Analyzing The Defense

The Eagles defense was much maligned during the season, but was also credited with helping to turn around the season. Especially against the run, the defensive unit showed a lot of warts and there figures to be some changes during the off-season.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Jevon Kearse, LDT Mike Patterson, RDT Darwin Walker, RDE Darren Howard. Backups -- Trent Cole, Juqua Thomas, Brodrick Bunkley, Sam Rayburn, La Juan Ramsey, Jerome McDougle.

This unit was not nearly as good as the Eagles had hoped. Kearse went down in Week Two with a season-ending knee injury and Bunkley, the team's first-round pick in the '06 draft, gave them nothing, spending most of the season on the bench. Also, Howard, their top offseason free agent signing, was a non-factor. The return of Kearse will help, and allow undersized Trent Cole, who led the team in sacks, to cut down on his snaps and stay fresh. But the key in '07 will be Bunkley. If he has another unproductive season, the Eagles are in trouble.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Dhani Jones, MLB Jeremiah Trotter, WLB Omar Gaither. Backups -- Matt McCoy, Shawn Barber, Chris Gocong, Torrance Daniels.

This unit did not play well in '06 and was a big reason for the Eagles' struggles against the run. Trotter's knees are starting to fail him. He was a liability in coverage and doesn't have the run-defending range he once did. Jones was ineffective and likely will be released at some point. The guy Jim Johnson would like to see replace him at SAM is '06 third-round pick Chris Gocong, who spent the entire season on injured reserve. But they may need to bring in a veteran as insurance in case Gocong isn't ready or gets hurt again. Gaither, a fifth-round rookie, replaced ineffective Matt McCoy at WILL for the last five regular-season games and helped stop the bleeding against the run. He'll eventually probably move over and replace Trotter in the middle in another year or two. But right now, he'll stay on the weak side, where he's got a little bit better size and smarts than McCoy.

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

Sheppard and Brown are a pretty good cover tandem, though their lack of size has often hurt them against taller receivers. Hood has been one of the league's top nickel corners, but he wants an opportunity to start and probably won't be back. The Eagles are intrigued by former Giant James, also a free agent. But he wasn't healthy enough in his half-season with the Eagles for the coaches to get a really good read on him. Hanson, a former NFL Europe product, played surprisingly well. Considine replaced former Pro Bowler Lewis as a starter in Week Seven, but needs to add weight and muscle to his 198-pound frame to better defend the run.

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