Defense Is Good With Plenty Of Depth

The Eagles' first-team defense was downright dominating in the pre-season. After a dismal defensive season last year, the Eagles think their defense could be near the top of the charts this season.

DEFENSIVE LINE:
Starters - LE Jevon Kearse, LT Mike Patterson, RT Brodrick Bunkley, RE Darren Howard
Backups - Darwin Walker, Trent Cole, Juqua Thomas, Jerome McDougle, Sam Rayburn, La Juan Ramsey.

The Eagles had just 29 sacks last season, and this unit was the major reason why. With the exception of Patterson, their '05 first-round pick, they weren't able to get much inside pressure on the quarterback. They hope the addition of '06 first-rounder Bunkley, who has both the speed and power to be an interior disrupter, will change that. They also hope the addition of free agent Howard, who had 11 sacks two years ago for the Saints, will free up Kearse, who was too-often handcuffed by double-teams last year. Cole was impressive as a rookie, notching five sacks.

Defensive chief Jim Johnson plans to move Howard inside a lot on passing downs, and put Cole on the right side as an edge-rusher. He also will move Kearse around a lot more than he did last year.

LINEBACKERS:
Starters - WLB Matt McCoy, MLB Jeremiah Trotter, SLB Dhani Jones
Backups - Chris Gocong (IR), Shawn Barber, Jason Short, Torrance Daniels (PS)

This unit did not play very well last season. Trotter was a rock in the middle against the run, but was on the field too much and often struggled in coverage. Both of last year's starting outside 'backers - Jones and Keith Adams - played poorly against the run and the pass. Adams wasn't re-signed and will be replaced by second-year man McCoy. McCoy was lost in Jim Johnson's defense as a rookie and couldn't get on the field. But he has a much better handle on things this year and has been impressive in the pre-season.

Johnson had hoped Gocong or Greg Richmond would beat out Jones for the starting strong-side job. But they're both out for the season with injuries. Barber, who was brought in primarily to be the team's lone linebacker in their nickel package, has been moved from the weak side to the strong side to back up Jones.

DEFENSIVE BACKS:
Starters - LCB Lito Sheppard, RCB Sheldon Brown, FS Brian Dawkins, SS Michael Lewis
Backups - Rod Hood, Quintin Mikell, Sean Considine, Joselio Hanson

Two years ago, this unit sent three of its four starters to the Pro Bowl. Last year, they stunk up the joint, though the lack of a pass-rush stacked the deck against them. This normally disciplined group did too many undisciplined things last year, giving up 24 touchdown passes and finishing with the second most pass interference penalties in the league.

Sheppard is coming off ankle surgery, and still isn't 100 percent. Hood, a former undrafted free agent, has developed into one of the league's best nickel corners. The 33-year-old Dawkins still is one of the game's best safeties. Johnson plans to use him as a second linebacker in many of his nickel packages this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
PK David Akers, P Dirk Johnson, LS Mike Bartrum, PR Reno Mahe, Donte' Stallworth. KR Rod Hood

Akers is coming off the worst season of his career. He missed four games with a hamstring injury and made just 6 of 11 field goal attempts from 40-plus yards. But he still is one of the game's very best kickers.

Johnson also was hurt in '05, missing nine games with a sports hernia. Johnson will also replace Koy Detmer as Akers' holder. Mahe led the NFC in punt return average. He's got sure hands, but isn't a home run threat and is battling injuries and is starting the season banged up. Hood handled the bulk of the KR duties last season.


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