Philadelphia Eagles News

DTs Have Chance To Show Talent

Head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder made the announcement at the onset of head coach Andy Reid's press conference and, truth is, when Burkholder strides to the microphone you kinda know that something is up, and it may not be great news.

The news that Patterson is out for all of training camp is not good news, and nor is it doom-and-gloom news. Burkholder said he fully expects Patterson to play this season, "just not today," and so the course of action now is to continue to monitor Patterson, make sure he gets in his conditioning and strength work, and wait for the doctors to give him clearance.

In the meantime, the Eagles are well stocked at defensive tackle. Very, very well stocked. If you were to imagine a depth chart at this point -- and that's all we have at the moment, imagination -- it would probably look like this: Cullen Jenkins and Antonio Dixon will take first-team reps at camp, with rookie Fletcher Cox and veteran Derek Landri will take the reps with the second team and Cedric Thornton and newly acquired Ollie Ogbu -- do you want to make a case for Frank Trotter? -- on the third team.

The point is this: We are in the mode of believing that Patterson will return for the regular season. And we are of the belief that the Eagles have ample ammunition at defensive tackle no matter how long it takes Patterson to knock off the rust and play like he has played since he was the team's first-round draft pick in 2005.

As much as the national experts were hyping Cox when the Eagles traded up to get him in the first round in April as an "immediate-impact" rookie, history suggests that it can take defensive tackles a year or two to get comfortable in a defensive system and learn the ways of the NFL playing against experienced offensive linemen. There have been some exceptions we've seen here -- both Corey Simon and Patterson were right-away starters -- but that is risky business to put too much weight on the shoulders of a rookie playing in front of a middle linebacker, DeMeco Ryans, who is expected to be the linchpin of the defense.

For me, then, Dixon becomes an extremely critical figure in the defense. He had a disappointing, injury-plagued season in 2011 after a promising 2010. Dixon, in 2010, passed Brodrick Bunkley in the rotation at defensive tackle and became a starter and then figured to flourish working with Jim Washburn. But Dixon wasn't in the greatest of shape for last year's camp and he was hurt early in the year and Washburn didn't have much of a chance to impart his gentle wisdom.

Now Dixon is in an entirely different place. He is playing on a one-year contract and is in great physical condition. He has to know that if he is to make it big with his next contract, he has to play outstanding football this season. Motivation is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Cox will have a lot of reps to take in this camp, and he's certainly talented enough to spring up and challenge for playing time. A starter? I will believe it when I see it, and if Cox is good enough to become a starter as a rookie then, yeah, he's something special.

Landri led the Eagles in tackles for loss last year and is only going to help when he's on the field, and Thornton was promising enough last year for the Eagles to do everything they could do to keep him from leaving to join another team's 53-man roster.

All of this defensive tackle talk will be a major topic for the rest of training camp. This week is about the rookies, so we'll look at Cox and the rest of the young linemen to see how fast they meld into Washburn's way and earn his trust for playing time.

As for Patterson, the most important thing is that he continues to get better and comes all the way back from a serious brain condition. The word is optimistic. The outlook is promising.

Until Patterson gets back on the field -- and does he need a week of practice to get ready for the regular season? Two? Three? -- the depth of the position will be challenged. The Eagles seem well stocked to thrive. They have made a strong effort to fortify the defensive front these last couple of offseasons, and the efforts have paid off enough to know that they should be OK while Patterson recovers, that his absence just gives others a chance to step up and show what they can do.

That's what it says on paper. Training camp and the preseason will help tell the tale, though, and that's why we're here, amid the beauty of Bethlehem, Pa,, hoping for positive answers.

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