Yes, the Eagles have plenty of depth at defensive tackle and are well suited to plug the hole filled by the indeterminate absence of Mike Patterson. But that doesn't mean the Eagles won't miss the 28-year-old former first-round pick. Patterson tied with Cullen Jenkins for the most total snaps of any Eagles defensive tackle in 2011, despite playing in 15 games to Jenkins' 16. There's a reason that defensive line coach Jim Washburn trusted Patterson the most of his defensive tackles.
"I'll miss the guy when I turn on the film on Monday morning that plays solid the whole time," said Washburn Tuesday. "He's just always in the right place. He does the right thing and he's going to play hard and he knows what to do. It's a constant. You turn on the film and you wonder how's Vinny (Curry) or Fletcher (Cox) going to play or whatever, but Mike was the old solid guy that was always there and that's a comfort to a coach to know that he's always going to do the right thing."
Fortunately, Patterson is still around, working out and rehabbing at Lehigh with strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin and attending team and position meetings at night.
"Mike Patterson might be one of the best people I've ever had," said Washburn. "He doesn't have to come to these rookie meetings at night and in the afternoon, he doesn't have to be there, but guess what? He's there. I said, 'Mike, you don't have to be here,' and he said, 'I like to be here.' He likes football. He's a good one. God dang, we miss him now.
"I guess he's mentoring them ... A lot better than hearing it from me. He's smarter than I am."
Following the announcement that Patterson would not participate in Training Camp, higher expectations were immediately thrust upon first-round pick Fletcher Cox. But Washburn already had high expectations for 12th overall pick.
"He was going to be accelerated anyway," Washburn said. "He's a good player. He's going to play. It's the same thing, we're going to try to have four tackles be starters.
"He was ready to play anyway. He's very mature."
With Cullen Jenkins entrenched in the rotation and Derek Landri having proved himself in Washburn's scheme last season, the other question mark at defensive tackle is Antonio Dixon, the fourth-year man from Miami who only played in four games last season before tearing his triceps and going on injured reserve. Dixon may best fit the Patterson-style defensive tackle - stout against the run but powerful and quick as an inside pass rusher. Dixon forced his way onto the team in 2009 as an undrafted free agent before breaking out in 2010, when he started 10 games. But he came in out of shape last summer and didn't take quickly to Washburn's scheme.
"I was so disappointed," said Washburn. "I couldn't tell if he had any talent. Every night we go to the staff meeting and have to talk about every player every night. (Head coach) Andy (Reid) wants to know and we did the same at other places I've been. I couldn't tell if the guy was a good player or not. I couldn't tell if he was a good athlete. He weighed 365 or something like that. His back was killing him. He was out of shape. I couldn't even tell if he was a player. This spring, he worked his butt off. He's down, I don't know how much he weighs, he's maybe 330 from 360 or whatever it was. He's in so much better shape and I went, 'Wow, this guy's got some quickness.' He likes to play and he's tough, but he's got ability."
Dixon, who was the first player mentioned by Reid as a replacement for Patterson when the news first broke, is now listed as 6-3, 322.
"He's a real guy," Washburn said. "I'm really excited about him. And he's such a good person. He wants to be a good player. He's going to help us a lot."
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