We had some DT discussions this weekend and there was some confusion on a couple of points. Let’s now all try to get on the same page. The Eagles play a 1-gap system with the DTs. This means the players are supposed to attack up the field. They are responsible for 1 gap only. Quickness is every bit as important as size and strength.
The DTs are split into a pair of roles: the under tackle (UT) and nose tackle (NT). Mike Patterson was the NT and Cullen Jenkins the UT. Both players are supposed to fire off the ball and get into the backfield. The UT lines up in the 3-technique, on the outside eye of the OG. The NT lines up between the G and C. The NT most often will have to deal with double teams. The NT doesn’t need to be huge, but he must be able to handle himself when dealing with double teams. The UT needs to be a pass rusher. He is further from the ball, but that allows him to operate more in space.
In 2011 the depth chart was like this:
NT: Mike Patterson – Derek Landri – Antonio Dixon (prior to injury)
UT: Cullen Jenkins – Trevor Laws
Trying to figure out the plan for 2012 is tricky. Laws is a free agent. so is Landri. Dixon is a restricted free agent. Dixon showed great promise in 2010, but that was playing in a 2-gap system. Dixon was slow to adjust to the new scheme last year. I did think he played well in the game where he got hurt. It seemed like he had finally figured some things out. I don’t think the Eagles can commit big money to him long term because they don’t know his value in the new system. 2012 is key for that relationship.
Jeff McLane reported that the Eagles have talked to Laws about an extension. Color me confused. Laws played well in 2010 and I thought he would thrive in the new scheme. It was tailor made for a guy with his skill set. Laws got hurt at Lehigh and never looked like the guy from 2010. Maybe the Eagles figure he’ll thrive now that he knows the system. Or maybe they are offering him a cheap deal.
I think the Eagles need a long term solution at UT. That’s why I projected Fletcher Cox to them in the recent mock draft. You could also give them Jared Crick or Derek Wolfe or a few other guys for that role. Laws should have been really good, but the fact his production fell off so far bugs me. The one thing I’ll say is that I fully trust Jim Washburn. If he wants Laws, then I want Laws. I do wonder if he’s pushing for Laws return or how that’s playing out.
You know that I love Derek Landri. His situation is complicated. He is a natural NT in this system. If Patt is the starter and Dixon is the primary backup there…where does Landri fit in? He can play UT, but he’s not a gifted pass rusher (8 sacks in 5 years). His specialty is getting into the backfield and being disruptive (19 career TFLs). Shooting gaps is different that flooring QBs. I value Landri so much that I would re-sign him and find a way to make things work.
You could have him and Dixon as the backup DTs and have them switch back and forth as UT/NT. Dixon isn’t a natural pass rusher either, but he has some quickness off the ball and his size allows him to push the pocket.
I understand Laws is a younger guy than Landri, but I think the Eagles are making a big mistake if they commit to Laws over Landri. All joking aside, Derek had a terrific showing in 2011. He played well and good things happened when he was on the field. He far out-played Laws. There are times to take potential over production, but this isn’t one of them. Laws has never looked special in his time as an Eagle. Landri was a great backup last year.
Laws career: 56 games – 45 solo tackles – 5 sacks – 7 TFLs – 1FF – 1FR – 1 INT – 6 PD
Landri in 2011: 12 games – 21 solo tackles – 2 sacks – 6 TFLs – 1 FR – 1 PD – 1 blocked FG
If it comes down to one spot, there is no way in hell I’m choosing Trevor Laws over Derek Landri. It is possible that Landri will want to go somewhere to compete for a starting job. I don’t know if anyone would make him that offer. He is a great backup. He needs to be used right in order to get maximum results. Because he’s such an effort guy, Landri needs limited reps. He plays as hard as any player in the NFL.
I thought Landri re-signing was a sure thing right after the season, but now I’m wondering. The fact the Eagles have talked to Laws about an extension somewhat puzzles me. It certainly isn’t a good sign for Landri’s future here.
There have been some questions about whether the Eagles should pay Cullen Jenkins the big roster bonus that he’s due in March. Yes. Yes. And yes. He earned the money with a great showing in 2011. He was also a leader in the locker room. The only other possibility here that would make any sense would be to not pay the bonus and then use that money to go after Titans FA Jason Jones. I think that would be a mistake, but at least that move would make some sense. Jones is a natural 1-gap DT who can be very disruptive. The Titans played him at DE this year and he was a non-factor. Still…I think you need to keep Jenkins. He was the Eagles best DT in years. Letting him go would be odd, to put it mildly. Just look at the drop off the Packers defense had without him. They went from Top 10 to the bottom of the league.
Cedric Thornton is an unknown commodity. The Eagles love his potential, but he didn’t get on the field in 2011. He has a great frame at 6’4, 309. He has a great first step. He projects to being an UT. You can’t count on him for anything. He’s got to show you that he made progress this year and is ready to compete for some playing time. Thornton went to a very small school so he came into the league raw and didn’t have much time to work with Washburn. He could be on the Practice Squad in 2012 or could become a member of the DT rotation.
One thing I think we need to understand is that the Eagles don’t need a run stuffer. The DTs did their job in 2011. It was LBs and Safeties who failed to make tackles. Patt is a very good run defender. Without him in the lineup in the season finale, the Skins ran all over us. Landri is a good run defender. Dixon was very good vs the run in 2010. Jenkins is very good vs the run for an UT. Laws is a mixed bag. He’s certainly made tremendous progress in recent years. His first two seasons, Laws was a huge liability against the run. I remember double teams moving him 10 yards off the ball.
I’ll cover DT draft targets in a separate post. The key is that we need a pass rusher. Jenkins is great, but older. Laws is unknown.
There are some people who say we should go after Jason Jones as a FA. I’d be fine with this except we can get similar players in the draft that will be younger and cheaper. Granted, Jones is a proven commodity. If the price is right, maybe the Eagles do go for him. Jones won’t fit all 32 teams. He’s in his prime and is a talented DT so I think someone will take a chance on him, but if the market somehow isn’t there for him, you can bet Howie Roseman will at least call his agent.
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I put up some draft notes over the weekend.
Matt posted a pre-Combine mock draft at ScoutsNotebook.
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Congrats to Mr and Mrs Jimmy Bama on the offseason acquisition they’re making this week. Jimmy as a parent – what could go wrong? I hope Mrs Bama is a special lady.