The Eagles defensive ends are a fine mix of size, speed and athleticism. Exhibit A - Pro Bowl selection from last season Trent Cole. The most established and proven defensive end on the team, Cole is the prototype that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson hopes to replicate with the lone rookie of the group, Bryan Smith.
"He's about 235 or 240 right now, so I could see him getting up to 245 or 250 within a year," Johnson said about Smith. "Maybe next fall or the year after. He has big shoulders; he could be a 245- or 250-pound defensive end like Trent Cole. That's what Trent was - 230 or 235. (Smith) has that great speed. Not everybody is going to be a Trent Cole, but he's got that kind of speed and he will get bigger. He should be a good pass rusher."
Cole forced the entire league to take notice as he set career highs in sacks (12.5) and tackles (103) last season.
The Eagles drafted Smith in the third round out of Division I-AA McNeese State The 6-2, 245 pound Smith was a two-time All-American selection, named the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year and finished as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan award as a junior in 2006. That year he registered career highs in sacks (13.5), tackles (84) and tackles for a loss (23). As a senior, Smith recorded 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss, earning his second consecutive All-American nomination. Smith finished his college career with 31 sacks, 187 tackles and 56.5 tackles for a loss in 31 games.
The combination of speedy ends such as free agent acquisition Chris Clemons and Smith with the large and powerful guys like Victor Abiamiri, gives Johnson the ability to match up his personnel in any given situation.
"It's a thing you look forward to, because I think we have a lot of possibilities," Johnson said. "I don't think we've ever had this much depth at defensive end … We'll see how it goes after that. There are a lot of good players out there and a lot of good defensive ends."
And like Cole, there are some ends that can stay on the field no matter how the opposition lines up.
Juqua Parker started the last seven games in 2007 at left end. Even at 6-2, 264 pounds, Parker has the motor to be effective against both the pass and run. Parker has been one of the most consistent performers on the defensive line over the last two seasons, tallying 115 tackles and 12.5 sacks (including postseason).
Darren Howard and Jerome McDougle are players not to be counted out by any means. McDougle is battling back from a tricep injury. Howard was the team's big free agent signing from 2006, but is now just looking to be productive as an inside rusher, maybe at defensive tackle. He has slimmed down from last season and hopefully that means he is ready to make to turn up the speed in 2008.
JUST A YEAR AGO ...
The defensive ends were relatively unknown around the league with the exception of Jevon Kearse who was unable to work his way back to "Freak" status in Philadelphia. Juqua Parker stepped up big-time in Kearse's absence, finishing the 2007 season with 63 tackles, five sacks, 10 hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
But the Eagles would have liked to see more of a consistent rush opposite Trent Cole, whose 12.5 sacks was sixth in the NFL last year.
BATTLE TO WATCH: Victor Abiamiri vs. Juqua Parker
Parker has the edge and experience entering his eighth season while Abiamiri is coming off a rookie year that consisted of limited playing time. However, Abiamiri's size and potential might be too good to keep off the field this season. Both guys will see plenty of action - that is for sure.
"I said that towards the end of the year that I thought he was coming around," Johnson said about Abiamiri. "He's showing it this year in these camps. He's a different person. He plays with a lot of confidence and he knows the defense. He's going to be on the field quite a bit."