1. Will the scheme change impact Brodrick Bunkley positively?
Since the arrival of Jim Washburn to take over the defensive line and Juan Castillo's promotion to defensive coordinator, Bunkley has been earmarked as a player who could be in for a rebound season in 2011. Washburn has noted that he's particularly excited to employ Bunkley is his attack-based scheme, which, he says, is more akin to Bunkley's scheme in college when he led all collegiate interior linemen as a Senior with 25 tackles-for-loss.
Castillo has also expressed his optimism about Bunkley's year-to-come, singling the defensive tackle out as a player primed to surpass expectations this season. For his part, Bunkley is likely to welcome the scheme change after an injury-hampered 2010 season. ProFootballFocus.com pegged Bunkley as a top-10 defensive tackle in both 2008 and 2009 on the strength of impressive numbers against the run. If, as expected, he can add some pass-rushing dynamism, it could be a big year for Bunkley indeed.
2. Can Antonio Dixon pick up where he left off?
Perhaps one of the more pleasant surprises in 2010, Dixon will be one of the more intriguing players to watch this season. After taking over the starting job midway through the season, Dixon established himself as one of the better young defensive tackles in the league. Dixon, 25, excelled in his second season to the tune of 37 tackles and 10 starts. His main strength was a needed stoutness against the run inside. According to ProFootballFocus, he was a top-10 performer against the rush in 2010. Meanwhile, Football Outsiders credited Dixon with a 85 percent run stop rate, just on the outside of the top-10.
Like the rest of the defensive line, Dixon will have to adjust to a new position coach and coordinator. But after a promising first two seasons, the one-time undrafted free agent could be on the cusp of game-changer.
3. What's next for Trevor Laws and will there be any new faces at defensive tackle?
We'll cheat a bit here get two more questions in for the intriguing position. First, the focus here is on Laws, who was considered by some to be a "bust" before the 2010 season after a disappointing first two years. Laws stepped up his game last season however, notching 4.0 sacks as one of the primary nickel pass rushers. And don't forget that he was a big factor in the Miracle at the New Meadowlands when he sacked Eli Manning to force Matt Dodge's game-ending punt to DeSean Jackson. Laws attributes the uptick in his productivity to being healthy for the first time in his career and he too should be well-suited for Washburn's upfield scheme.
Of course, we've yet to mention starting defensive tackle Mike Patterson, but that's only because his performance is as reliable and rock-solid as the Eagles have. But will there be anyone else involved at tackle come Week 1? Some have pointed to Washburn's relationship with Albert Haynesworth as a reason that the Redskins tackle could end up in Philadelphia, though he is still under contract with Washington. Beyond that, most focus on potential free agent acquisitions has been limited to defensive end, perhaps because the current foursome is so formidable. Regardless, with the impending scheme-change, defensive tackle will be one of the more interesting positions to watch evolve throughout 2011.