The Eagles famed complex and devastating blitzing schemes have made them one of the most feared defenses in the league during the Andy Reid era. Last season, they didn't have the personnel for it. It was either blitz and risk someone missing their assignment, or sit back and watch the defensive line minus Trent Cole attempt to rush the quarterback.
We all know that wasn't happening, so the front office set out to fix their pressure problems. Did they succeed?
Left defensive end
When the Eagles traded up to 13th overall in the draft and selected Brandon Graham, it was a surprise, but the thought was they might have immediately upgraded their pass rush. With the news that Graham has already been promoted to first string, it seems any doubt will quickly begin to fade.
There's a good possibility Graham won't be ready to play at a high level in his rookie season, if ever for that matter, but even if he struggles or hits a wall late in the year, the Eagles still have Juqua Parker in the fold. This will be Parker's sixth year with the club, so you know what you're getting with him—solid but unspectacular play. Still, at worst the team stands to create a strong platoon featuring a capable veteran with a young spark.
At the end of the day, the Birds are counting on Graham to make an impact in 2010. When a team moves into the top half of the first round, that's typically not an unreasonable expectation.
Besides Graham, the Eagles used two more draft choices on potential defensive ends, another late pick on a defensive tackle, and traded for Darryl Tapp, a five-year veteran. Generally speaking, that number of young players on the roster at one position simultaneously would normally be worrisome. Along the defensive line, it means there's a lot of opportunity.
Like Graham, there's no telling what, if anything, they'll get from their latest crop of young linemen. They're not exactly replacing the most productive bunch of players we've ever seen either. Only Darren Howard has put up numbers in his situational role over the past two years, and he'll be 34 this year, so a decline was likely. It may be a case of throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks, but it's not a bad start.
This actually sort of belongs in the linebackers edition, because Stewart Bradley is the biggest reason why the Eagles will improve versus the run. However, it's going to appear at times Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are having better seasons than '09.
Patt and Bunk form one of the better interior tandems in a league that is trending more and more toward 3-4 defenses (over half the defenses in the league now), but usually not in a way that shows up on the score sheet. They fill gaps and hold the point of attack, which allows their linebackers to finish the plays. Problem last year was they didn't have any linebackers.
As we already noted, if Stew is back, the Eagles will be much improved in this area, but the defensive tackles deserve some of the credit for that as well.
It's easy to say they're going to be better based on sheer numbers. Realistically, we don't really know.
For starters, Brandon Graham looks like he could become a pass rushing force. Until he does it on Sundays, he's just another guy, albeit it a very high profile guy. Same goes for everybody else they added this off-season.
The Eagles made a concerted effort to improve the defensive line, and considering how lackluster the group was last season, chances are the new contributors will at least become the equivalents of their predecessors. Then again, maybe they won't, at that's the point. It's a tricky thing claiming the defense is better off with a group of unproven players over NFL veterans.
Here's a situation where it looked like all four starters would be exactly the same from the previous year, with all of them being at a point in their careers where there is minimal development. Then Brandon Graham jumped onto the scene and started impressing some people. He was brought here to pressure opposing quarterbacks, and if he's able to do that, the entire defense will reap the rewards.