Instead of Julius Peppers, the pre-free agency hope for many fans, the Eagles traded for Darryl Tapp and drafted Brandon Graham and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. Are they better off in the long run? Time will tell, certainly, but the Eagles have Tapp signed to a contract extension and they welcome in rookies Graham and Te'o-Nesheim this week for another round of classroom, camp and consecutive days of feeding the playbook and the Eagles way of life.
Defense end is an obviously-changing position here. The goal is to free up Trent Cole and allow him to be even more dominating, and to have Juqua Parker build on his eight-sack season from 2009, and to have more threats inside when the defense goes to the nickel in obvious passing situations. Quite simply, the Eagles have to be more overpowering up front every week. They have to have more of a presence in the bigger of the big games.
The defensive line, which was pretty good last year over 17 games, and very good in some games, and not really all that great in the last two games, has had an infusion of off-season energy and talent, primarily with the additions of Tapp, Graham and Te'o-Nesheim.
So how do they fit in? Let's take a quick look ...
He can line up on both the right side and left side, which gives the Eagles some needed depth and flexibility. Tapp is also a candidate to go inside in the nickel. He has picked things up quickly, according to coaches, and Tapp is going to be an upgrade over Chris Clemons, for whom he was traded. Tapp may or may not start -- Parker lined up at left end in the post-draft camp -- but it really doesn't matter. He is going to play a lot of football in this defense and his tough-guy presence, his burst off the line of scrimmage and his motor will serve the Eagles well.
What kind of numbers can we expect from Tapp? It's hard to say. How do 6 to 8 sacks sound for this season? Tapp should really help in the nickel, and he can allow Cole to take off a series or two instead of playing 65 snaps every week.
Tapp has enjoyed a very fine off-season since he came via trade from Seattle. He is going to be a big part of things ahead.
Graham missed one practice during the post-draft camp but then came right back after graduation at Michigan and jumped back into the mix. He lined up as the second-team left end behind Parker and Graham showed the Eagles what they expected to see -- a great burst off the line of scrimmage, a very low pad level and terrific leverage.
The next step for Graham is to really wrap his mind and body around the technique part of things and the parts of the scheme that are very complicated and precise. This isn't a free-wheeling scheme at the NFL level. Graham can't just play in space and go up the field. He will drop in coverage at times, he will stunt and play games up front and he will create lanes for others to come on the blitz.
But Graham is a bright kid, a hard worker and he knows he has to earn his playing time. The Eagles aren't expecting him to walk right into the lineup. Parker is coming off one of his best career seasons. He is working hard in the off-season program. Graham will play, and he will be a factor, but how much is a question to be answered much later.
Perhaps one of the more mysterious talents and personalities to join the defense in a while, Te'o-Nesheim showed in the post-draft camp that he plays really hard and that he is quick and strong. The rest is unknown. The Eagles have indicated that they would like to give Te'o-Nesheim a look at tackle in the nickel in an effort to improve the inside pass rush, and that is something to look forward to when the pads go on.
For now, Te'o-Nesheim, like Graham and fellow line rookies Eric Moncur and even Ricky Sapp -- who lined up at linebacker in the post-draft camp but who could see some snaps at defensive end, too, and newly-acquired Alex Hall -- have so much to learn. The next few months are extremely critical. Natural talent only takes a young player -- or a player new to a scheme in Tapp's case -- so far. They need to know the particulars of what the coaches want.
And, again, the goal is to have more depth, more speed, more impact in every game this season. We can look back at how this off-season unfolded -- from the early, slow days of free agency (no Peppers, as the emphasis was on signing Leonard Weaver and Jason Avant) to the slam-bang draft weekend.
Are the Eagles better at defensive end, then, with the newcomers balanced against the trade of Clemons and the questionable health of Victor Abiamiri? That's the goal, and then some. The Eagles want to, need to, be great at the line of scrimmage to make this defense go.