Eagles Better or Worse: Defensive Line

Eagles Better or Worse: Defensive Line

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?

BETTER

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.

Potential

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.

Rush defense

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.

WORSE

The unknown

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.

OVERVIEW

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.

Grade: Better

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

IRVINE, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams have released quarterback Nick Foles after failing to find a trade destination for the disgruntled quarterback.

The Rams announced the move Wednesday, one day before their veterans report to training camp.

Foles hasn't been around the Rams since they traded up to choose California quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick in the draft this spring. The veteran skipped offseason workouts while Los Angeles attempted to trade him.

Foles spent just one season with the Rams, who acquired him from Philadelphia in a trade for Sam Bradford. Foles started 11 games for St. Louis last season, throwing for 2,052 yards and seven touchdowns for the NFL's worst passing offense.

Goff and veteran Case Keenum are competing for the starting job at training camp.

Panthers: Former Eagles S Kurt Coleman extended 3 years
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have signed safety Kurt Coleman to a three-year contract extension through the 2019 season.

Coleman led the Panthers and finished tied for third in the NFL with career-high seven interceptions in his first season in Carolina last year. He contributed to a team that ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense and led the NFL in interceptions (24), takeaways (39) and points off turnovers (148).

The 28-year-old Coleman finished third on the team with 103 tackles. Financial details were not released Wednesday.

Coleman called the contract a blessing, saying "when you go through situations you want what's best for your family and what's best for the team, and I'm really excited. I'm fortunate to be a part of this team for three more years."

Ravens: Jake Long signs 1-year contract pending physical
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have reached an agreement with veteran offensive lineman Jake Long on a one-year contract, pending the condition of his oft-injured right knee.

Long played in four Pro Bowls after being selected by Miami as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

But he played sparingly in just four games with Atlanta last year after tearing his right ACL in back-to-back seasons.

The contract won't be official until the Ravens receive more information on Long's knee. He will visit Dr. James Andrews to receive an assessment of the knee, coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday.

The Ravens are willing to sign the 31-year-old Long if they're not on the hook to pay him for the entire season if he's forced out with another knee injury.

Baltimore has been looking for another tackle since releasing Eugene Monroe last month.

Vikings: 5-time All-Pro Kevin Williams to retire
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have signed five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams to a one-day contract so he can formally retire as a member of the team.

The Vikings announced the news Wednesday. Williams will finalize his retirement Thursday after 13 seasons, including 11 with Minnesota.

Taken with the ninth pick in the 2003 draft by the Vikings from Oklahoma State, Williams is eighth in team history with 60 sacks. His 171 regular-season starts are the most all time by a Vikings defensive tackle, and his five interceptions are tied for the most by a defensive tackle in NFL history.

Williams played for NFC champion Seattle in 2014 and New Orleans in 2015. He was picked for six Pro Bowls.

Jets: Bernard Pierce signed; Zac Stacy waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets are signing running back Bernard Pierce and waiving running back Zac Stacy, who failed his physical after missing the last half of last season with a broken left ankle.

Pierce ran for just 11 yards on six carries in seven games last season with Jacksonville after spending his first three NFL seasons with Baltimore. He ran for a career-best 532 yards as a rookie with the Ravens in 2012 after being a third-round pick out of Temple.

Pierce was released by Baltimore in March 2015, when he was charged with drunken driving. He was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville the next day.

The NFL announced in May that Pierce will be suspended for the first two games of this season, likely stemming from the DUI arrest.

Stacy ran for 89 yards in eight games for the Jets last season, but he was lost for the rest of the season in November when he broke his ankle on a kickoff return.

Doug Pederson not worried about Eagles' young linebacker corps

Doug Pederson not worried about Eagles' young linebacker corps

With another one of his players, Nigel Bradham, landing himself in off-field trouble (see story), Doug Pederson was predictably peppered with questions about how he handles player conduct Wednesday after Day 3 of Training Camp at the Novacare Complex.

On the field, his resources at the linebacker position may become a larger concern depending on Bradham’s legal situation. After the Eagles cut linebacker Travis Long from the 90-man roster, Pederson insisted he still feels positively about the team’s linebackers.

“I love the fact that we got three starters coming in," Pederson said. "Of course you mentioned Nigel [Bradham], and Jordan Hicks is coming back healthy and ready to go, and Mychal Kendricks. And I tell you, Joe Walker has done a great job for us this offseason, and he’s going to put himself in a great position to be a solid backup. And we got some young guys there, but at the same time, we’re going to continue to monitor that position and just watch and see, and keep upgrading if we can. But right now, very pleased with the work these guys have done in the offseason, what the rookies have shown these last three days, and just look forward to putting the pads on.”

Pederson is right when he says the Eagles have “some young guys” at linebacker. In fact, backup Najee Goode, 27, is the oldest returning player at the position. Bradham, who the team signed to a two-year deal from Buffalo in the offseason, is 26 years old, while Kendricks is 25 and Hicks, the team’s leading tackler last year as a rookie before his season-ending pectoral tear, is only 24. Walker is an Oregon product and one of the team’s three seventh-round picks. He’s 23 years old.

Scanning over that depth chart probably makes the average fan a bit uneasy. Yet according to Pederson, he’d be content entering the season with his current personnel at linebacker, even if that means Goode, a player with 32 NFL games, one start, and 24 tackles, is his most experienced player.

“If you had to go into the season that way, yeah, I’m comfortable with [Goode]," Pederson said. "Would you like to continue to have more depth at that position, and at any position? Sure. But yeah, I’m very comfortable with him.”

After releasing Long, who Pederson says the Eagles wanted to “give an opportunity to catch on with another football team,” it left the team with 89 players. On Wednesday afternoon, the Eagles filled the 90th spot by signing wide receiver David Watford (see story).

Unless they pull off a surprising move, the Eagles will likely settle for the linebacker rotation they have. They may be young, injury-prone, and legally embattled, but Bradham, Kendricks, Hicks, Walker and Goode will probably be the players anchoring the middle of the Eagles’ defense this season.

Eagles put Ryan Mathews on non-football injury list, sign WR David Watford

Eagles put Ryan Mathews on non-football injury list, sign WR David Watford

Many fans are worried Ryan Mathews won't be able to stay healthy this season. 

Well, it's a day before the first full-team practice and the running back is already hurt. 

The Eagles placed Mathews on the Active/Non-football Injury list Wednesday. The Eagles say he hurt his ankle last week while training. 

Mathews, 28, can be activated at any time, but can't practice while he's still on the list. The severity of the injury is unclear, but seems to not be severe, as Mathews was seen walking into the team facility this afternoon without a noticeable limp. 

Without their starting running back, the Eagles will be giving more reps to Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner and a couple of undrafted rookies as practice continues Thursday. 

The Eagles also filled out their roster, signing wide receiver David Watford. Watford, who was a QB at Hampton University, was with the Eagles during rookie camp on a tryout basis this spring. They're now at 90. 

Every Eagle on the roster has now reported to training camp, except long snapper Jon Dorenbos, who has been competing (doing magic) on the NBC show "America's Got Talent." His absence was excused and he's expected to make himself appear at the facility Thursday. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said he's pulling for Dorenbos in the show, but was asked about the show will conflict with the training camp schedule. 

"We've just got to see," Pederson said. "Obviously, he went through this show and he'll be back tomorrow for the conditioning test. We'll just go day-by-day and just see where it ends up in the next couple of days."