Picking Up the Slack for Mike Patterson: A Look at the Eagles' DT Depth

Picking Up the Slack for Mike Patterson: A Look at the Eagles' DT Depth

It didn't take very long for the first curve ball of training camp to shake up Lehigh -- mere minutes actually. Rick Burkholder opened for Andy Reid at his traditional opening press conference on Sunday, and the team's head trainer was not there to try out his new single. We learned from Burkholder that starting defensive tackle Mike Patterson is still recovering from brain surgery, has not been cleared to play by his physician, and therefore will miss training camp, perhaps more.

Patterson underwent the procedure back in January to remove a brain AVM, an issue we first learned about last summer after he suffered a seizure on the practice field. The surgery was successful, and Patt was hopeful he would be ready in time for the start of the season, but the part of his skull that was removed has not fully healed.

While that sounds mighty unpleasant, the situation isn't as bad as you would think. The truth is, there is a lot more good news to this story than bad.

First and foremost, everybody agrees Patterson is healthy -- the team, his doctors, the man himself. This is not a matter that is interfering with his day-to-day life. Now, they need to ensure he is completely healed and stable before he starts playing a collision sport. Makes sense.

The question is how long that will take. It was originally hoped to be only six months, and that Patterson would be ready for camp, but it could be several more, which obviously could last into the start of the regular season. Nobody is sure enough for timetables, but it doesn't sounds like there is any significant medical issue behind why. As Burkholder told the assembled, "Everybody heals differently."

The fact that Patterson should be fine is the best news of all, but from the Eagles' on-field standpoint, it has to be load off the organization's minds knowing they are relatively deep on the interior. They'll be missing a good player, one who has missed only two games since he was taken 31st in the '05 Draft, but the rotation should remain quite strong up the middle.

Cullen Jenkins

Of course, one half of the starting duo is intact, that being Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins arrived as a free agent, one of the few from last summer's spending spree who panned out. Voted as an alternate for the Pro Bowl, Jenkins had 5.5 sacks, was fourth among all defensive tackles on the Pro Football Focus list of pass rushing efficiency. There is some question as to whether the 31-year-old fell off down the stretch last season (0.5 sacks over final 11 games), but he still charted well, and there are better players behind him to help share the load than was the case a year ago.

Antonio Dixon

It's been such a long time since he last suited up, you could have forgotten about Antonio Dixon, but he was the first name Coach Reid mentioned when discussing who could fill in for Patterson. After starting 10 games in 2010 -- and acquitting himself fairly well for an undrafted, second-year player -- Dixon played in only four last season before tearing his triceps against the 49ers.

It was a bigger loss for the Birds than people realized, particularly against the run, an area that gave them fits for much of the season. PFF graded Dixon eighth among interior linemen in their run defense grades the previous season. In '11, Philadelphia finished 16th in the NFL against the run, 19th in yards per carry. Dixon figured to a bigger piece of the puzzle this year anyway, at least situationally, but now he may be asked to carry more of the load if Patterson's absence becomes prolonged.

Derek Landri

One of the best moves the team made this offseason was re-signing Derek Landri, even if only for one more year. A free agent who coincidentally was added after Patterson's episode last summer, Landri didn't make the roster out of camp, but he was brought back after Dixon was lost for the season. It was sort of a mystery why he wasn't with the club after a strong preseason, but once he got his chance when the games counted, Landri charted among the league's best.

If it seemed like #94 was living in the opposing offense's backfield, that's because he owned a timeshare at the very least. According to PFF, which billed Landri as the team's top run defender in '11, he graded fourth overall among 4-3 defensive tackles, and he was fifth among all tackles in pass rushing productivity. Football Outsiders Almanac ranked him third with a 91% stop rate (percentage of plays he was involved that FO considers stops). And while advanced stats are nice, we all saw the carnage for ourselves. Landri stood out week after week.

Fletcher Cox

The Eagles made Fletcher Cox the 12th overall pick in April's draft, and thus he was expected to come in and become a game changer sooner rather than later anyway. Now he'll get plenty of extra reps in camp, and if Patterson doesn't come back soon, Cox could make an impression and dig into his playing time, too. After all, Patterson is a quality player, but in the long term, Cox is supposed to be elite.

It's already been suggested that Cox was selected for exactly this reason, in case Patt would miss time. That may be true, but the main motivation still seemed to be acquiring a dominant pass rusher who fits defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide nine front. Patterson has never had more than four sacks in a season, and his 2.5 in 2011 was his highest total since, so it's not just swapping one player for another, but entirely different skill sets. However, whatever the case was, there's no denying it's a good thing they have Cox now. 

With a solid mix of players around him, there's no reason why the current Eagles shouldn't be able to shoulder the burden until Patterson returns.

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored in his season debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Crosby, who scored on a power play, missed the team's first six games with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.

Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season (see full recap).

Kings top Blue Jackets in overtime
LOS ANGELES -- Alec Martinez scored 1:14 into overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Tuesday night for their third straight victory.

Drew Doughty scored the tying goal with 5:57 left in regulation for the Kings, who won their third straight overtime game after an 0-3-0 start to the season. Captain Anze Kopitar also scored, and third-string goalie Peter Budaj stopped 19 shots in his third consecutive win.

Cam Atkinson scored a tiebreaking power-play goal late in the second period, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves for Columbus. Brandon Saad also scored for the Jackets, who had won two straight after an 0-2-0 start.

Martinez ended it by putting a rebound into an open net for the defenseman's second goal of the season (see full recap).

Lightning strike for seven goals in win
TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos matched a career-high with four points -- two goals and two assists -- and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Tuesday night.

Frederik Andersen gave up seven goals on only 24 shots, the third time in five starts he has allowed at least five goals and fourth time he's allowed four or more. The 27-year-old has an .851 save percentage so far this season.

Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin added goals for Tampa Bay, while Ben Bishop made 40 saves.

William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews scored for the Maple Leafs, who outshot the Lightning 43-24 (see full recap).

Report: Eagles make inquiry about Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

Report: Eagles make inquiry about Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

The Eagles could be looking for a bigger name outside.

In need of a deep threat — and reportedly in talks about a trade for 49ers wideout Torrey Smith — the Eagles are interested in Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and attempting to make a move for the 2013 Pro Bowler, according to a report Tuesday night by Benjamin Allbright of Mile High Sports Radio.

We followed up with Allbright, who clarified the Eagles simply made an inquiry.

Jeffery, much more of a do-it-all, dynamic wide receiver than the one-dimensional Smith, is 26 years old and can become a free agent at season's end. He'll warrant good money, but would make the Eagles better in more ways than one compared to Smith.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder put up 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, followed by 85 catches, 1,133 yards receiving and 10 scores in 2014.

This season, he has 520 yards receiving and has yet to find the end zone playing for the quarterback-challenged Bears, who are 1-6 and more than likely thinking about next season.