Philadelphia Eagles defense overview

Here’s an overview of the Philadelphia Eagles defense from training camp this weekend:

End depth

This team really had problems with depth at this position last year, but that’s not the case this time around. They are actually a legit five-deep and have depth on both sides. Any time you can have your first-round pick (Brandon Graham) and veteran Darryl Tapp running with the second-team defense, you’re probably going to be able to have a very deep rotation. And that was the problem last year, Philadelphia’s starting ends, Juqua Parker and Trent Cole, looked to wear down as the season progressed.

Graham is bigger than expected (278 lbs) and is as advertised. He’s a relentless player with very strong hands. His ability to keep his pad level low makes it very difficult for taller offensive tackles who can’t move quickly enough and to get their hands on him. The one issue, and you could see this during Saturday’s practice, is he tends to get caught up in the wash against the run because of his less than ideal arm length. This was something that personnel sources said to watch out for when looking at Graham’s progress. Still, you can see why they are so high on him. He’s probably a lot stronger than first thought and has a variety of pass rush moves.

The interior of the defensive line is solid with starters Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley, but the top backup jobs are up for grabs. Third-year DT Trevor Laws, who has been a disappointment in his first two seasons, has gotten off to a good start. He looks noticeably faster. Third-round pick DE/DT Daniel Te’o-Nesheim looks to have a good chance to handle the inside track on the nickel pass-rushing role. His quickness is quite evident.

Linebackers and positional versatility

There probably were few teams last year that had the kind of issues at linebacker that Philadelphia went through. Things got so bad for the Eagles at middle linebacker after starter Stewart Bradley went down with a season-ending injury in early August that they had to sign veteran Jeremiah Trotter. Trotter did not play in 2008 and hadn’t been in a camp since when the Eagles signed him late last September. Trotter wound up starting eight out of the 14 games he appeared in.

The good news is Bradley is back from his ACL injury and you really couldn’t tell if he was previously injured by the way he’s been flying around. In fact, Bradley has been moving across the formation to create favorable matchups. This is something that you don’t see from most inside linebackers who are primarily used as run stoppers. Bradley missed Sunday’s practices due to a minor hamstring injury.

Defensive coordinator has been giving Akeem Jordan reps on the strong-side along with last year’s starter Moises Fokou with Jordan getting his shot on Sunday. A team source said the coaches are excited about fourth-round pick Keenan Clayton’s ability in coverage. If he makes the 53-man roster, he could see time in nickel situations. While the team re-signed veteran LB Tracy White, only saw time in about 16 percent of the defensive snaps last season. One backup who could push for a roster spot is seventh-rounder Jamar Chaney, who has been a nice surprise thus far.

Other than Bradley, the one “X” factor could be new starting WLB Ernie Sims, who may be the fastest linebacker the team has had under Reid. The guy covers a ton of ground, and for a player who has smaller frame, he’s more physical than expected. The defensive system that Philadelphia uses is probably much more suited for his skill set, but the defensive linemen are going to have to clear the path for him to get a clear shot on the offensive players. Sims is listed at 230, but looks even smaller up close in pads. One thing that has been noticeable is how much more disciplined he’s been. With the Detroit Lions, he often was out of position. That hasn’t been the case so far in the early going with the Eagles.

Defensive Backs issues

If there was a weakness on Philadelphia’s defense, it would be in the secondary.

While veteran CB Ellis Hobbs looking completely over last year’s neck injury and subsequent surgery, depth looks to be an issue at this position. Behind Hobbs and fellow starter Asante Samuel, Philadelphia has just second-year pro Macho Harris, rookie Trevard Lindley, and journeyman Dimitri Patterson. Harris probably does not have the ideal speed that is necessary to play a lot of downs, but he has the versatility to also play safety. Lindley has been a nice surprise for the team through OTA practices and the early going in camp, but whether he’s ready for a bigger role remains to be seen. Samuel was injured during Sunday’s second practice, so the depth at this position is immediately being tested.

The coaches decided that rookie FS Nate Allen would be a starter. It’s up to third-year S Quintin Demps to take the job away from him, but that seems like a long stretch at this point. Once S/CB Marlin Jackson was injured during an OTA practice on June 1, Allen was moved with the first-team defense and has not looked back. Demps will have to put together a great training camp and look great in the preseason games to unseat Allen. But Demps is a dangerous kickoff returner—a role in which he excels at.

The strong safety position is manned by veteran Quentin Mikell. He needs to bounce back from last year’s inconsistency. While the team is high on seventh-round pick Kurt Coleman, it remains to be seen if he could come in and play if Mikell got hurt. Like at cornerback, veteran depth is a concern.