With the offseason underway, we are looking at each position and where it stands with the preparation for the 2013 season in mind. The focus now shifts to the defensive side of the football beginning with the defensive end position ...
End Of Season Depth Chart: Trent Cole finished his eighth season as the Eagles’ top right defensive end in 2012, though his 3.0 sacks on the year were a career low. Like much of the defensive line, Cole’s production struggled through much of the first half of the season, as he went through a career-long streak of eight games without a sack. But Cole responded well to the late-season change in defensive line philosophy when reunited with Tommy Brasher, the position coach from his rookie season. Cole, 30, figures to continue as a dependable player for the Eagles moving forward and it will be interesting to see how he fits with the defensive philosophy of the team’s new coach.
The most positive development at defensive end for the Eagles in 2012 was the emergence of 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham. After a strong rookie season, Graham never made much of an impact in his sophomore campaign, thanks in large part to the recovery from a torn ACL. But when afforded the opportunity in 2012, Graham was the Eagles’ best source of pressure on the quarterback. He totaled 5.5 sacks on the season, including 4.0 in a three-game stretch late in the season, but there was more to Graham’s pressure than sacks alone. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham also created 31 quarterback hurries and graded out as the third-best pass rusher among all 4-3 defensive ends. The 24-year-old figures to be an integral part of the defense moving forward.
Vinny Curry’s rookie season was frustrating at times, as the 24-year-old had to wait until Week 12 before making his regular season debut. The final six games were an opportunity for the rookie to wet his feet in the NFL waters and he responded well in limited playing time. At 6-3, 266 pounds, Curry should be able to fit in whatever defensive scheme the Eagles employ moving forward. He will be expected to make the customary year-two improvement with a full NFL offseason on tap.
Darryl Tapp, 28, is next on line at defensive end. Over three seasons with the Eagles, Tapp has racked up 6.0 sacks and 111 tackles. Tapp did not play in the Eagles’ final two games of the season as the team looked to give its younger ends an opportunity to earn valuable reps. Tapp is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this season.
Phillip Hunt, 27, is the final defensive end who finished the season on the roster. The former Canadian Football League sack champion finished 2012 with only 1.0 sack as he fought for reps along the defensive line. Hunt, 6-0, 248 pounds, is still under team control entering next season and will be a player to watch as the team transitions to a new head coach.
The team signed former Carolina Panthers second-round pick and Florida State standout Everette Brown following the end of the regular season. Brown, 6-1, 256 pounds, will compete for a roster spot in the offseason.
Player To Watch In Offseason: Curry gets the nod here as a member of a very impressive 2012 draft class for the Eagles. The two players picked before Curry, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and linebacker Mychal Kendricks, have already established themselves as defensive starters. While that may be a lofty goal for Curry considering the presence of Graham and Cole on the roster, the former Marshall standout will certainly aim to become a consistent contributor. As it is his first NFL offseason, Curry will be expected to be an impact player by 2013.
Free Agents To Be: Tapp was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks via trade during the 2010 offseason and played three consistent seasons for the Eagles. Slated to be an unrestricted free agent, Tapp very well may have played his final game for the Eagles.
Best Performance: Graham wasn’t hampered by the short week of rest prior to the Eagles’ Thursday Night game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15. On the night, Graham sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton a career-high 2.5 times, including a strip sack that was recovered by the Eagles and immediately led to points. Graham also totaled a career-high 10 tackles in the game.
Noteworthy Stat: Cole has a good chance next season to take over the No. 2 spot on the franchise’s career sack list. Cole’s 71.0 sacks fall just five shy of Clyde Simmons’ mark of 76.0 sacks in an Eagles uniform. The No. 1 spot is a little further out of reach though, as Reggie White’s total of 124.0 sacks appears almost insurmountable.
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