The 700 Level’s annual Philadelphia Eagles training camp preview returns. We’re taking an in-depth look at Birds position by position and asking whether the club got better or worse. Check out the introduction for more details on the series.
Nose Tackle / Bennie Logan
Heading into last season, there was a lot of concern as to whether Logan was big enough to play nose tackle in the NFL at 6’2”, 315 pounds. Consider those questions answered.
Not only has Logan acclimated to the next level just fine, in just two seasons, he’s become one of the better run defenders in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, Logan ranked fifth among interior linemen in run-stop percentage in 2014, and was also credited with the most stops overall with 33.
Where Logan is still a bit of work in progress, however, is as a pass-rusher. The 2013 third-round pick was held without a sack last year, and PFF listed him 25th out of 32 qualifying interior players in pass-rush productivity, a formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rush attempt. Granted, Logan comes off the field in some of the more obvious passing situations, but he needs to become more effective when he’s out there.
Fortunately, there’s reason to believe he’ll continue to improve. Logan is only 25, so still very much on the upswing athletically speaking, and he possesses the work ethic to make strides in every facet of the game. He’s already excellent, but Logan can get better, and I believe he will be this season.
Sorry, this may seem like a cop out, but I can’t really find an area where you would expect Philadelphia’s defensive line to get measurably worse. The unit is stacked with one elite player, a bunch of top-notch situational pieces and intriguing, young depth. Besides Brandon Bair—who I’d guess doesn’t make the team again—the oldest lineman is only 27, so everybody should be in their prime or ascending.
I suppose that sort of gives away the ending, but what can I say? The Eagles are strong in the trenches, to the point where it’s difficult to identify any weakness.
Fletcher Cox has been the recipient of some high praise going back to last season. He didn’t make the Pro Bowl for some reason, but he was named second-team All-Pro, not to mention is on everybody’s “underrated” lists this offseason.
But the ultimate respect for Cox’s work probably came from head coach Chip Kelly, who last December went so far as to say the defensive end may have been the Eagles’ most valuable player in 2014.
“I think he's been our top player,” Kelly gushed. “He's been really unblockable at times. I think he's a very disruptive force.”
Whether it’s against the run or the rushing the passer, Cox is one of the most dominant linemen in the league—sacks and other statistics don’t even do him justice. Scheme versatile and only 24 years of age, the fourth-year veteran may still be getting better. At the very least, he’ll continue serving as one of the cornerstones of Philadelphia’s defense.
At the opposite end is one of the best one-two punches is football in Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry.
Thornton is one of the league’s better run defenders, but doesn’t offer much in the way of a pass-rush. So Curry comes into the game in obvious passing situations and uses one of the most explosive first steps in football to wreak havoc in the backfield, racking up 9.0 sacks in ’14 while lining up for only 32 percent of the defense’s snaps, per Football Outsiders.
In Thornton and Curry, the Eagles have the best of both worlds. Both are 27 and just entering their prime, and along with Logan and Cox, form one of the most dynamic defensive fronts in the NFL.
The Eagles have a ton of young depth along the defensive line. Beau Allen heads into his second season as the backup at nose. 2014 fifth-round draft pick Taylor Hart didn’t suit up for a single game as a rookie, but has reportedly added nearly 25 pounds since his arrival in Philly, according to Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer. The club used a seventh-round selection this year on massive Brian Mihalik (6’9”, 302 lbs.), although the Boston College will likely begin his career on the practice squad. Travis Raciti out of San Jose State was added as an undrafted free agent as well, and may have an inside track to a roster spot since he reportedly received a bonus.
Of course, aside from Allen, none of these guys has yet to play a snap in the NFL. It’s easy to say the depth is going to be improved because the Eagles added a bunch of promising prospects, but there’s no guarantee any of them is going to pan out.
That being said, we didn’t go worse with depth because the Eagles seldom dipped into the deeper pockets of their bench last season. Allen and Bair lined up for 201 snaps each, and were non-factors for the most part when they were out there. Allen should improve, and there can’t be too significant of a step down from Bair, assuming he is replaced by one of the young guys.
As for how good or bad the backups are, it remains to be seen. Probably not worse, but no definitive way to say better, either.
BETTER OR WORSE?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this group, other than a lack of established depth, and even then, there are plenty of prospects to fill out the back end of the lineup. The Eagles have limited opposing ball-carriers to just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt the past two seasons, and that all starts up front. These guys do a great job of cleaning up themselves and setting the table for the linebackers behind them, and given the group’s relative youth, the unit should only improve.