The score isn’t what matters in an NFL preseason game. A player like defensive end Daeshon Hall is what these games are all about. A third-round draft pick by Carolina in 2017, Hall joined the Eagles late in 2018 and was one of the most anonymous players on the roster.
Now, he’s in a bit of a spotlight, and he’s doing just fine.
Hall had a second consecutive huge preseason game on Thursday night when the Eagles defeated Jacksonville, 24-10. He was a force with two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble, upping his two-game total to three sacks (most in the NFL in the preseason) and two forced fumbles (tied for the most). That’s exactly what the Eagles were hoping for when they looked at their early-Training Camp depth chart at defensive end and saw a handful of young ends who would have an opportunity to step up.
They’ve done just that, with Hall leading the way.
“I’m comfortable (in the scheme) and I’ve just been practicing real hard and taking my practice habits to the field,” Hall said. “Coach Phil (defensive line coach Phillip Daniels) and all the old guys have been working on my fundamentals and I’m doing it on the field. I feel like this is my best football since I’ve been in the NFL. My body is good, my weight is where I want it, and my strength is good. I worked a lot on that in the offseason and it’s paying off.
“There is always room for improvement, and I feel like I can get more, so I’m going to get back to practice and work on doing that.”
Depth at defensive end was a position to watch after the Eagles traded Michael Bennett and learned of Chris Long’s retirement plans in the offseason. Howie Roseman didn’t rush to make any trades. Instead, he brought back Brandon Graham on a new contract prior to free agency. He counted on Derek Barnett returning to full health and continuing to build toward his peak years after last season’s shoulder surgery. Roseman re-signed Vinny Curry to add depth and toughness, and Curry has had a terrific summer.
But who would be those fourth, fifth and even sixth (developmental) defensive ends?
Halfway through the preseason, Hall is making his claim loud and clear.
“I feel good about where I am, but I have to keep working,” Hall said.
His NFL journey has not been an easy one. Hall followed up a stellar high school career – he was the Texas Class 4A Defensive Player of the Year as a senior – with four productive seasons at Texas A&M before joining Carolina. A knee injury landed Hall on Injured Reserve for all of his rookie season and he was cut by the Panthers when the team reduced its roster to 53 players prior to the 2018 regular season. Hall went to San Francisco for a three-week stint on the practice squad there, and then was added to Houston’s 53-man roster, where he lasted a month.
Hall then spent two months on the Texans’ practice squad before the Eagles, with some injuries at defensive end – Barnett was out and Josh Sweat went to IR with an ankle injury – signed Hall to the 53-man roster. He played in the final three regular-season games and both postseason games and then lived in the weight room in the offseason, adding 10 pounds of muscle and a lot of confidence.
And while Hall is off to a great preseason start, he’s not the only young end the Eagles are excited to continue to work with. Sweat is stronger and more productive in his second preseason after the Eagles selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. This year’s fourth-round draft pick, Shareef Miller, continues to improve rapidly and on Thursday night he contributed four total tackles, one quarterback sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits. Newly acquired end Eli Harold showed some bounce off the edge in his first preseason game as an Eagle.
There is still a ways to go, but the early returns on the young edge defenders are promising. And that’s exactly what the Eagles hoped they would see midway through August.
“We’re being challenged every day,” Miller said. “That’s what Coach (Daniels) wants from us. He wants us to keep pushing each other and pushing ourselves and getting better. That’s the goal. Just get a little bit better every day. I don’t think anybody is saying we’re where we want to be ultimately, but it’s been rewarding to practice hard and then see it pay off in the games.”
We’re only two games into this preseason and there are still plenty of questions to be answered about the Eagles and, yeah, players like Hall and Miller and Sweat haven’t seen the front-line offensive tackles they’ll see in the regular season, but the production is plain and visible for everyone to see. The Eagles have something young and good and promising going on at defensive end as they build depth. They’re going to need all of that and maybe more with the marathon regular season starting just a few weeks from now.