Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Defensive Line

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Defensive Line

We pick up our training camp preview on the other side of the ball, where Chip Kelly selected long-time NFL assistant Billy Davis to be the defensive coordinator, and the Eagles are widely expected to transition to a 3-4 defense of sorts. Up first we examine the defensive line, an area of great change with multiple players switching positions or learning new roles, not to mention a couple of new names and faces.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | Offensive Line
Linebackers | Cornerback | Safety ]

What should we expect from Isaac Sopoaga?

Not a whole lot. Sopoaga makes sense for the Eagles, who lacked a true nose tackle, much less anybody who so much as plays nose tackle – something they need with the shift to more three-man fronts. The nine-year veteran comes relatively cheap (three years, $11 million, no guarantee beyond 2013), and the team knows exactly what they are getting with vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble joining Sopoaga on the exodus from San Francisco.

Unfortunately, exactly what they are getting is a two-down run stuffer who isn’t particularly adept at stuffing the run. Sopoaga was only on the field for about a quarter of the defensive snaps with the 49ers last season, and run or pass, he didn’t chart very well according to Pro Football Focus. The site ranked him 82 out of 85 interior linemen in the NFL in 2012.

The problem the Eagles ran into this offseason is nose tackle is not an easy position to fill. There tends to be a premium on huge space eaters that command constant double teams at the point of attack, especially in 3-4 alignments where a dominant force on the nose is arguably the most important piece of the defense. Sopoaga is not that. He’s a stopgap at best. At worst, he’s Antonio Dixon’s backup.

Is Fletcher Cox headed for a breakout year?

The sky seems like it’s the limit for last year’s first-round pick, but whether or not Cox is going to take the proverbial next step is tricky/borderline impossible to predict. What’s considered a breakout? Does it have to be reflected by an increase in numbers? Cox had a very solid rookie season with 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble – that may not seem like a lot, but those aren’t bad totals at all for an interior lineman.

Is the benchmark an invite to the Pro Bowl? From what we’ve seen of Cox, a trip to Honolulu some day may not be a stretch. For right now though, we don’t even know exactly how he’ll be utilized in defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme. If he’s playing end in a traditional 3-4 alignment as anticipated, he’s not necessarily going to post the numbers or earn the national recognition unless he’s an absolutely dominant force. It’s simply not a flashy position.

When teams select a player No. 12 overall though, Pro Bowls are sort of what you start to expect around year two or three. Right now it might be less a matter of if than it is when. Projecting numbers and other accolades isn’t easy, but we’ll all know it when Cox has arrived. The truth is he may not have very far to go to get there.

Will Bennie Logan make an impact in his rookie season?

He could see the field quite a bit, especially given the mess the Eagles have up front, but I’m not entirely sure Logan was an incredibly impactful player per se at the collegiate level. The third-round pick only recorded five sacks and 12 tackles for loss over 27 games his last two seasons at LSU – not exactly lighting the world on fire.

That said, Logan will almost certainly be contributing as a rookie. The main attribute his NFL.com scouting report stresses is that all-important versatility. He could play interior lineman in a 4-3, or end in a 3-4. At 6-2, 309 lbs. Logan seems a little undersized for nose, but it’s not always about how much space a player takes up, either. How much worse can he be than Sopoaga, apparently?

Best guess is we’ll see him line up all over the place with some regularity, and one can only hope perform adequately. Logan will almost certainly have an impact in that sense, but in terms of big plays or on the box score, we may not take much notice.

Is Vinny Curry still in the Eagles’ plans?

You would have to think so. The Eagles used a second-round pick on Curry last April, and then Andy Reid’s staff promptly forgot about him. At first it was to be expected. With two Pro Bowlers at end in Trent Cole and Jason Babin, plus Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, and Phillip Hunt all vying for playing time, there was quite literally a ton of competition to climb over. But Babin was released mid-season, Cole endured a sack drought that lasted for months, and the rookie still wasn’t getting many looks. Curry appeared in just six games, and was on the field for 89 snaps total (via PFF).

Now the Eagles will utilize more three-man fronts, and as a result Curry looks like one of several front-seven players without a defined role. He was a pass rusher at Marshall, but unlike Cole and Graham, he doesn’t expect to line up at outside linebacker. Curry bulked up in the offseason, up to 279 lbs. during the offseason according to the team web site, which makes him better suited for end. Ends in 3-4 alignments traditionally are not known as much for getting after the QB.

So what’s the story? Is he a fit? We have no way of knowing until the pads go on, but something to keep in mind is general manager Howie Roseman was credited with running the 2012 draft – not Reid – and Roseman had to have a sense that a head coaching change at the end of the season was possible if not probable. And with more and more defenses utilizing the 3-4, scheme versatility should have been part of the approach in the draft. If we can assume two plus two equals four in the Birds’ front office, the Curry selection was only logical if they felt he could make the transition.

(If that last sentence doesn’t bring Death From Above back, I don’t know what will.)

Does Clifton Geathers stand a chance of making the 53-man roster?

It sure sounds like it. Geathers was acquired from the Colts for fullback Stanley Havili in the offseason, which seemed like a bit of a nothing trade at the time. A sixth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2010, Geathers is already with his sixth organization. He’s hardly played though, seeing fewer than 200 snaps in three NFL seasons.

So why would it be any different for Geathers in Philadelphia? Again, with a massive scheme overhaul, it’s unclear who will or will not be a fit. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton were tackles in a 4-3; now they’re probably ends. Cole, Graham, and Hunt were ends in a 4-3; now they’re linebackers, while somebody like Curry is staying put. It looks a little chaotic to an outsider, which makes it easier for an anonymous player like Geathers to rise to the top.

In fact, Geathers reportedly got to run with the first-team defense during some of the spring practices, which may or may not mean anything if you listen to Chip Kelly. His size – 6-8, 340 lbs. – certainly makes him an intriguing prospect as well even if his resume does not. I’m not sold yet on the 25 year old as a lock to make the squad or anything like that, but the Eagles are going to give him a long look at the very least.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Showcase time for Ryan Howard has apparently come to an end.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin will go with Tommy Joseph rather than Howard at first base for Monday's series opener against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. It's an interesting decision because it likely means Howard will sit until at least the weekend. On Tuesday, the Phils face Max Scherzer, against whom Howard is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts. On Wednesday, they draw lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Howard is 1 for 10 with four strikeouts in his last three games. He was hot after the All-Star break but the Phillies were still unlikely to be able to find a suitor for him because of the scarcity of American League teams in need of a DH. With just three days before Sept. 1, it seems extremely unlikely Howard will be moved. A player is not postseason eligible unless he's on a team's roster by Aug. 31. Thus, Joseph should get more playing time in September.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field after striking the ball well three times on Sunday. Paredes has been productive lately, going 10 for 27 (.370) with two doubles and two homers in his last 14 games. He could be designated for assignment by the Phils soon if they need to clear a spot to add a prospect to the 40-man roster for a September call-up.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (.895 OPS in last 230 PA)
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, LF
9. Jake Thompson

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines last week when he refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game, and an Eagles linebacker fighting for a roster spot says he'll do the same in their final preseason contest.

Kaepernick decided not to stand because of the divisive and violent racial issues that have been building in America. Tavarres has taken a similar stance, telling ESPN.com's Tim McManus on Monday that he nearly followed Kaepernick's lead by sitting out the anthem in Indianapolis.

"Oh, I thought about it. Believe me, I definitely thought about it," Tavarres told ESPN. "And usually I'm front and center on the line with the rest of the guys, and that's since pre-K all the way up. Saturday's game, I stepped back, I was in the background, and it didn't feel right to me at all, and so I will be taking a stand — or sitting down — for the fourth game.

"We've got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up. We've got that right. There's just a lot going on that people don't want to talk about, and I feel like us as athletes, we're looked at as role models. And I feel like with Colin Kaepernick, he's doing a great job for standing up in what he believes in, and most people may not like that, but that's his opinion, he's entitled to it, and I respect him for doing it."

According to the report, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had players express their feelings about the topic during a meeting Monday and Tavarres was one of the players who spoke, along with team leader Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Leodis McKelvin.

Jenkins discussed the topic with USA Today over the weekend.

"At some point, I think guys in multiple sports across the country, guys are starting to realize if we do want a change, it is something we need to get involved in at some point," Jenkins said.

“I have already done some things. I have spoken to the police commissioner of Philadelphia. We are trying to come up with some plans to do some stuff on the ground and get some work done. A lot of what is going on in the country is outrageous. I try to be careful. I ask myself what is the outcome that I want to see and how do I go about that?

"At the end of the day when it comes down to relationships of African Americans in this country right now, my entire family is black. I can sit on my stage and act like these things don’t apply to me but my two brothers, my dad, my mom, all of them are dealing with the same thing."

Tavarres, meanwhile, is not a lock to make the Eagles' final 53-man roster, but their lack of depth at backup linebacker has created an opportunity for him. Dave Zangaro had Tavarres on the practice squad in his roster projection Monday. 

"In this situation, I've really got nothing to lose," Tavarres told McManus. "I'm a rookie free agent, haven't signed any major contract, so there's not a lot of money on the line, I don't have any big endorsement deals on the line. Really what's at stake is my pride and what kind of man would I be and what kind of African-American would I be if I didn't stand my ground on this issue we have today?

"[It] needs to be done. Will there be backlash? Probably. I don't think anyone has bought my jersey yet, so I don't know if it's going to be burned, but it's a major issue and I'm definitely going to stand my ground for this one."

Sean Couturier excited to play for Team North America at World Cup after rehabbing all summer

Sean Couturier excited to play for Team North America at World Cup after rehabbing all summer

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The last time Sean Couturier played a meaningful game, he got drilled into the side boards by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
 
Couturier suffered an A/C sprain in his left shoulder during the second period of Game 1 against the Capitals and missed the remainder of the playoffs.
 
“Most of the summer was a lot of rehab, trying to strengthen that shoulder,” said the Flyers center, who is practicing at Skate Zone. “Now I feel good. I’m not gonna lie, it took me longer than I thought.”
 
The 23-year-old reported early. He’ll travel to Montreal on Sept. 4 for Team North America’s training camp and the upcoming World Cup of Hockey Tournament next month.
 
“I’m trying to skate as much as I can to get back in the rhythm,” Couturier said. “I think it’s going to be tough to get in the rhythm right away. We’re not used to playing that high level hockey in September, but every guy on every team is going to be like that.
 
“Once we get out there, the level is going to be pretty high right off the bat. I think it can help me personally be ready for the season and step right into game action.”

Eight Flyers will participate in the eight-team competition. The others: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Streit, Radko Gudas, Jakub Voracek and Michal Neuvirth.
 
Team North America is comprised of age 23-and-under players.
 
“I don’t really listen too much to the hype and stuff in the summer, but we can definitely surprise some people,” Couturier predicted. “I don’t think there’s much attention for our team. Really no one knows what we’re gonna look like.
 
“We’re gonna try and surprise the world, basically and try to win the tournament. We’re not going there as tourists. We feel we have a good group and a lot of skill and speed and we’ll surprise some teams for sure.”
 
Couturier is a perfect North American because he has dual citizenship – U.S. and Canada. Though born in Phoenix, he spent nearly his entire childhood in Canada.
 
“For me, I’m dual citizenship, so that’s the way I see it,” Couturier said of playing favorites. “It’s a little different, but at the same time the mindset is more about trying to win the tournament. Once you’re out there and on a team you’re just trying to win and I think that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
 
This tournament offers Couturier a chance to test his shoulder competitively before pre-season NHL games start.
 
Obviously, the Flyers will open camp here without some of their best players.
 
“Everyone’s had a long summer, so I think everyone’s kind of looking forward to getting back into action,” Couturier said. “We’re lucky. We’re fortunate to get back into action earlier than we usually do. I’m just happy to be part of it and live the experience.
 
“I know a little what to expect international-wise – I went to the Worlds two years ago. This is going to be high level. No easy games.”
 
Loose pucks
Ten players, including Gostisbehere and free agent Russian forward Roman Lyubimov, who was signed in July, are also working out at Skate Zone, which is under major reconstruction. … Because of construction, the Phantoms dressing room no longer exists. The Flyers have a logistics problem of where the majority of their players are going to dress during camp. ... Construction won’t be completed until sometime this fall. … As part of the club’s 50th anniversary celebration, the Flyers have decorated walls throughout their dressing room area with steel plates from old newspaper pages, and other media, commemorating their two Stanley Cups plus other historic moments from the past. … Brayden Schenn, who will miss the first three games of the regular season on a suspension, will play in preseason.