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Projecting roles for new Eagles in this defense

Vinny Curry, all 6-foot-3, 279 pounds of him, was nearly in tears.

He was talking about the death of his brother, Dr. Gerald Glisson, a high school principal, who died of the coronavirus in early May. Football was the furthest thing from Curry's mind for much of the spring and summer after the loss of a man who was so instrumental in his life.

"He was everything to me," Curry said.

It hasn't been an easy last several months for Curry following one of the best seasons of his NFL career. He registered five quarterback sacks, third most on the Eagles, and 34 quarterback pressures/hits, tying with Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox for most on the team. In so many ways, it was a satisfying return to Philadelphia for Curry, who played in 2018 with Tampa Bay after six seasons in South Philadelphia after the Eagles made him a second-round draft pick in 2012.

Free agency was going to offer Curry a lot of options, and it did. But then COVID-19 hit and Dr. Glisson fell ill and Curry's focus was on his family.

"It was devastating for all of us," Curry said. "It was a tragedy. It hurt a lot and it still does."

Curry returned to the Eagles on a one-year deal to provide depth at defensive end. If the defense is going to work, the Eagles need waves of pass rushers and Curry's role should be similar to last season when he played 397 snaps, 38 percent of the defense's action. He is one of several "new" faces – Curry is included because, until the last week, he had opportunities to sign elsewhere and wasn't necessarily included in the Eagles' 2020 plans. Curry is part of the defensive end rotation that includes starters Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, along with third-year man Josh Sweat. The Eagles will likely keep at least five ends on the active roster and perhaps two or three on the practice squad.

Here is a look at the other new players expected to impact the Eagles' defense, with projected roles, for 2020 …

CB Darius Slay

Here is your No. 1 cornerback who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons when he played in Detroit. Slay is "energized" by the new surroundings in Philadelphia and by the "vibe" of the team. It's a winning culture. It's a fun place to work. Who wouldn't love it?

Slay will be used in a variety of ways by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who will have No. 24 shadow opposing receivers in an effort to lock down the big plays that hurt the Eagles so much a year ago. Slay is still at the top of his game and he's here with a huge personality and a lot of confidence to help the defense. Slay shores greatly improves a secondary that has questions – who replaces Malcolm Jenkins at safety (Jalen Mills is the leading contender)? Who starts at the second cornerback position? – and that last year was victimized by too many big plays.

DT Javon Hargrave

A nose tackle in Pittsburgh's 34 front for four seasons, Hargrave became a dominating player there. In this system, with the way the Eagles attack at the line of scrimmage, he has a chance to be even more disruptive. Hargrave is explosive and strong and relentless, and he teams with Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson (back from injury) along with Hassan Ridgeway, to form a fantastic foursome inside. If you don't know Hargrave's name, you will very soon.

S Will Parks

Schwartz set out to add some "positionless" players in the defense and Parks is seen as that kind of player. He will compete with Mills at safety and could move around the secondary in a variety of roles. The goal is to be as versatile as possible in the back seven, and Parks with his skill set allows the Eagles to have that kind of flexibility and depth.

CB Nickell Robey-Coleman

According to Pro Football Focus, an analytics arm that is widely regarded as the best in the business covering the NFL, Robey-Coleman ranked 19th among all cornerbacks in the league last season while playing with the Rams. According to PFF, Robey-Coleman allowed a passer rating of just 80.1 when targeted (13th in NFL) and ranked sixth in yards per slot coverage snap (0.63), putting together one of his best seasons. He is a terrific nickel cornerback. So is Cre'Von LeBlanc. The two will compete for the job in Training Camp and both will give the Eagles great depth at the position, as well as some versatility to move outside if needed.

LB Davion Taylor

It is very difficult to project rookies because they missed so much time in the spring, but Taylor is a third-round draft pick at a position that needs to prove itself and he's going to have a chance to get some reps. Taylor is a project, though, so let's be realistic here. He just hasn't played a whole lot of football in his life to this point. He has eye-popping athletic skills, so it will be interesting to see how that translates to his ability to acclimate his game to this level as a rookie.

LB Shaun Bradley

The sixth-round draft pick from Temple has speed and he's a tough guy, so he's going to get a lot of reps in the weeks ahead. The Eagles have seen Nathan Gerry in the defense. They've had a very small sample size of T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley. Why not Bradley? The depth at linebacker is a question mark. And there isn't much time to find out here. So Bradley will get his shot.

S K'Von Wallace

A fourth-round draft pick who comes from a winning program at Clemson and who is a ballhawk deserves a mention here. Depending on how fast he picks up the defense, Wallace will have an opportunity to earn some reps, either at safety or as a quasi-linebacker, or, well, in any role that Schwartz deems a good fit. Wallace is smart, he's athletic, he's a winner, and he's hungry. He is going to be fun to watch when the camp heats up on Monday with pads on and full-contact action. Can't wait!

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