With Monday night's preseason showdown between the Eagles and the Patriots just a few hours away, here are five defensive players to keep an eye on ...
SS Nate Allen - The Eagles did not have their best playmaker at the safety position on the field for the preseason opener due to a hamstring injury. The Patriots will provide as good a test as any with their dynamic tight end duo in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This is expected to be the breakout year for Allen and a good showing on Monday night will provide added confidence going into the regular season.
DT Antonio Dixon - No other defensive tackle on this team offers the size and run-stuffing presence inside that Dixon provides. The defensive line is going to be a difficult area to trim for the Eagles when they have to finalize the roster. Will they keep more than four defensive tackles? On the inside, in addition to Dixon, the Eagles have current starters Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri. They have first-round pick Fletcher Cox. Cedric Thornton has had an outstanding Training Camp. Don't forget about Mike Patterson, who is waiting to come off the Active/Non-Football Injury list.
CB Joselio Hanson - Hanson is regarded as one of the better slot corners in the game and the Patriots boast the best over-the-middle pass attack in the league. If that wasn't enough, Hanson is playing with a bandaged-up dislocated right pinky finger. Hanson has had to fend off rookie fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin for the slot corner position. Hanson followed up a strong Training Camp with a good showing in the preseason opener. He can lock the job down with a good performance against the Patriots.
LB Mychal Kendricks - The rookie strongside linebacker flashed amazing playmaking ability in his preseason debut. He has tremendous range, covering sideline-to-sideline. He has good instincts. He is a fundamentally sound tackler. Kendricks can blitz, but don't expect too much of that in preseason. What we want to see is how he covers the Patriots tight ends. If Kendricks can be relied upon to cover opposing tight ends, it will dramatically improve the Eagles defense in 2012.
LB DeMeco Ryans - He's brought leadership in his short time with the Eagles. He also provided a stout presence in the preseason debut. There were some downs as well, but his ability to clog the middle of the field forcing runners to the outside was key against the Steelers although it's not the flashy play fans crave. The Eagles have worked on third-down defense after struggling in that area against Pittsburgh. If the Eagles can improve in that area, especially against the Patriots, it will be a confidence boost moving ahead.
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