The Eagles were involved in the lone trade of the NFL's trade deadline Tuesday as they sent veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, along with a 2014 sixth-round pick, to the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2014 fifth-round pick. For the Eagles, the obvious benefits of the trade are improved draft position and eventual salary cap relief. But Sopoaga's absence also means the team's younger defensive linemen now have more opportunities to shine.
Without Sopoaga, the average age of the six defensive linemen on the active roster is just 24. The group may not have the most experience in the world, but head coach Chip Kelly believes that the way they've played to this point has warranted increased playing time.
"I thought Isaac did a nice job for us, but we felt like we had a couple younger guys that we really need to continue to get in there, and when they've played, they continue to really produce," said Kelly. "I think Clifton Geathers is a great example. Clifton Geathers played 13 snaps on Sunday versus the Giants and had three contacts with the ball, and he's a guy that just keeps getting better. I think Bennie Logan is a guy we need to see more of. Damion Square is a guy who was up for two games, but because we kept seven defensive linemen, we brought Vinny (Curry) up and Square down, but you watch Square every day in practice and I think Square, Logan and Geathers need more reps … I think getting the younger guys involved is going to be beneficial for us. I'm excited to see Bennie and Clifton and Square and those guys play a lot more."
Prior to the trade, the Eagles had already employed a rotation on their defensive line, with Sopoaga often coming out of the game in passing situations. Although he wasn't an every-down player, "Soap" did leave his mark on his younger linemen.
"I learned a lot – how to practice, learning the defense, studying and keying offensive linemen, and just you're approach to the game," said Logan. "Even when things aren't going your way, he always told me to just relax and be calm about everything. I would have to say that was the most important thing that I learned from him.
"(The trade) definitely caught me by surprise because he was a guy that I looked up to. When I got here, even through camp and even to now, he lived right by me, so I always tried to (mold) myself after the guy and the way he approached his job, and the way he worked on his craft every day. He's definitely a great role model to me, and the things that I learned from him I will continue to build and go forward from there."
"I wish him the best and a great career up in New England," said Square. "That's a great situation for him … but that doesn't change anything for me. I practice hard every day. I work hard every day as if I'm going to take every rep in the game. That's just how I am as a player. I put it out on the field."
The trade may have caught the two rookies by surprise, but the same cannot be said for Fletcher Cox. Although he is only in his second NFL season, he knows that players coming and going is simply a part of the game.
"One thing that I've learned since I've been in the NFL, being my second year, is that this is a business," said Cox. "Anything can happen on any day. I wish Isaac the best … He goes to another team but Isaac is a guy that I'll still talk to all the time."
The Eagles' young defensive line is now forced to step up without their veteran in the middle, but according to Square, seeing one piece leave only brings the other pieces closer together.
"You jell together a little bit closer when one of your guys leaves," said Square. "You get a little closer, but we know what to expect from each other. We know how we get it done … We know what's understood of us from the guys that play behind us, and we feel like any three guys that we put out on the field can get it done. That's how we feel as a unit."
Just ask Geathers, who knows what it feels like to be traded. The 6-foot-8 defensive end was traded to the Eagles this past offseason, and he knows that the line can only play at its best when there is trust among its members.
"We've always had a brotherhood, but as the season goes on, the brotherhood kind of gets closer and closer," said Geathers. "It makes you feel better when you know that you've got someone besides you who, if you mess up, they've got your back… I think we're doing well, but there are no pats on the back. We're just doing our job. We're starting to work together as a melting pot-new system, new plays."
"Every one of the defensive linemen have helped me out every day," echoed Logan. "If I make a mistake, they correct me. They tell me things I need to do and work on to make myself better and beat the offensive linemen's block and the scheme of the offensive line."
The immediate question for the line now centers around which player will step into the starting nose tackle job, vacated by Sopoaga. It is likely that will step into the role, based off of his playing time in the Eagles first eight games. If that is indeed the case, Logan feels that he will be ready to answer the call.
"When I first got here I was little shaky with the new scheme and all, but I've made a lot of progress," Logan explained. "I would have to say that a lot of guys have helped me through that process and so did (defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro). He did a great job of getting me prepared for the season and putting me in the position that I'm in right now. I'm training hard every day, so I'm ready for this new challenge that I'm going to take on."
If not Logan, it may be Square who sees the largest increase in playing time. After suiting up for the Eagles' first two games, the undrafted free agent has been inactive in the past six. The Alabama product has had to wait for his chance, but he is now looking forward to putting his talents on display.
"You have to preach patience to yourself," said Square. "I'm a guy that is used to playing. I played a lot of snaps coming out of college. I was a really important key on my team for a while, and then you come here and you really have to humble yourself. As soon as you think about 'Why me?' you have to think about 'Why not me? or 'Why not a guy like Vinny Curry?'… It was a situation where I was the guy that had to take the back seat, but some moves were made and they're giving me an opportunity to play and I'm going to go out there and not let them down … I'm ready."
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