The foot injury suffered by defensive tackle Malik Jackson is a long-term blow to the Eagles' defense. There is no sugarcoating the impact, but the depth the team built up in the offseason now comes into play.
"We have guys who are going to step in and play well," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "That's the way we're looking at it. Malik is a great player and it's tough that he's out, but we have no choice but to have the next man step up and keep it going here."
Jackson suffered the injury late in Sunday's win over Washington and was placed on Injured Reserve on Tuesday. Signed as an unrestricted free agent in March, Jackson was expected to team well with Fletcher Cox to provide a potent 1-2 punch in the middle of the defensive line, with Tim Jernigan – re-signed just prior to the 2019 NFL Draft – as a perfect third man in the defensive tackle rotation.
The injury changes the rotation. The Eagles agreed to terms with veteran defensive tackle Akeem Spence to take Jackson's spot on the roster. In a separate roster move, tight end Alex Ellis was also waived. The 27-year-old Spence originally entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick (100th overall) by Tampa Bay in the 2013 NFL Draft. During his NFL career, Spence has played in 88 contests with 57 starts, totaling 177 tackles (106 solo), 10.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries. He spent four seasons in Tampa Bay (2013-16) and one season in Detroit (2017) before being traded to the Miami Dolphins where he started all 16 games in 2018. Spence was released last month by the Dolphins.
Meanwhile, Jernigan, who teamed with Cox in the Super Bowl LII season of 2017, is healthy and ready to be a starter.
"He's excited. We won a championship with this group," defensive end Vinny Curry said. "He's excited. He's ready. He's up for the challenge and you know he's going to take this opportunity."
The Eagles also made a smart trade on the third day of the draft when they sent a seventh-round draft pick to Indianapolis for defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway.
Ridgeway made the 53-man roster with a good preseason, played 24 snaps in the win over Washington, and now bumps up in the tackle rotation behind Cox and Jernigan.
Get an exclusive look at the Eagles locker room before they took on Washington in Week 1.
"We have a deep roster and everybody is here for a reason," Howie Roseman said when the team whittled the roster to 53 players prior to the regular season. "Every player has a role on the active roster and on the practice squad and we prepare for when guys are injured. That's going to happen in the National Football League. We have to be ready for that."
The time is now, after one game. A valuable piece of the defense is gone, but the defense remains confident in taking successful steps forward.
"Our mentality has always been 'next man up' and this is no different," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "It's always tough when someone gets injured, but you know that's part of the game. We just have to move on with someone else. Everyone knows how deep we are along the line of scrimmage. Tim will play and he'll do a great job."