnson lead defense to rotate players of similar skill levels to keep them fresh longer than their opponents on the offensive line. With the recent news that Johnson was going to take a leave of absence to treat his cancer, secondary coach Sean McDermott has taken over the reigns and will carry out the same defensive philosophy established by Johnson.

It is unclear when Johnson will make his return to the team, but regardless of when that is and whether or not he gets a chance to give his significant input, here is my prediction of what the depth chart will look like, going two deep, when training camp closes. My locks for spots are in bold.


Juqua Parker/Victor Abiamiri: Parker recorded five sacks in 2008, a season in which he really came into his own. Parker presents adequate speed off the snap although he is a little smaller than his likely backup. Parker is entering his ninth season in the league and has just now started to become a force to be reckoned with on the line.

I anticipate good things in the future for Abiamiri and should Parker go down to injury at any point the Eagles have a player waiting to fill in in the former Notre Dame player. This year you can expect to see more of Abiamiri, who missed a bit of time with an injury last season. Abiamiri should be seeing about half of the snaps on defense in 2009 and is being groomed to take over the position after Parker's contract runs out in 2011.


Mike Patterson/Trevor Laws: Patterson, entering his fifth season with the Eagles, has his spot locked up on the defensive line. Although his numbers went down from 2007 to 2008, Patterson still gives the Eagles 80+ tackles, about half of which will be solo tackles.

Laws is a nice player and is entering just his second season. If needed to fill in on defense the Eagles should be somewhat concerned as he still has some developing to do. Given that though he is still a solid lock to be the team's back up left defensive tackle. Given his slightly larger size than Patterson it will still be tough for the offense to get by Laws.


Broderick Bunkley/Amon Gordon: Not a terrible threat to pick up a sack (he had two last season), Bunkley gives the Eagles a 6'-2" 306 pound plug in the middle. Bunkley picked up 82 tackles in the 2008 season and helped the Eagles rush defense form the sixth ranked rush defense over the past two seasons, allowing under 100 yards per game.

There could be a good roster battle in training camp between Dan Klecko and Amon Gordon. I give Gordon the edge at the moment based on his size. Gordon has battled some knee problems, which could hinder him in training camp, but Klecko has yet to really prove anything with the Eagles. Anticipate the motivated Gordon to make a run for the second spot behind Bunkley.


Trent Cole/Darren Howard: Cole is going to be the starter over Howard. Cole has outplayed Howard, a free agent acquisition in 2006, and gives the Eagles much more energy off the right side than Howard can give them. Cole already ranks eighth on the franchise list for sacks with 34.5 and has the ability to pick up 100 tackles.

Howard on the other hand has a career high of 54 tackles in a season, in 2001 with the Saints. Howard is also entering his tenth season in the league, where Cole is entering his fifth. Howard will still see some playing time of course with the rotation on the defensive line, but when the game is on the line you can count on seeing more of Cole.


Chris Gocong/Tank Daniels: If there is one area on the Eagles defense that could use an upgrade, this might be a good start. Gocong figures to be the starter, and he is adequate, but after Gocong there is not much to get excited about. Entering his fourth season, Gocong's numbers actually dropped from a year ago, but that could be attributed to using him primarily in the linebackers unit as opposed to seeing time on the defensive line. Gocong is versatile but I feel he could improve a little more at the position.

Daniels is a likely winner for the back up spot but will see some competition from Tracy White, primarily a special teams player, in training camp.


Stewart Bradley/Charleston Hughes: Similar to the SAM linebacker position, after Bradley there are question marks for the back up. Bradley really matured last year in the role of middle linebacker and figures to have another solid season in 2009. Bradley will develop into more of a leader on the defense with the loss of Dawkins and can really start to make a name for himself with hard nosed, on top of the ball play.

But if Stewart is out of the line up what happens then? Look for Hughes, a free agent pick up from the Canadian Football League, to make a push for the back up spot. Hughes actually played defensive end for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders, but at 6'1" and 244 pounds he might be a good fit for linebacker. The Eagles are taking a gamble with Hughes, with the other option being Joe Mays, the team's late round draft pick in 2008.


Omar Gaither/Akeem Jordan: This will be the best position battle when training camp opens, at least on defense. Jordan ascended to the starting position in the last half of the 2008 season, replacing Gaithier in the process. But can he duplicate his success?

Jordan started out as a special tams player but started the final six games of the regular season in 2008 at the weak side linebacker. In that time, less than half of the regular season, Jordan accumulated better numbers than Gaithier. So why do I anticipate Gaither to be the starter right now?

If you noticed I did not highlight this poison in bold, indicating my wavering on metaphorically jotting down Gaither in ink. Size is almost a non issue when comparing the players (Gaither is one inch taller and five pounds heavier). I am curious to see if Gaither comes in to Lehigh with a new energy and shows a determination to regain the starting job. When it comes to training camp I place a lot of value on hunger of a player, and Gaither is in a situation that calls for it. If he reports to camp and starts off with a lack of intensity, this could easily switch back in Jordan's favor.


Asante Samuel/Joselio Hanson: I can't imagine that the play making Pro Bowl caliber corner back Samuel will lose this spot. There is practically no reason to discuss this much further.

However Hanson made some improvements to his game last season and has shown why he will be a back up for Samuel. Hanson also will see significant time on special teams.


Sheldon Brown/Ellis Hobbs: Again, there is no reason to suspect that Brown will lose his starting job. If anything the only reason Brown loses his starting job in Philadelphia will have to do with his recent statements regarding his contract. Brown may be playing his final season in Philadelphia if this goes the same way that Lito Sheppard's contract squabble progressed.

Look for Hobbs to see some playing time if Brown shows some frustrations and misses a play or two in a critical situation.


Quintin Mikell/Sean Jones: Mikell is stepping in to uncharted waters, and a spot that few excel in, when he will replace fan favorite and perennial Pro Bowl caliber player, Brian Dawkins. Mikell already enters the season with concerns but the coaches understand that he is not Dawkins, and he probably never will be. What the coaching staff will have to focus on is ensuring that Mikell learns from his mistakes and recovers well when the ball is in the air.

If Mikell is not a question mark, Jones can offer some veteran experience to draw on. Jones is entering his sixth season and has been a full time starter the past three seasons with the Cleveland Browns.


Quintin Demps/Rashad Baker: Demps has some critics to answer after his performance in the NFC Championship game, but one can only hope that he learns from his mistakes. Regardless of what he did in the post season with the season on the line, Demps will be the starting free safety.

When determining the back up though it could be a battle between Baker and Macho Harris. Baker gets the edge though as he is entering his second season, and Harris is a rookie.

The Eagles have some youth that will play a big role on the defense. Look for Bradley to develop into the leader of the defense, resembling some of the traits carried by Jeremiah Trotter in his time here. He may not have the same edge that Trotter, or Dawkins, possessed but all eyes will look to him when on the field for guidance and support.

The defensive line should be solid and a number of the young players on the roster should develop more this year, giving this defense potential to be something special. They may lack the big names, but they should be solid as a defensive unit. Jim Johnson will be proud of them.

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