Believe it or not, the injuries to defensive linemen Jason Babin, Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins may not be a bad thing. Sound crazy? Maybe an explanation will sound more convincing coming from defensive end Darryl Tapp.
"Today was a blessing in disguise for two reasons," said Tapp. "Trent and Babin's injuries weren't serious, so they'll be fine. But it gives our younger guys an opportunity to get some quality reps against our explosive offense."
With the starters along the defensive line sidelined, reserve players like Tapp, Brandon Graham and Philip Hunt received more snaps during practice Wednesday. The defensive line, run by coach Jim Washburn, requires fast, athletic linemen. And lots of them. The defensive line specializes in rotating its players, hitting opposing offenses in waves.
"Coach Washburn expects us all to be starters," Tapp said. "And that's how all we approach the game."
For Graham, this is an opportunity he's been waiting for. A first-round pick in 2010, Graham missed nearly all of 2011 returning from an ACL injury he sustained during his rookie season. Graham rededicated himself in the offseason and has been preparing for his opportunity to shine.
"I envision it every day and all I can say is that everybody needs to keep watching," Graham said. "We're all working out there and we're all going to do what it takes to do well out there."
Hunt, Graham's linemate, had a much more unorthodox entrance into the league. After starring in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hunt signed with the Eagles in 2010. He is now fighting for a job along the defensive line. But Eagles fans shouldn't worry about his attitude.
"I'm very hungry," Hunt said. "I think every year is a chance for me to improve what I did the previous year and in my mind I think I can do just as well as any player in this league. I just have the mindset to come out here and give all I have each day and let the results show as they will."
Playing with the ones in practice also means going up against the number one offense. In many ways, the Eagles' offensive line mirrors its defensive counterpart. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd favors athletes at the line, which creates a unique test for the defense.
"We both give each other great looks in practice," Hunt said. "It's a learning experience for us. I think the coaching strategies with the offensive and defensive line helps us as players adjust to different situations."
While losing starters is never a positive, as long as those key players return healthy, allowing young reserve players to receive extra snaps can only pay dividends later in the season.
"Reps are reps. No matter who it is, you have to go out there and put your best effort forward," Tapp said. "Any rep is a great rep and an opportunity for anybody."
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