Projecting Eagles' roster: The defense

PHILADELPHIA -- Now that we’ve looked at the Philadelphia Eagles position by position, let’s try to make sense of the roster from a big-picture view. It’s kind of tough to guess at the 53-man roster until we at least see some of the new players out on the field, but we’ll try.

Let’s start on the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive line

Projected starters (3): DE Fletcher Cox, DT Bennie Logan, DE Cedric Thornton

Projected reserves (4): DE Vinny Curry, DT Beau Allen, DE Taylor Hart, DE Brandon Bair

Training camp battles: The starting three is likely set, as the Eagles have three young linemen who worked well together last season. Their work against the run was one of the underrated strengths of the team.

Seventh-round pick Brian Mihalik will have a shot to prove he can earn a spot. He could beat out either Bair or last year’s fifth-round pick, Hart. But Hart spent a year on the active roster and reportedly has added bulk and strength. The coaches must see something in him.

If there is an undrafted player capable of cracking the roster, keep an eye on defensive end B.J. McBryde and defensive tackle Travis Raciti.

Outside linebackers

Projected starters (2): Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham

Projected reserves (2): Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman

Training camp battles: That looks pretty thin, but remember, Smith is a 2014 first-round draft choice who will get every chance to earn some playing time. Braman is a key special-teams player. Travis Long was looking like a keeper last summer but tore his ACL before the season started. He also has a shot to make the team.

But it is the glut at inside linebacker that will force the Eagles to go light on the outside. It also could lead to some improvising, with Kiko Alonso or Mychal Kendricks sliding outside in certain defensive formations.

Inside linebackers

Projected starters (2): Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks

Projected reserves (3): DeMeco Ryans, Jordan Hicks, Brad Jones

Training camp battles: Emmanuel Acho and Najee Goode should be in the mix here. Either could earn a roster spot by being exceptional on special teams. If so, then Jones could be the odd man out or Hicks could get stashed on the practice squad. But Hicks is expected to earn playing time on special teams and will have every chance to make the team.

The real puzzle is figuring out how to manage Alonso, Kendricks and Ryans. The likelihood of trading Kendricks gets smaller every day. Ryans could be limited in camp by his Achilles injury, which would allow the coaches to use him as a reserve at first. That would let the duo of Kendricks and Alonso start together. If they build chemistry and work well, they can remain out there. If not, Ryans could step in when he’s healthy.


Projected starters (2): Malcolm Jenkins, Earl Wolff

Projected reserves (3): Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski, Jerome Couplin

Training camp battles: This is tough. Jenkins is the only certain starter. After him, you run into a bunch of special-teamers and developmental guys. I went with Wolff as a starter just because he’s more or less an incumbent. But he could just as easily not make the team.

Couplin could win the starting job, play in certain defensive packages or get released. The same goes for Ed Reynolds and Jaylen Watkins, two 2014 draft picks.

From this year’s draft class, Eric Rowe or Randall Evans could be moved inside from cornerback. E.J. Biggers was signed and will have a chance here. It’s the most wide-open position on the roster.


Projected starters (2): Byron Maxwell, Eric Rowe

Nickel corner (1): Walter Thurmond

Projected reserves (2): Nolan Carroll, JaCorey Shepherd

Training camp battles: The cornerback group will be affected by what happens at safety, and vice versa. Right now, I’m leaving Brandon Boykin off the roster. He will have a very good chance of making the team, but I think Chip Kelly brought all these young players in here for a reason. He wants to grow a group of versatile defensive backs, and Boykin is kind of a specialist.

Of course, Thurmond and Carroll could just as easily turn out to be expendable, while Boykin, Watkins and Evans force their way onto the roster. It is going to be a busy summer for new secondary coach Cory Undlin.

Total: 26 defensive players

Tomorrow: A look at the offense.