The Eagles completed the task Friday of getting their roster to the 53-man limit. Let's take a position-by-position look at who will comprise the Eagles defense ...
In a word, stacked. Defensive end has to be the position on the roster most loaded with talent, as the Eagles go six deep with quality defensive ends that can all get after the quarterback. Trent Cole is one of the very best players in the league. Jason Babin is coming off consecutive seasons with monster sack totals, though he is still recovering from a calf strain. Brandon Graham, the 2010 first-round pick, has been a revelation this preseason and looks to be ready for a big year. So too is Phillip Hunt, who forced his way onto the roster last season and has taken his game to the next level in 2012.
Second-round pick Vinny Curry is a very promising prospect who may begin the season as one of the seven inactives on gameday, but he’ll be an impact player for the Eagles sooner than later. Finally, veteran Darryl Tapp joins the group. Tapp has done everything asked of him since joining the team via trade two seasons ago, including playing through a pectoral injury last season. He has looked impressive in his own right throughout the offseason.
Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri are the starters on the inside. Jenkins showcased his versatility in the preseason by seeing a number of snaps at left defensive end. With Babin set to return from his calf injury, Jenkins can focus on providing pass rush up the middle. Landri was a terror for offensive linemen throughout Training Camp and the preseason. He has the quickness to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield. Fletcher Cox, the team's first-round pick, has the size, athleticism and skill-set to make an immediate impact. He will be an integral part of the defensive tackle rotation early. Cedric Thornton was one of the most improved players from 2011 this Training Camp and preseason. He didn't generate a lot of headlines, but was consistent day in and day out.
All-Pro DeMeco Ryans headlines a revamped linebacking corps that also features rookie Mychal Kendricks and reliable veteran Akeem Jordan. A dominant player and unquestioned leader with the Houston Texans, Ryans is back home in the middle of a 4-3 defense after being miscast in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme last year. Ryans isn’t without anything to prove however – after suffering an Achilles injury in 2010, Ryans must show that he can regain his elite status.
Meanwhile, Kendricks has perhaps been the standout player of the preseason, thanks to his impressive speed and playmaking ability. The coaches saw enough in Kendricks to give the rookie the strongside linebacker position in the spring, and he never let it go. Jordan usurped the starting weakside linebacker job late in the preseason.
Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney are two players with starting experience and versatility, while Casey Matthews looks to return from injury and build off his strong Training Camp performance.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be paired with All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha on the outside, creating an enticing blend of speed and shutdown ability. After spending last season playing in the slot, Rodgers-Cromartie looks primed for a big year. DRC dominated throughout Training Camp and is excited to regain his Pro Bowl form. Asomugha had a down year in 2011 but looks to regain his status as one of the very best in the NFL.
Fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin will take over duties in the slot and will also serve as the team’s primary kick returner. Curtis Marsh looked very much at home in the physical, press style of play that opposing offenses will see more of this season. Originally a fifth-round draft choice by the Chargers in 2009, Brandon Hughes also spent time with the Giants before the Eagles signed him off their practice squad. Hughes played in 13 games last season and logged his first career start against New England.
The starters have been set in stone at safety all offseason, as the 2010 draft pick duo of Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman prepare for their third season. Coleman is the steady player who led the Eagles in interceptions in 2011, while Allen faces high expectations entering his second season removed from a 2010 knee injury. The top backup is second-year Temple product Jaiquawn Jarrett. Jarrett’s preseason began in disappointing fashion with a bad game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he rebounded in solid fashion and looked impressive and decisive in the preseason finale. He also figures to make an impact on special teams.
And speaking of special teams, the Eagles chose to activate Colt Anderson from the Physically Unable to Perform list, meaning they’ll be able to employ one of the best special teams player in the NFL once Anderson is deemed ready in his recovery from a torn ACL. The Eagles traded for a safety Friday night, acquiring David Sims from the Cleveland Browns. He’ll battle with Jarrett for the third safety spot.
The big story here is that second-year punter Chas Henry edged out former Cowboy Mat McBriar for the punting job. Henry deserves credit for stepping his game up and defending his job against a player many consider the best punter in Cowboys history.
The special teams corps stays intact with kicker Alex Henery and the always reliable (and entertaining) long snapper Jon Dorenbos. Last season, Henery broke the NFL’s rookie field goal percentage record by hitting 88.9 percent of his attempts. That number also broke David Akers’ record for the best single-season percentage in Eagles history.