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Offseason Preview: Defensive Tackle

Posted Jan 18, 2012

This week, our offseason position-by-position previews began to look at the defensive side of the ball. On Tuesday, we looked at how Jason Babin and Trent Cole formed arguably the most dangerous 1-2 pass rush duo in the entire league in 2011. Here is a look at the interior of the defensive line which was also bolstered in 2011 by a key free agent pickup.

2011 Season In Review

Just like the defensive end position, the Eagles started one of the longest-tenured players on defense (Mike Patterson) and a prized free agent acquisition (Cullen Jenkins) at defensive tackle in 2011.

Patterson turned in what was arguably his finest season as a pro when at one point it was questionable whether he would ever play again. On August 3, Patterson suffered a seizure during a morning training camp practice. The seizure was caused by a rare congenital condition called brain AVM. Patterson was cleared to return to football and just 17 days after the seizure, the team's first-round pick from 2005 was back on the field.

In fact, Patterson started 15 games in 2011 and registered 66 tackles, 2.5 sacks (his most since 2007) and recovered two fumbles. Patterson was also tied for third on the team with 24 QB hurries. The 6-1, 300-pound Patterson adjusted well to defensive line coach Jim Washburn's attacking scheme. Patterson earned All-Pro consideration and was named by his teammates as the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.

Jenkins came from Green Bay where he once toiled as a rookie free agent trying to make the team and left as a Super Bowl champion. Despite being armed with a ring and a lucrative contract, Jenkins took a leadership role on this team and brought a dynamic interior pass rush that the Eagles have wanted for years. He started the year on a tear with five sacks in the first four games of the season. In fact, Jenkins joined Jerome Brown as the only Eagles defensive tackles to ever open a season with a sack in each of the first three games of the year. The disruptive Jenkins finished second on the team with seven tackles for a loss. Jenkins has the athleticism to not only play both tackle and end, but also line up as a stand-up rusher.

The third tackle entering the year was the team's most stout in Antonio Dixon. The 6-3, 322-pound third-year tackle, however, was lost for the season after just four games due to a torn triceps injury.

Trevor Laws overcame injuries in training camp to become a dependable member of the defensive tackle rotation. The fourth-year tackle finished with a career-high 40 tackles, which was nearly as many as his first three seasons combined. He also had 16 QB hurries last season.

Derek Landri was an under-the-radar signing during training camp. The fifth-year veteran, who started all 16 games a year ago for Carolina, flashed during the preseason. However, the Eagles decided to go with youth and released Landri on the final cutdown day. Landri was re-signed after Dixon's season-ending injury and racked up 43 tackles in the final 12 games of the season.

He led the team in tackles for a loss despite missing those first four games of the season. Landri sealed the win against the Giants with a fumble recovery. He also blocked a field goal attempt in the season-ending win over Washington, a game in which he also had seven QB hurries.

Rookie Cedric Thornton was one of two rookie free agents - along with Chas Henry - to wind up on the 53-man roster at the end of the season. Thornton was an All-American at Divison II Southern Arkansas before he signed with the Eagles following this year's draft. A tall defensive tackle (6-4, 309 pounds), Thornton saw an impressive amount of snaps in training camp due to injury.

He made the most of them and earned a spot on the 53-man roster after training camp, but was released prior to the season opener. He re-signed with the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster for the final three games of the season, but did not record any playing time.

Impressive Stat

The 11 total sacks accumulated by the defensive tackles on the roster are the most for the Eagles since that position group accounted for 16 back in 2004.

End of Season Depth Chart

LDT: 1. Cullen Jenkins, 2. Trevor Laws (UFA), 3. Cedric Thornton
RDT: 1. Mike Patterson, 2. Derek Landri (UFA)
Injured Reserve: Antonio Dixon (RFA)

To Be Answered

The Eagles have a good starting duo in place with Jenkins and Patterson. The key for the defensive tackle rotation is 2012 is whether they can get more production out of their young players - specifically Dixon and Thornton. Dixon is rehabbing the triceps injury, but will be called upon to bring his brute force to the middle of the line. Thornton is expected to make a leap from his rookie season with an offseason to work with the coaches in the film room and weight room.

With Laws and Landri, the Eagles have to decide whether they want to bring back either, neither or both to the squad. It would not be out of the question to see the Eagles bring in another young player who would compete for playing time now and eventually take over as a starter down the line. Here's a look from Tony Pauline at some of the defensive tackle prospects playing at the East-West Shrine Game this week.

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