Defensive End -
Entering his fourth season, Cole is one of the best Eagles' pass-rushers of this decade, with 25.5 career sacks and a Pro Bowl appearance last year. Parker has developed into a solid starter since joining the Eagles in 2005, and he can play the run and rush from the edge effectively. Abiamiri suffered a dislocated wrist in training camp, but he is making a speedy recovery and the coaching staff has high expectations for him. Howard was probably on the bubble when it came time for the Eagles to make cuts after the preseason, but his ability to play inside on passing downs gave him an edge over other defensive ends trying to make the cut. Clemons, who signed with Philadelphia in the off-season after posting eight sacks with the Raiders last year, and Smith, a third-round pick by the Eagles out of McNeese State in this year's draft are new additions who were brought in with the intention of bolstering the pass rush.
Defensive Tackle -
The tandem of Patterson and Bunkley gives the Eagles a strong run stopping presence in the middle, and they were big factors in the defense that ranked seventh in the NFL against the run last season. Laws, the Eagles first draft choice this year, will add athleticism to the line and he should see time in the rotation. Originally brought in to play fullback, Klecko was switched back to defensive tackle in training camp and worked hard enough to earn a roster spot. His versatility and special teams ability should get him game action from week-to-week.
Rookie Joe Mays (#51) made a name for himself during training camp and the preseason with his hard-hitting style. He finished the preseason with a league-leading 30 tackles.
(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
The Eagles might have established their linebacking corps of the next few years with a solid group of young playmakers in the middle of their defense. Bradley played well in limited action last season as a rookie, and he looked comfortable leading the defense in training camp and the preseason. Gocong, a defensive end in college, adds size to the lineup at 6-foot-2, 263-pounds and he is often used as a pass rusher in many of Jim Johnson's schemes. After recording 102 tackles last year, Gaither might emerge as one of the best outside linebackers in the NFC as he moves back to his natural position on the weakside. Mays, a sixth-round draft pick, was extremely impressive in the preseason, flying to the ball and delivering punishing tackles consistently enough to make the team. Jordan is an athletic reserve and an ace on special teams, while Daniels, who was an Eagle in 2006 and a Giant last year, was brought back after the preseason to replace disappointing free agent signing Rocky Boiman.
When Asante Samuel landed in Philadelphia as a free agent in the off-season, he brought with him his huge new contract and expectations of a similar magnitude. Samuel, who notched 16 interceptions in the last two seasons, is expected to jump-start a defense that had the fewest takeaways in the NFL last year. Amid contract disputes and discontent, Sheppard gives the Eagles another shut-down corner with a reputation for making clutch plays. Brown brings a physical style of play to the secondary and is adept at playing against the run. Hanson has developed into a solid reserve for the Eagles, and he finished last season with a career-high 52-tackles and one sack.
Even though he turns 35 this season, Dawkins is still a force at free safety and his playmaking instincts are valuable if he can stay healthy. Mikell earned the starting strong safety spot last year, and his sure-tackling and ball-hawking style of play ensured that he would keep the job. Considine has been a starter in Philadelphia in the past and shown that he can play, but nagging shoulder injuries have to be a concern for him going into the future. Reed returns as another hard-hitter in the secondary and a veteran special teams contributor in the return game and in kick coverage. Demps could be one of the highlights of the Eagles 2008 draft class, as he showed his playmaking ability in the preseason with a 101-yard kickoff return against the Patriots. Demps could see some playing time in the secondary this season, but his main impact will be on special teams.
Andrew Pluta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org