With the Big Move out of the way in this off-season to remember, the focus now goes back to the other side of the football. A hallmark of Eagles success over the years, the defense as it appears on paper right now has some major question marks. How are the Eagles planning to provide those answers? Let's take a look at the defense, position by position, and offer some idea of just where the Eagles might look to improve in the weeks ahead ...
The acquisition of Darryl Tapp is intriguing, because the Eagles really, really like the guy. His numbers went down dramatically the last couple of seasons in Seattle, but the Eagles think that Tapp will benefit greatly from a change of scenery and exposure to a scheme that better fits his up-the-field ability.
If all goes perfectly, Tapp will emerge as the other option to take the load away from right end Trent Cole. Tapp is a 270-pounder, so he has the anchor to play stout football against the run. We'll see how he fits into what the Eagles want from their defensive ends.
Until Tapp proves himself, the left end position has to be considered a question mark. The Eagles are going to use Juqua Parker a lot after his career-high sack season in 2009, and the hope is that Tapp emerges as a big-time threat. Victor Abiamiri had knee surgery in the off-season, another in a litany of injuries that have plagued his career here.
Those are your four ends on the roster. The Eagles will add to the number, but just where and how and with whom is the big question. Do they use a high draft pick on a defensive end? Do they sign a bunch after the draft?
How settled do the Eagles feel at end? It is a great question, and in a draft that is said to be loaded at the position, the Eagles have a chance to really upgrade end with a couple of smart additions here.
With Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley starting, the Eagles have two good, solid, technique-sound tackles who have been strong against the run for years. The defensive numbers dipped last year, in large part because of the many injuries at the linebacker spots. Patterson and Bunkley are entrenched as starters, but that doesn't mean they won't be challenged.
There are a lot of good tackles in this draft, and it makes sense if the Eagles consider taking one or two along the way. Trevor Laws needs to have a bounce-back season to get back into the tackle rotation after losing his spot to Antonio Dixon, and there are certainly questions about Laws making an impact with this defense.
Dixon was a pleasant surprise last year after the Eagles acquired him off of waivers from the Redskins, and he has a lot of talent to develop. How high is the ceiling for a player who has obvious power and explosion?
The Eagles are in good shape at tackle, but like everything else on this defense, they can benefit from an upgrade. And, again, the position is said to be stocked in the draft. Adding some competition would really be welcome here.
Stewart Bradley returns, which instantly makes the linebackers much, much better. Bradley has gone through his rehabilitation process with flying colors and could very well return to the practice field at some point in the spring. Bradley is a 260-pound force in the middle. He can blitz, he can play the run and he is excellent in coverage. The question is how close to 100 percent Bradley can be right off the bat this season.
The entire linebacker group has some questions, of course. The Eagles really hope that Akeem Jordan plays at a high level and a consistent level immediately. He has a lot of athletic ability and makes plays in coverage, but Jordan was up and down for much of 2009. He battles Omar Gaither for the starting WILL job. Gaither is coming off a Lisfranc injury and is hopeful of a complete recovery.
At the SAM position, Moise Fokou and newly-acquired Alex Hall lead the imaginary depth chart at this point. Fokou showed some promise in his rookie season and Hall comes from Cleveland in last week's trade.
Joe Mays is the backup to Bradley in the middle at the moment.
Will the Eagles address linebacker? With 11 draft picks, you would kind of expect it in one form or another. The Eagles need more plays from the linebackers than they provided last season. Bradley helps a lot, yes, but the Eagles need some stability across the board here.
Asante Samuel is a Pro Bowl player and a big-moment standout and he is about the only known piece at cornerback as it stands now. Ellis Hobbs has made a great recovery from his neck injury from last year, and the Eagles think that Hobbs is a strong candidate to start at right cornerback this season. Maybe, maybe not. If not, the Eagles have other options.
They expect Joselio Hanson to bounce back after a 2009 season in which he missed four games because of an NFL substance-abuse suspension. Dimitri Patterson gained valuable experience at the position last season. Geoff Pope knows what the Eagles expect at the position after spending part of last season here.
Then there are the hybrid players -- Marlin Jackson and Macho Harris. They are thought of as safeties at the moment, but it wouldn't be a shock if they see some time at cornerback in the summer, too. Jackson, of course, is coming back from a knee injury, so it remains to be seen when he will be allowed to practice.
Big questions here. Who is playing free safety? Is Quintin Mikell good to go at strong safety, or does he move? Who is the long-term solution in the defensive backfield?
Quintin Demps will be heard from after his sophomore slump, and he is probably the leading candidate at this very moment to play free safety. Harris is a factor as well after seeing a considerable amount of action as a rookie. Jackson would fit in perfectly if he is healthy. The Eagles are confident that Jackson can make the transition to safety from cornerback, the position he played as a member of the Colts.
But it is foolish to think the Eagles have all the answers here right now. They need impact. They need a star. Mikell is the leader and is a very fine player, but he would benefit from stability at the free safety spot.
A major need? Yeah, even if the Eagles plan to go with what they have. Maybe Demps has stepped up so much in the off-season that the Eagles feel really confident in his improvement. That would be great.
Still, the Eagles need to challenge the safety spots. They need to challenge everything and everyone on defense. With 11 picks, with all of that draft ammo, the Eagles could get this defense back on track quickly with two or three immediate-impact draft decisions.