The Eagles and DT

Posted: March 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , , , | 26 Comments »
DT Antonio Dixon prepares to punish a RB.

DT Antonio Dixon prepares to punish a RB.

New DL coach Jim Washburn is bringing his “Wide Nine” system to Philly.  We’ve talked about what this means to the ends, but the new system will also impact the DTs.  Let’s go for a quick history lesson before we jump into what will happen in 2011.

The first thing to understand as we delve into this is that the Eagles don’t like to discuss things in detail.  Assistant coaches are normally off limits.  Coordinators talk about big things like star players, injuries, and matchups.  You don’t get them to get into the X’s and O’s of the scheme very often.  That means we have some facts to deal with, but also a lot of guess work.

Run defense was never a schematic priority for Jim Johnson.  He wanted his front seven to focus on the run, but he wasn’t going to sell out by loading the box or by getting huge players who specialized in run D.  He wanted smaller, quicker guys who would play the run, but also could get to the QB.

Jim had his DTs attack up the field.  He liked penetration and disruptive play from his guys up front.  In 2001 the defense had 103 TFLs.  Last season we had 63.  The DTs didn’t make substantially more plays in ’01.  They were more disruptive and created opportunities for others on a regular basis.  You knew the DTs would be in the backfield throughout the game.  This worked well from 2000-2004.

2005 was a throwaway season because of all the injuries and oddities.  That season was the Eagles version of Bizarro World.  At the end of the year DL coach Tommy Brasher retired and was replaced by Pete Jenkins.

2006 didn’t see any real schematic changes.  The defense was terrible, though.  They really struggled to stop people, especially on the ground.  The Eagles finished 26th in yards allowed and 24th in yards per attempt.  The defense was 15th overall in points and yards allowed.  There was a 4-game stretch where the team allowed 764 yards on the ground (TEN, IND, CAR, WAS).  That was a real low point.  The team still won the division, but the defense didn’t show up in the playoffs.  The opponents scored 20 and 27 points and combined for 359 rushing yards.

I think the struggles caused JJ to open his mind about adjusting the scheme.  Pete Jenkins specialized in 2-gap defense.  He now incorporated his ideas into JJ’s scheme.  I’m not sure if the change was total in 2007.  Did we mix in 2-gap to test it or go all the way?  I don’t know.  We certainly did make that change by 2008 and the run defense was outstanding.  We were 4th in rushing yards allowed, 2nd in rushing TDs allowed, and 4th in yards per rushing attempt.  Starting DTs Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson did a fantastic job of controlling the middle of the line.

JJ passed away and Pete Jenkins retired prior to 2009.  The DT play was pretty solid vs the run in the next 2 years, but getting pressure up the middle on pass plays was a major problem.  I don’t know if this was due to personnel, scheme, or coaching.  Rory Segrest had replaced Jenkins and just seemed to be in over his head.

After the conclusion of the 2010 season we saw a lot of change.  Sean McDermott was fired.  The assistants were let go.  Jim Washburn was hired to run the DL and bring his scheme to town.  Juan Castillo was given the job as DC.  So here we are.  Now let’s talk about 2011.

Washburn will have the DTs going back to the attacking style we used to use.  It isn’t exactly the same, but the basic principle is…play on the other side of the line of scrimmage (LOS).  You want defenders getting up the field and disrupting the offense with penetration.  I love the fact we’re going back to this style.  I prefer my DL to attack.  My favorite defenses always played a 1-gap style.

I think most people are on board with the change.  The players will certainly love it.  The question is how the current players fit the scheme and whether we have the guys to make it work.

Mike Patterson is the senior member of the DTs.  He was a terrific 1-gap player at USC and early in his NFL career.  He’s gotten bigger in the NFL, partly due to liking food and partly to fit the 2-gap system.  Mike now is about 6’1, 330.  He has good initial quickness.  He has a good motor.  Mike isn’t a playmaker anymore, though.  He doesn’t have the build or athleticism to thrive in an attacking scheme.  He could lose 15-20 pounds and that might change, but you can’t count on it.  The man has taken a pounding as a starting DT for 6 years.  I don’t know that shedding weight will get him back to his college playing style.

Brodrick Bunkley is next up.  Bunk is a tough player to assess.  He was a train wreck back in ’06 when he held out in the summer and reported fat and out of shape.  That year was a waste.  Bunk then played well in 2007 and ’08.  He didn’t make a ton of plays, but was outstanding as a run defender.  He was solid in 2009.  This past year he wasn’t playing to his old level and then hurt his elbow.  That cost him his starting job.  Bunk never complained, so I do give him credit for that.  He accepted his demotion and played okay after coming back.  Bunk is very powerful, but remains a pretty good athlete.  I think he’s got the size and skill set to fit the new system.  I know some people are down on him, but I’m not ready to give up on Bunk.  He played very well in JJ’s final 2 years.  He had a good DC and DL coach.  Bunk’s play declined with lesser guys coaching him and running the defense.  I don’t think you can ignore that fact.

Antonio Dixon is the man who replaced Bunk in the starting lineup.  Dixon is the biggest DT at 6-3, 322.  He’s not a massive NT type with no movement skills.  Dixon has a quick burst off the ball.  He hustles in pursuit of plays.  He is very powerful and tough to block one-on-one.  He made his share of plays, with 2 sacks and 4 TFLs.  Dixon is a guy that I’m sure Washburn is very intrigued by.  Antonio is just scratching the surface of how good he can be.

Finally we have Trevor Laws.  He looked like a major bust at the end of the 2009 season.  He had 17 solo tackles in 2 years.  He had no sacks.  He was awful as a run defender.  Double teams drove him 5 or more yards off the ball.  The Eagles hired Barry Rubin to be the new strength coach last offseason and that move had a huge impact on Trevor.  He changed his body.  He bulked up to the 295-300 pound range.  While he got bigger and stronger, he was still able to retain his quickness and agility.  Laws responded by playing very well in 2010.  He had 4 sacks, 13 solo tackles, 4 pass deflections, and even picked off a pass.  He was a disruptive force in the Nickel/Dime units.  Laws even became a functional run defender.  Trevor has the quickness and athleticism to be a good fit in the new scheme.  I think he could even vie for a starting spot.

Now let’s talk about the new scheme.  Washburn will have a standard 4-3 DT alignment where one DT lines up in the 3-technique (outside eye of the G) and the other DT lines up between the C and other G.  The 3-technique is considered the Under Tackle (UT) and the other guy is the Nose Tackle (NT).

The UT is supposed to be more of a pass rusher/disruptive type.  The NT is nothing like his counterpart in the 3-4.  The NT is also supposed to get upfield.  He lines up between the G and C and will often draw his share of double teams.  There are a couple of different ways the NT can handle this.  Smaller guys can stay low and try to get under the blockers.  Bigger guys can use their size/power to fight through the blocks.  Either way, the goal is the same…get into the backfield.

I am talking about the base defense in regard to the UT and NT and alignment/assignments.  There are times when the line will be in an under or over shift and the players will line up in different spots.  There are times when the DEs will move in tight.  A lot of times that will be for stunts.  Washburn wants his guys to attack, but does get creative with them so it’s not just a matter of going straight up the field on every snap.

Washburn used a variety of DTs in his time at Tennessee.  Let’s focus on the last 5 years for now.

2010 – Tony Brown , Jason Jones
2009 – Tony Brown , Jovan Haye
2008 – Tony Brown , Albert Haynesworth
2007 – Tony Brown , Albert Haynesworth
2006 – Robaire Smith , Albert Haynesworth

Brown – 6-1, 295 … signed as FA after being cut by a couple of teams
Haye – 6-2, 277 ….. signed as FA after starting in Tampa
Smith – 6-4, 315 …. 6th round pick
Jones – 6-5, 275 …. 2nd round pick
Haynesworth – 6-5, 330 … Top 20 pick

Couple of key backups:

Kevin Vickerson – 6-4, 295
Randy Starks – 6-3, 312

Draft picks in the last 5 years:

2010 … David Howard – 7th round – Brown – 6-3, 304
2009 … Sen’Derrick Marks – 2nd round – Auburn – 6-2, 294
2008 … Jason Jones – 2nd round – EMU – 6-5, 275
2007 … Antonio Johnson – 5th round – Miss State – 6-3, 310
2006 … Jesse Mahelona – 5th round – Tennessee – 6-0, 311

I think you can see that Washburn was open to using a variety of players.  He did have 4 guys 6-4 or above.  We haven’t had a DT that tall as part of the regular rotation in a while.  I hope we change.  Big/tall framed DTs make it tougher for the QB to throw over them.  It is funny that the guy with the most starts for the Titans in the last 5 years is Brown, the smallest DT they’ve had in a long time.  That shows you the system is more about players than just body types.

Heading into 2011 I think Washburn will have a pretty open competition for the starting roles.  I think Patt and Bunk would get the first look based on their experience.  It wouldn’t shock me if Laws and Dixon outplayed them and ended up as the starters.  I think all 4 guys have the potential to start in the system.

I do wonder about Mike Patterson’s future.  He doesn’t appear to be an ideal fit.  You never know what Washburn thinks.  He might have wanted a player with Patt’s size/skill set in Tennessee and it just never worked out.  I doubt that, but you never know.  I think Mike could be trade bait.  There were several teams inquiring about him last offseason.  The Eagles didn’t shop Mike.  Teams called the Eagles.  He was an attractive target because he’s a good player, but also is signed to a good deal.  The Eagles didn’t want to deal him so they didn’t get into any kind of negotiations.  Patt wouldn’t draw a huge bounty.  You’d be looking at a 3rd or 4th round pick.  If the Eagles are interested in using a high pick on a DT, then dealing Mike makes some sense.

I don’t see DT as a position of need so much as one of uncertainty.  It actually could turn out to be a position of strength if Washburn is able to “coach up” the talent we already have in place.  We all know the Eagles draft for the future so they absolutely could go for a DT early, but Laws and Dixon are young guys with bright futures.  At the very least, I want to add one DT in the draft.  Jeff Owens is rehabbing a tough injury and isn’t a great fit for the new system.

There is no right or wrong is discussing the DT situation since it is so much of a mystery to us.  How will the current players take to the new system?  Which players will click with Washburn?  Which players will elevate their game based on contract issues?  I can’t stress enough the importance of fit, as well as buying into a new system.  Back in 1995 we had a pair of good starting WRs in Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams.  They were used to a downfield passing attack.  In comes young Jon Gruden with his WCO and short routes.  That went together like brownies and tartar sauce.  Barnett and Williams were out the door in 1996.  Irving Fryar stepped in as a free agent and put up Pro Bowl numbers.

I don’t think any DT will have such a sense of entitlement that he resists the changes.  If anything, I think the guys will covet the presence of a good positional coach and a chance to attack up the field.  I could see Bunk, Trevor, or Dixon thriving in the new system.  Patt?  He’s a steady Eddie type that will do his best no matter what, but just isn’t going to be a difference maker.

I will talk about some DT targets in the draft in a future post.  My thoughts change as I watch more and more tape.  I’ve got a couple of small school guys left to check out before I write anything.

26 Comments on “The Eagles and DT”

  1. 1 Alohadelphia said at 4:32 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    Great read. Thank god you’re back Tommy. I’ve been amazed all “off-season” that people have been calling for us to draft a DT high. I never saw it as a position of weakness, it always seemed like the DT’s did what they were asked to do. I am beyond excited to see Bunk attack upfield, I’ve had visions of him tossing aside guards from the day we drafted him.

  2. 2 Tommy Lawlor said at 4:38 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    I’m not against the team going for a DT early in the draft if they fall in love with a prospect. I just don’t think we “need” to spend a high pick on one.

    Conversely…at CB I think we need a high pick. I don’t trust the guys we have in place, aside from Asante.

  3. 3 Andrew said at 4:48 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    Its great to find your new website Tommy, saw it linked from your article.

    Good article. One question I have is what do you think of Marvin Austin? If the Birds went CB in the first, could you see him as a second round target?

  4. 4 Tommy Lawlor said at 4:55 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    RE: Marvin Austin

    I’ll be furious if the Eagles take him in the 2nd. Overrated player. He’s simply not that good. He doesn’t stand out on game tape. He had a great week of practice at the Shrine Game, but he didn’t play like that in the game.

    I don’t think he’s a bad guy. Immature knucklehead, but that’s true of many college guys (me included). He came into UNC with a big rep, but never lived up to it. He has talent, but I see him more as a 4th rounder. Even then, I hope the Eagles pass.

  5. 5 T_S_O_P said at 4:55 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    The contract situations does make all this rather more complicated.

    Patterson is playing his first season for a flat wage (no bonuses) and it gets incrementally more expensive here on out. If he is not starting by years end, he is too expensive to keep, certainly after 2012. He’s smart enough to know that. Of course, he could prove us all wrong and be the greatest beneficiary of the system change.

    When to offer Bunkley a new contract if ever? At season’s end would make most sense after a monster year. Without that monster year, he will surely test FA, but it will have meant that Laws was getting his chances.

    If Laws isn’t starting at the end of this year he too will surely test FA. Young players should and usually aren’t happy when they aren’t starting.

  6. 6 T_S_O_P said at 4:59 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    Have you done any study of Richmond’s Martin Parker?

  7. 7 Tommy Lawlor said at 5:07 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    @ TSOP …

    I watched him in an all star game and just watched some tape of him the other day vs Villanova. I think he could be a real good 3-4 DE. Quick guy that runs well. Project with potential, but still a project.

  8. 8 Anders said at 6:15 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    Tommy, Right now do you think that Laws and Dixon will win the two starting position with Laws as the UT and Dixon as the NT?

  9. 9 IggleCT said at 6:54 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    Tommy, thanks, great article and glad to have you back. CB is obviously a priority need, but do you think the old philosophy still holds of ‘pressure up front makes the DBs look better’, and thus, don’t need to invest as heavily in your non Asante corner? I guess more broadly, do you think the new coordinators/coaches on D changes the positional priority the Eagles have demonstrated for so long?

  10. 10 ATG said at 9:46 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    Great stuff as usual. I love the way you define your abbreviations before you start using them. I don’t think any of them would have stumped me this time, but it nice to see the pride in your craft.

    I wonder if you read Shiel’s article at MTC – – or the FO article it referenced, about CBs. By their measures, Asante was almost unquestioningly the best in the league last year, and Hanson was there with him. If we could add someone to shut down the right side our line should have plenty of chances to get into the backfield.

  11. 11 Stephen said at 11:19 PM on March 30th, 2011:

    Trevor Laws has been a heckuva surprise. I predicted we would draft him in the 2nd and was very pleased when we did, but then his first 2 years with us happened.

    I knew that you were supposed to give at least 3 to evaluate a guy but, did you think there was any hope for him after those 2 years Tommy? I just remember watching him get destroyed off the ball on a regular basis and thinking what a waste of a pick.

    That he’s turned it around so quickly and played so well this past season is absolutely remarkable to me. It’s almost like he’s not the same player. Sometimes it seems just when you think a guy is absolutely dead in the water (Winston Justice comes to mind here too) he comes alive and starts living up to your expectations for them.

  12. 12 EagleEye said at 11:47 PM on March 30th, 2011:


    I’m a formerly voracious reader at the IgglesBlog (R.I.P.), and have recently been catching up with your material here. THANK YOU!!! Your insight has always been some of the most trust-worthy in my mind, and I will be a constant visitor to your god-send of a new site.

    My two-cents on the draft is that I hope that they find a way to trade up in the first for Prince Amukamara. Obviously it fills a position of need, but I also think that he seems like the type of talent to step in right away and dominate for years. He’ll be a better long-term investment than the FA a lot are talking about in Asomugha. I also think that he would be getting more recognition were it not for the long, wide shadow of Patrick Peterson. I also find it telling that I don’t recall hearing about the Eagles having him in for a visit… how very Eaglesque, no?

    Nab Prince!

    And, more importantly, THANKS, TOMMY!

  13. 13 norman said at 1:36 AM on March 31st, 2011:

    While on the subject of washburns DL changes, I’ve been pondering about Mr. Cole. He’s such a good player against the run- wouldn’t lining him in the 9 tech take away from the greatest thing about him (being a 3 down player)?

  14. 14 Sam said at 9:29 AM on March 31st, 2011:

    @TSOP: Your statements about Patterson’s contract aren’t exactly correct. Look at it this way: if you could sign a guy who was a Juqua Parker equivalent — nothing special — at DT for 3 years, $6.7 million in cash, increasing to $10 million with incentives … would you take that deal? Remember, Parker got $6.8 million in cash his first three years, Chris Clemons got $7.1 million in cash his first three years, and both were signed with a part time role in mind.

    Given that Bunk, Laws and Dixon will all be free agents at year end, it is really likely that the next three years of Mike Patterson will be cheaper than the next three years of the other DTs on the roster.

    Patterson’s deal won’t get out of whack until 2014 at the earliest. His contract will not be a worry to the front office for years, even if ultimately “all” he is is a guy who plays 30-50% of defensive snaps. If his skill level declines, sure, you cut him to get a better player. But it isn’t to save money. For a reliable defensive tackle, his price tag is really low.

  15. 15 Eric said at 10:24 AM on March 31st, 2011:


    random question unrelated to the topic…

    Everyone keeps talking about trading Kolb for picks. Do you think there is any QB needy team out there that would be willing to give up any players. And what players may the Eagles be interested in?

    I know you spoke of us trading for Gamble in Carolina months back. Would the Eagles be interested in trading Kolb for Gamble and picks or Gamble and more players? Just as an example.

  16. 16 Anders said at 12:37 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    @Norman, Or wouldnt it be nice to have DC and line coach there wont waste his talent in pass coverage?

  17. 17 Jeppe said at 12:48 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    @ anders
    Another Danish Eagles and Lawlor fan?

  18. 18 @jeppe said at 1:07 PM on March 31st, 2011:


    Indeed 🙂

  19. 19 Anders said at 1:08 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    Fail reply from my side.

  20. 20 mcud said at 1:22 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    Off topic, but the new EMB is up and running.

    In a word, terrible. I’m not one for negativity, but its definitely a giant step backwards. Oh well.

    Re: DT

    The two guys I’m most excited about with Washburn are Dixon and Bunk. I’m interested if we’re going to see them together on the field.

  21. 21 Cliff said at 1:42 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    @ mcud

    I stopped going to EMB a while ago because of the obsessive negativity, but I had to check it out since you mentioned an overhaul… yuck. It’s way too clunky now! A message board should be just that a board… of messages. This new layout is just way too difficult to read.

    Oh well.

  22. 22 Limbotim said at 1:44 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    How much input do position coaches have re: player personell and draft decisions. People keep talking about how Wash and Mudd don’t need high draft picks because they’ve had success without them, but how much of the decision to wait for lineman in later rounds can we attribute to these position coaches vs the head coach.

  23. 23 NicolajNN said at 3:03 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    @Anders & jeppe: that would be three 😀

    Tommy you said that you said that the NT could be both a big and smaller guy, but is one of them “better” in that role? I am especially thinking VS the run. If he often faces double team I would think a big guy would be better. Also has Washburn preferred a certain type at that position

  24. 24 Lefty said at 3:35 PM on March 31st, 2011:


    I think, ideally speaking, we will be best situated with a base defense like this:

    51 55 53
    58 90 97 (54)

    From pure talent standpoint, this puts the biggest, fastest and strongest guys on the field.

    42 57
    58 90 55 97 54

    Just playing around here, but remember the 5 man dline with Stew playing LDE? Well, we could rock a sweet nickle set with a 3-4 look but with cover guys at the ILB spots with BeefStew as a NT (which is something that Seattle does with similar skill-set LB Aaron Curry in nickle sets)

  25. 25 Noah said at 9:00 PM on March 31st, 2011:

    Curses to formatting.




  26. 26 Toby said at 2:18 PM on April 1st, 2011:

    When you put it on paper, it becomes apparent just how much turnover we’ve had on defense in the last 4 years, in terms of coaches and scheme changes.

    Also when looking at our recent history at DT, the loss/decline of Corey Simon plays a huge role. Darwin Walker was completely ineffective without Simon, and Patterson was still developing when asked to fill Simon’s shoes.