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.

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DT: What will it cost to re-sign Bennie Logan?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DT: What will it cost to re-sign Bennie Logan?

Bennie Logan set new career highs for the Eagles in 2016 with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, although clearly the bar was low in those particular categories. But while the four-year veteran maybe made a few more big plays than in years past, he was less active overall after making the switch from the nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme to a defensive tackle in a wide-nine, 4-3 alignment.

After racking up at least 55 tackles in his first full two seasons as a starter, Logan managed only 24 in his new role. And while he doubled his quarterback hits from three over 2014-15 to six, his tackles for loss were cut almost in half, from eight, then nine, to five.

Logan did miss three games with a hip injury, which who knows how that might've affected him over the final eight games. In the four contests prior to getting hurt, he already had 2.0 sacks, a forced fumble, three quarterback hits and three tackles for loss, so there was a marked difference in impact beforehand.

Regardless, that must make it difficult for the Eagles to evaluate his performance, which is kind of a problem, because Logan is due to become a free agent. How does the front office go about determining his value in this defense?

It's not an easy question, and the first thing you have to ask is who takes Logan's place in the starting lineup? In terms of an in-house replacement, the individual numbers don't indicate a huge drop-off with Beau Allen. Allen only recorded a 0.5 sack and failed to force a fumble in '16, but finished with five more tackles, the same number of tackles for loss and one less quarterback hit than Logan in 55 fewer snaps.

The Eagles would need to address depth at the position if they went with Allen, but that path wouldn't necessarily cost as much money as retaining Logan. A proven disruptor up the middle — especially in the right scheme — can command a lot on the open market.

Take a look at the contract fellow LSU product Michael Brockers got from the Rams back in September. Brockers received a three-year extension worth over $33 million with $18 million guaranteed. Granted, a lot of that is tied to a roster bonus he doesn't seem poised to be with the club to earn in 2017, but even just his salary for last season totalled nearly $7 million.

That was coming off a season in which Brockers posted 44 tackles, 3.0 sacks, zero forced fumbles, eight tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. Those are a step up from Logan's totals in '16, but not necessarily better than some of his previous campaigns.

Again, it's difficult to determine Logan's exact value, but to the right team, he could certainly be worth upwards of $5-6 million per year. Tough to say whether the Eagles would be willing to go there, especially given their tight cap situation.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES UNDER CONTRACT

Fletcher Cox
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $9,400,000

Cox probably didn't live up to the expectations that come with a contract worth $100 million — the second-highest total for his position — but he's still one of the most dominant interior linemen in the league. The five-year veteran better get used to the fact that he's going to face constant double-teams the next few years, because the Eagles don't have a pure pass-rush specialist on the edge who can take over games. With that in mind, 6.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits probably aren't enough from Cox, although when he's at his best, he can carry the Eagles to victory. Just look at his first three games of the season, all wins: 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Either way, $63 million in guarantees says he isn't going anywhere for awhile.

Beau Allen
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $705,562

Allen proved to a perfectly serviceable rotational player in 2016, plus added another position to his resume. He can play fullback in a pinch, which is impressive in itself for a 327-pound man. Hard to say whether Allen is starter material. According to Pro Football Focus, Logan still charted better against the run among qualifying interior linemen — although Allen was above average — but the Wisconsin product was the more productive of the two when it came to rushing the passer. If the goal here is primarily to save money, the Eagles should be able to get away with Allen and a cheaper veteran or early draft pick aside of Cox, who makes sure everybody else across the line is getting one-on-one treatment anyway.

Taylor Hart
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $690,000

Not going to lie, I was a little surprised to see Hart is still on the roster. Depth issues led to the Eagles bringing him back, although he never suited up. The former fifth-round draft pick has now been active for a grand total of 15 games in three seasons. Scouting reports suggested Hart would be better off in a 3-4 alignment, but even that is suspect at this point.

Destiny Vaeao
Age: 23*
Cap Number: $540,000

An undrafted rookie out of Washington State, Vaeao had his moments. His strip-sack against the Bears in Week 2 was a big play, and he got the quarterback again in the first meeting against the Giants. Otherwise, Vaeao was pretty quiet. He figures to be competing for his spot on the roster in 2017, although if Logan leaves, it might be difficult finding enough bodies to rendering a prospect with a full season's worth of experience expendable.

Aziz Shittu
Age: 23*

Shittu had a standout preseason, racking up six tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. That was enough to land the undrafted rookie out of Standford on the Eagles practice squad, though it might be telling that they liked Vaeao and even Hart more. Nonetheless, Shittu signed a futures contract at the conclusion of the season and will be an interesting name to keep an eye on come training camp.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Bennie Logan
Age: 28*
2016 Cap Number: $1,842,023

To be fair, Logan probably made more of an impact than the numbers indicate. The Eagles' wide-nine just doesn't feel like the ideal fit. A case could be made Logan was transforming into arguably the best nose tackle in the NFL prior to the switch. Filling a gap and building a wall at the line of scrimmage seem to be his strengths, not so much getting upfiekd and attacking quarterbacks. Again, we'll allow for the possibility Logan wasn't 100 percent all season, and he could certainly continue to develop with more experience in this role. If it were my money, it would be all about price. If we're talking the lower end of the spectrum, maybe $4.5 million, it's easy to justify bringing him back. Once that price tag soars — and it certainly may — it simply may not make much sense for the Eagles anymore.

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

There was skepticism as to whether or not Dario Saric would ever play for the Sixers. He spent two years overseas after the team acquired him on draft night 2014, and as each month passed, more and more uncertainty grew around his future in the NBA.

Saric told the Sixers all along that he would come to Philadelphia. He urged them, I will play for your team.

The 22-year-old rookie (and that term should be used loosely given his lengthy professional career) is proving the wait was worth it.

“They said he was never coming back,” Joel Embiid said. “But Dario’s here and he’s making big plays for us.”

Saric is averaging 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.1 minutes this season. That includes a transitional period wherein Saric was moved in and out of the starting lineup and shifted from power forward and small forward as the Sixers experimented with different rotations. Saric looked out of sorts and frustrated with himself at times. The newness of the league, team and system took its toll on the player who is his own toughest critic. 

Saric's numbers are up since Brett Brown locked him in to the second unit. He is averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 boards during the Sixers' 7-2 stretch. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” Brown said. “There is an appeal that he has developed, I feel, from our fans. They respect him. How can you not? He is so blue collar. I think the plays he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays just count for everything. ... I hope that he recognizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate how he plays.”

Saric put on a show in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' statement win over the Raptors Wednesday. He had a pair of blocks in under a minute, including one against Jared Sullinger which sent Embiid into a frenzy on the bench (video here)

“Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row,” Embiid said. “Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into it. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years.”

Saric followed up the blocks with an offensive rebound and layup that pushed the Sixers' lead back up to six points. He topped off his fourth-quarter spurt with a three-pointer from T.J. McConnell to put his team up seven. 

“Every guy has their own job,” Saric said. “Sometimes you can do it better but always you need effort. You've to give 100 percent, try to fight, try to win. Give everything that you have in that moment. Your whole body, just move it. ... I had a good game. Sometimes the game gives you open shots. Sometimes it gives you a situation where you cannot do nothing. I tried to come and bring some energy. I tried to change the game in that way.”

Saric finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. He hadn’t recorded two blocks since Nov. 9 against the Pacers. 

“I think Dario is the key to helping us secure that win, big-time,” Nerlens Noel said. “I think he really took that game more toward our favor.”

There were bound to be growing pains for Saric with all the massive challenges involved in playing in the new league. His basketball world has been flipped upside down in less than a year, not to mention his adjusting to life outside of Europe. It took some time but Saric is hitting his stride, and it is led by his disciplined mindset.

“Sometimes when you're doing bad and you don't have an opportunity to do something, (you have to) give the team its energy," Saric said. "I tried to bring some kind of energy and I did that good. I don't know. Maybe it's because I want to win the game. That's the easy answer."