How Many Defensive Linemen Should the Philadelphia Eagles Keep in 2012?

By Bryn Swartz

The biggest strength for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012 is widely believed to be the defensive line, anchored by Jim Washburn, who said that the Eagles should fire him if the defensive line is not improved this year.

It would be hard to improve on last year’s dominant group, but this year’s talent is even better.

The Eagles have a pair of Pro Bowlers and at least seven players who could start among the four spots on the defensive line.

One of the storylines in training camp revolves around the bottom spots on the Eagles’ depth chart. A normal team keeps nine or ten defensive linemen on their depth chart, so will the Eagles keep more, given all their talent?

The best way to analyze how many linemen the Eagles will keep is to address each player.

Let’s look at the defensive linemen first.

Trent Cole and Jason Babin are both Pro Bowlers, and are the starters for the 2012 Eagles. Rookie second round draft pick Vinny Curry is a lock to make the team, as is Brandon Graham, the team’s first round pick in 2010 who has been playing like a man on a mission throughout training camp.

That’s four defensive linemen so far.

Second-year player Phillip Hunt is a pretty good pass rusher, and played well last year in limited action. It would be difficult for the Eagles to cut Hunt. In fact, I could see Hunt opening the season as the third defensive end.

But if Hunt made the team, that could be the end of veteran Darryl Tapp, who is a versatile player and successful against both the run and the pass. We’ll leave this spot, or spots, open right now.

At defensive tackle, the Eagles have three players who will absolutely make the team. Cullen Jenkins is a borderline Pro Bowl talent. Rookie Fletcher Cox was the team’s first round pick and is expected to be a major contributor over the next decade. And veteran Derek Landri has been dominant ever since the Eagles brought him onto the team in the middle of the 2011 season.

That’s three defensive tackles definitely on the team.

Veteran Mike Patterson would definitely be on the team, probably not as a starter though, if he was healthy, but he is still suffering from complications following his brain surgery several months ago.

The Eagles need at least one more defensive tackle, and that’s probably going to come down to either Antonio Dixon or Cedric Thornton. Dixon was the team’s best defensive tackle in 2010, but missed most of 2011 with a torn triceps. He reported to training camp overweight and it could cost him a spot on the team, as he has been outplayed by Thornton throughout camp.

Let’s decide on this later and address the total defensive linemen so far.

So the Eagles have seven defensive linemen definitely on the team: Cole, Babin, Curry, Graham, Jenkins, Cox, and Landri.

That’s four defensive ends and three defensive tackles, although Jenkins and Cox can both line up at end if necessary, which could become key later in the season.

I’m putting Hunt on the team. He is strictly a pass rusher, not a run stopper, but he fared pretty well in limited action last year. He’s just 26, and making $487,000 in 2012, compared to Tapp’s $2.575 million. They’re basically equal in talent but Tapp is too costly for a fifth defensive end. I also think Tapp is a worthy trade candidate.

So that’s five defensive ends, and eight total linemen.

Most teams keep either nine or ten defensive linemen on the team. The Eagles have such a strong defensive line that I would keep 10 players.

I would put both Dixon and Thornton on the 53-man roster. That’s five defensive tackles to go with five defensive ends.

When Mike Patterson returns, whenever that is, I would have to evaluate the players so far in the season, but the likely move would be to demote Thornton to the practice squad. However, if he plays pretty well in the season’s first few games, he could be a keeper and Dixon could get cut.

Regardless, defensive line will be an enormous strength for the 2012 Eagles, and I’d keep ten players, instead of the usual nine.

This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles 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.

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