Philadelphia Eagles News

How Much Can DT Aid Entire D?

How could you not be impressed with the sheer explosiveness of defensive tackles like Fletcher Cox and Dontari Poe, both of whom probably earned themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars by running fast times in the 40-yard dash on Monday.

The headlines blared the news: "WHAT BEASTS THESE DEFENSIVE TACKLES ARE!!" "DRAFT STOCK RISING!!!"

And who could argue. When you are 350 pounds (OK, 346 pounds, officially) and can bench press 225 pounds 44 times and run 40 yards in less than 5 seconds, including a 1.71-second 10-yard split as Poe did, you kick back when it is all done and breathe for the first time in weeks.

All the prep work paid off. Now, if the kid *can *really play the game ...

Anyway, the defensive tackles in this draft are said -- by the "draftniks," of course -- to be borderline special, and there are going to be some high-ceiling players there at 15 when the Eagles draft in April's first round.

And as much as Eagles fans and those who cover the Eagles can attest, much of the post-season talk has been about the team's linebacker positions and the absolute need -- their words, not mine -- to get one, two, maybe three linebackers to come in and play right away. Everything has been about the linebackers.

But what about this? What about drafting a double-team-eating defensive tackle who frees up a middle linebacker to run clean to the ball and make a tackle? When is the last time the Eagles had that kind of defensive tackle, one who absolutely commanded a double team and who beat the crap out of it on every snap?

You would probably have to go back to the days of the late Jerome Brown back in the late 1980s and early 1990s to find one. Cullen Jenkins is a terrific player and Mike Patterson has been as consistent a player as you will find, but neither takes over a game.

Can the Eagles add a player like that in the draft?

I'm not here to suggest that one player is better than another in the draft. I don't pretend to be an expert in the draft game, nor would I ever insult those who do this for a living. It may be one of the media's great misgivings to have players unfairly rated by those who dip their toes in the evaluation game, rather than dive all the way in. I realize that the draftniks exist as content providers between now and the draft, so there is a value to the work they do, but by no means is their word held in higher esteem inside the league than those select few men per team who make a living doing this thing.

Anyway, we all acknowledge that the defense must improve for the Eagles to get in the playoff game this season. I'm not sure there is a position that can't use some help, or some redefining and even some restructuring. Would it be more valuable to add a stud, standout, game-changing defensive tackle than, say, a new starting middle linebacker?

It's worth the conversation. The Eagles have had mixed results addressing the defensive line in past drafts and they deserve some criticism for mistakes. Every team has 'em. The Eagles have paid the price for drafting players who didn't play at the level the team expected like end Jon Harris (1997), Jerome McDougle (2003) and Brodrick Bunkley (2006). Brandon Graham (2010) deserves the benefit of another season of evaluation, and everyone knows the clock is ticking.

There is a difference this time, and that difference is Jim Washburn, the brilliant line coach whom the Eagles hired prior to the 2011 season. His line recorded 46 quarterback sacks in 2011 and sent Jason Babin to the Pro Bowl. Jenkins was a first alternate. Trent Cole probably would have been a stronger contender had he not sustained a calf injury during the season.

Washburn is a no-nonsense coach who gets the most out of his players. He has plenty to work with at tackle with Jenkins and Patterson, with promising Antonio Dixon on the way back after shoulder injury, with baby Cedric Thornton hoping to blossom. Both Trevor Laws and Derek Landri are potential free agents, so we can leave them out of the conversation for now.

With all of that, though, Washburn doesn't have a game-changing tackle in the lot. Jenkins is the closest thing, but is he best served to play 40 snaps every game? Wouldn't he best be used in a hybrid role -- tackle in run downs and then end in some short-yardage situations? -- to stay fresh?

What could Washburn do with a young, hungry and high-effort defensive tackle who is capable of eating up blockers?

That kind of player would certainly help the entire defense, would keep 340-pound guards away from the linebackers and free up the defense to chase the football.

I don't know if there is that kind of player in this draft, but the prospects certainly seem promising. If there is ever a time to reward a great position coach, this might be it.

The focus throughout the offseason has been on the linebackers and for some that will never end. Consider, though, what a superstar defensive tackle would mean to this defense, from the line of scrimmage all the way back to the safety positions.

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