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Cedric Thornton, seen here at training camp last summer, was signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2011. (AP)
Now that quarterback is settled, the focus on job competitions at Eagles camp shifts to the defense.
Still uncertain after about one month of daily battles is the starter at left defensive end, where Cedric Thornton has seen the majority of action on the first team but is feeling the push from rookie Bennie Logan and second-year pro Vinny Curry.
Before practice Wednesday, defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Saturday’s preseason game against Jacksonville would be a major evaluation point for the staff as the starting lineup is rounded into shape.
“This is a big preseason game for us,” Davis said. “In the evaluation process, every game weighs a little heavier than the practices, obviously, because of the speed at which you play and the tackles and all that. But this is a big preseason game to help us determine who the starters will be and the backups.”
Thornton would seemingly have the edge, given his first-team status since the start of minicamp and his tenure with the team. He’s been here longer than Curry, Logan, Cliff Geathers and any other lineman competing to start opposite Fletcher Cox.
“I want to win the job,” Thornton said after practice. “Do I expect to win the job? I believe God has his plan, and if I’m the starter, then that’s his plan.”
But there’s no question Logan, a third-round pick, is pushing Thornton after two impressive preseason performances. Logan, who mainly played the three technique at LSU, an interior tackle in a 4-3 scheme, is adjusting smoothly to the five technique and two-gap system of the Eagles’ new 3-4 front.
Logan, who can also play nose guard, will almost certainly start at some point this season and will definitely get snaps in the rotation, but another good showing Saturday night against the Jags -- and any slippage on Thornton’s part -- could accelerate the rookie’s entry into the starting lineup.
“Every game is my ultimate showcase,” Logan said. “My first game was to get the jitters out, second game I’m comfortable, I know the scheme, I know what I’m doing. Last two games is really where you put the stamp on everything, from OTAs, minicamps, and just show the coaches what you’re able to do and just go from there and leave it to the coaches to make the decision.”
The wild card is Curry, a second-round pick from last year who is also learning to play in a 3-4 front for the first time. Despite his superior preseason, Curry’s shot to usurp Logan and Thornton seems to have dwindled.
After showing an incredibly quick first step against the Patriots in the opener, Curry didn’t enter the game until late in the first half against Carolina and didn’t get most of his snaps until the second half.
Curry dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half against the Panthers, but Davis talked about the lineman’s role being fluid and his snaps determined by the package shown by the opposing offense.
“How much three‑wide receiver packages are we being presented with? How many bigger tight end packages are we being presented with?” Davis said, adding that Curry is “definitely in the early rotations,” which doesn’t exactly paint the picture any clearer.
Curry said he believes the coaches already have an idea of which lineman they intend to start, although he agreed that Saturday night’s game could help change their minds.
“No doubt, they know,” he said. “But it’s not easy for them, because they’ve got so many competitive guys. That’s one thing I love about room. It’s so competitive and it pushes guys to the next level. You see from Game 1 to Game 2, everybody got better.”
Logan agreed that the coaches were more likely to go with the veteran Thornton for the Sept. 9 season opener against the Redskins as they continue to evaluate the defense for the first few weeks of the season.
“Probably so,” he said, “until you get later into the season, then the coaches feel comfortable making the decision from there. As of right now I’m just focused on Jacksonville. And whatever decision they make on starting left end we’ll go from there.”