There are enough young, fast players on the defense to think the Eagles are building in the right direction. The next step is to add some size.
By NFL standards, the Eagles have an average-sized defense. They have smallish defensive ends, but all 4-3 teams employ ends in the range of 260-270 pounds. There are no Reggie Whites tromping around the league these days -- all 290 pounds and fast and furious and technically perfect. Those players are just not made any longer.
Instead, the emphasis is on speed and quickness off the edge. Dwight Freeney is an often-cited example of the importance of quickness off the ball and leverage in his get-off. Justin Tuck, who looks huge when you watch him on television, is a sinewy 6 feet 5, 274 pounds.
Neither Trent Cole nor Darryl Tapp nor Juqua Thomas nor Brandon Graham have that kind of height, but they are in the same neighborhood pounds wise for the Eagles at defensive end.
Inside, the Eagles enjoyed an emergence from 320-pound Antonio Dixon last season as the second-year man became a force. How much improved he becomes with new line coach Jim Washburn will be one of the enjoyable pieces of the defense to watch this season.
You wonder, though, where the Eagles can become bigger on defense. If they have a chance to add a 280-pound end or a 325-pound tackle who fits what Washburn wants, you can bet they will have a keen interest. The idea that the Eagles have not been interested in larger linemen in the past isn't true: The fact is that it's hard to find those players when you are drafting in the latter part of the first round of every April.
Where the Eagles can improve their size on defense is in coverage -- in the secondary, specifically. The right cornerback position needs more height and wingspan. Safety is an area to look to as well if Quintin Mikell does not return.
Linebacker? I think the Eagles will address that group, but if the Eagles go with Jamar Chaney (245 pounds) at WILL and Stewart Bradley (260 pounds) in the middle, they are off to a good start in the size department there. Who plays SAM remains a question, with Moise Fokou the incumbent and Rashad Jeanty signed to compete.
This is never going to be a brawling, size-dominated defense. That isn't the scheme. Juan Castillo wants players who fly to the football and who are physical and smart and who have a nasty disposition. Castillo wants his players to cover sideline to sideline.
So, let's not get the idea that Castillo is going to radically change the way things are done. His goal is to win the Super Bowl with this defense, one that produces takeaways, one that is much improved in the red zone over last year and one that gets off the field with more frequency.
To improve, the defense must get a little bit bigger, if possible. Cornerbacks who are 5-9 or 5-10 are able to do the job, no doubt about it, but the Eagles would be well served to add a cover man who is able to better match up against the big receivers on the schedule this season. Trevard Lindley is candidate, for sure, after he gained a taste of the NFL in his 2010 rookie season.
But if the Eagles add to the mix in the secondary in the weeks and months to come, let's see if they bring more size on board. Not a lot, mind you. Just enough to make a difference and close that gap in the season ahead.