After looking at the youngsters on the Eagles' defensive line, I wanted to look at some of the newest additions on that side of the ball and see how they fared on Thursday night. Some of these players were on the field longer than others, but we still got a taste of what each of them bring to the table.
Let's start with Malik Jackson. He only played 11 snaps on Thursday night, but nearly came away with a huge turnover on the first third down of the night.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
Since he came out of Tennessee in 2012, Jackson has been one of the most disruptive interior rushers in the entire NFL. He wins with quickness, power, and technique. He is a violent player through and through. I believe his presence will have a huge impact not just on the defensive ends, but on an elite talent in Fletcher Cox, who will now the best pure pass-rushing defensive tackle playing next to him that he's ever had. What happens when teams try to double-team Cox on passing downs? Teams will have to have answers for Jackson, who has consistently shown the ability to win one-on-one throughout his career.
Next, let's focus on Andrew Sendejo, who was signed from Minnesota this offseason. Sendejo also only played 11 snaps against the Titans, but made his presence felt on the second drive of the game with two key plays.
We've talked often on the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast this summer about Sendejo and how active he's been around the line of scrimmage both as a blitzer and in the run game. We saw that on this first rep, where he comes off the edge and gets the ballcarrier to the ground. What I loved more, however, was the play he made two snaps later.
It's fourth-and-7, and Sendejo is the "hook" player in Cover 3, meaning he is responsible for an intermediate area in the middle of the field in coverage. Right before the snap, he parks himself right at the sticks, so he knows exactly what the offense needs for a first down.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas is a "boundary lock" player in this coverage. It's a 3x1 set (with three receivers to the far side of the field), so Douglas just plays straight man coverage on this play. That means Sendejo does not need to concern himself with anything to his right at the snap of the ball. He looks, instead, to the three-man side of the formation and reads the route of the first man to attack his zone. With one eye on the receiver and another on the quarterback, Sendejo knows the situation so he breaks on this throw early, driving forward before the ball leaves the quarterback's hands, and before the receiver finishes the route. That allows him to arrive at the catch point alongside the football and get it on the ground for a pass breakup to get the Eagles the ball back.
When healthy, the Eagles have one of the best safety tandems in football with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. But having a reliable veteran in Sendejo, who has started a lot of games in his career in a difficult defense for Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, is really valuable. Not only can he impact the Eagles subpackages with his ability to play in big nickel (five defensive backs, including three safeties) or dime (with six defensive backs on the field), but he also can be a starter if called upon. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, it is valuable to have a player like that who you can count on in the secondary.
Lastly, let's look at a couple of veteran linebackers, starting with Zach Brown. He played 24 snaps on Thursday night, fourth highest of the linebacker group. He's played a lot of football in the NFL to date, so we don't necessarily need to see a ton of him in the summer. I picked this play for one reason in particular.
In Thursday night's broadcast, analyst Ross Tucker broke down a couple of Brown's plays from last year in Washington. Tucker showcased how Brown can defeat blocks with his quickness. That showed up in the game on this play, as he slid past the left guard with a quick dip of the shoulder, staying square to the ballcarrier on his way to making the stop.
The competition at linebacker has been fun to watch if you're looking for a silver lining to the injuries to Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill. Nathan Gerry has played a lot of snaps with the starting defense. Brown has rotated in often with another free agent signee in L.J. Fort, who I thought flashed as well on Thursday night.
Fort showed off his speed, play-recognition skills, and ability to defeat blocks in this game. Like Brown, he has worked in with the starting unit because of the injuries others have sustained in camp. No matter what, the Eagles know what they have in a young veteran who has worked his way up in this league as a former undrafted free agent. He can play special teams, in coverage, and – in this game particularly – in the run game as well. It's going to be a fun battle watching that position group for the rest of the summer.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.