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Eagles Defense Gets Younger, And More

The big picture is not yet complete, so rushing to judgment after the Eagles traded starting cornerback Sheldon Brown and sometimes-starting linebacker Chris Gocong to Cleveland for two draft picks and linebacker Alex Hall doesn't make a lot of sense. The Eagles took another step on Friday of purging their roster, of becoming younger and, says general manager Howie Roseman, putting themselves in a position to become a better football team in 2010.

Are the Eagles rebuilding? Are they turning the roster over and starting new?

"The word 'rebuilding' will never enter our vocabulary," said Roseman. "We're trying to win, and we're trying to win right now. We're just trying to get better in all areas."

Brown was a solid cornerback for this football team since the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2002. He played through injuries, he was a tough guy on the field and he was a darn good cornerback in every capacity. There is no lack of respect for Brown, but the Eagles are in the process of transitioning this defense, as they did the offense a year ago. Brown struggled with a hamstring injury late in 2009, which clearly limited his performance in the second half of the season, but he was out there every week, battling.

Gocong's career never took off with the Eagles. I sure expected him to be an impact player when the Eagles used a third-round pick on the little-known player from Cal Poly, but after looking at Gocong at defensive end, they moved him to linebacker and the transition was very difficult. It became obvious that Gocong would be a better fit in a 3-4 scheme and that Gocong, used as an edge pass rusher, would be more effective.

So the Eagles sent both to Cleveland for a high fourth-round draft pick and a high fifth-round draft pick and Hall, who is going to first get a look at the SAM linebacker spot.

And if you are wondering who is going to line up as a starter for some of these defensive positions, it is a fair thing to wonder. The Eagles haven't completed things yet. Not even close. They have 10 draft picks to play with on April 22-24, and you better be prepared for some major moves -- trades to move up, down and all around in the draft, for sure -- by Roseman and head coach Andy Reid, who is an annual draft wheeler and dealer.

At this point, the Eagles think they have some options at cornerback, including Ellis Hobbs, who started for a couple of seasons in New England, Joselio Hanson, who has been a good nickel cornerback here (although, to be fair, he struggled mightily after his return from suspension last season), Dimitri Patterson, Geoff Pope and second-year man Macho Harris, who was an All-American cornerback in college at Virginia Tech before the Eagles made him a safety last year. Newly-acquired Marlin Jackson could also get a look at corner, but the first priority with him seems to be at the safety position.

And with 10 draft picks, the Eagles are in position to move up to get a cornerback in any round. They are slotted at 24th in the first round. How far up could they go if they packaged their first and these two picks acquired from Cleveland, for example?

Of course, the Eagles could also acquire a cornerback in a trade, so stay tuned. You never know what is going to happen next. I just know that neither Reid nor defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has ever gone into a season without being extremely well-covered at the cornerback positions. This year won't be any different, when the roster is complete.

Linebacker is another area where there are questions. Who starts at WILL? Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither are the front runners there. How about SAM? Moise Fokou and Hall, for now.


Yeah, it's a changing game here. Roseman and Reid have had quite an off-season. They have jettisoned enough veterans -- Brian Westbrook, Kevin Curtis, Darren Howard, Reggie Brown, Sheldon Brown, Shawn Andrews, Will Witherspoon -- to give this team a decidedly-younger look. They have turned over key positions to kids -- LeSean McCoy, for example.

There are still a lot of areas you look at and say, "Huh?" Free safety is one, for sure. Who is the starter there? What is the Eagles' plan at safety?

I don't have all the answers. You don't have all the answers. The Eagles -- Reid and Roseman, Roseman and Reid -- have their plan and their methods. The phones are busy. The talks are ongoing. As the days dry up between now and the draft, the chances increase for another major move.

The offense was turned over last year and in the end the Eagles were more explosive, more consistent and more dangerous than they had been in years. A couple of bad games at the end of the season tarnish the perspective, but the reality is the offense was better off after the roster re-do. This off-season is the defense's turn to change. The Eagles are awfully unsettled in their back seven, but the off-season is far from complete. The Eagles will have to provide answers.

And, look, there is no question the draft has to be a slam dunk. The Eagles have 10 picks and could work a couple more deals before it's all said and done to get one or three more. They changed general managers, promoting Roseman, moved around some key pieces in the personnel department, and they brought in Phil Savage as a consultant for the most important weekend of the year. The Eagles have been gearing for the draft all along.

If you've been paying attention, and I know you have been, you saw these moves possibly coming. What the Eagles do with those two draft picks and with Hall completes this side of the trade. But in the big picture, there is far, far more going on. The Eagles are turning over the roster after an 11-5 season. Most teams do it after lousy seasons and it takes those teams a year or two to bounce back after purging the roster.

The Eagles hope they can do it on the go, and come back with a younger, better team for 2010 to pick up and improve over last year's version and make a Super run with a group of talented players built for a long haul.

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