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NFL Philadelphia Eagles

Previewing the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles: Backup Defensive Linemen

This is the sixth article in a series in which I will take a look at the expected backup positions on the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles.

As fans, we know who the starters will be for almost every position next year. Michael Vick is the quarterback, LeSean McCoy is the running back, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are the wide receivers. We know all that.

What we don’t know yet as fans is who will be the backups at most positions, so this ten-part series will highlight my predictions for the non-starters on the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles.

Click here to read the backup quarterbacks and backup running backs and the backup wide receivers and backup tight ends and backup offensive linemen.

Defensive Linemen:
Without a doubt, the backup defensive linemen for the Eagles are the strongest backups on the team. Many of them could start for a number of teams in the NFL.

Trent Cole and Jason Babin are both Pro Bowl players and will be starting in 2012 for sure. Backing them up will be any number of the following four defensive ends: Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Phillip Hunt, and Darryl Tapp.

Graham is an absolute lock. He was the team’s first round draft pick in 2010, and has produced very little in his two seasons in the league. He openly admitted to being a bust this past offseason, and reports are that he is in tremendous physical condition and is poised for a big year in 2012. This year is probably do or die for him, but heading into the season, he’s on the roster for sure. Expect him to be the third defensive end.

Vinny Curry, the second round draft pick from this year’s draft, is considered by some to be one of the steals of the draft. He has a ton of athletic ability and a great combination of strength and speed. He’ll obviously make the team from week one and expect him to be right in the middle of the rotation from week one. As of now, he’s probably the fourth defensive end.

Hunt and Tapp will likely compete for the final spot at defensive end, although I think Hunt has a big advantage because of Tapp’s rather high salary ($2.4 million next year is too much for a fifth defensive end). The Eagles really like Hunt, a former Canadian Football League sack leader, and I have confidence that he will become a solid backup or even a marginal starter as the Eagles continue to develop him. As a fifth defensive end, Hunt is as good as it gets.

At defensive tackle, Cullen Jenkins is one of the better starters in the league. He was the leader of the defense in terms of locker room presence last season. Starting next to him will either be Mike Patterson, a seven-year veteran, or Fletcher Cox, the team’s first round draft pick this past season. I think Cox will take Patterson’s starting job midway through this season but the Eagles use such a rotation with their defensive tackles that it’s more about percentage of plays than who actually starts. Either way, Patterson and Cox are on the team in 2012. That makes three defensive tackles and eight linemen so far.

I’d expect Derek Landri to make the squad. He didn’t initially make the 53-man roster last season and was signed after week four when the Eagles lost run-stuffing defensive tackle Antonio Dixon for the season with a triceps injury. According to Pro Football Focus, he was a total stud in 2011, ranking as the Eagles’ third best defensive player, as well as the fourth best defensive tackle in the entire NFL. Without question, he deserves to be on the roster in 2012, and he’ll probably be the best fourth defensive tackle in the league.

That makes nine defensive linemen. Teams usually keep nine or ten, and I’m going to go with the Eagles keeping ten because I don’t see Antonio Dixon getting cut. Dixon is the Eagles’ best run-stuffing defensive tackle and the Eagles really missed him for the last 12 weeks of 2011, even though Landri did step up and become an integral member of the defense. The 27-year old Dixon will be one of the best fifth defensive tackles in the league.

With Curry and Graham and probably Hunt at defensive end, and Cox and Landri and probably Dixon at defensive tackle, the Eagles have backup defensive linemen who would make for decent starters on a lot of teams in the NFL. I wouldn’t be surprised if Curry and Cox emerge as two of the top defensive rookies in the league this year. I think Graham will have a solid year and I have high expectations for Landri and Dixon.

Defensive line is probably the strongest position on the 2012 Eagles, and the backups, as well as coach Jim Washburn, are a major reason why.

This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for Eagles Central and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.