BY JARED NAGLE, Staff Writer
[Ed. Note- See part one of Nagle’s series on off-season needs here.]
Off-Season Need #2: Defensive Tackle
This time of year, Eagles fans and local media tend to spend their days discussing two topics: Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid. Lost in this seemingly annual debate about Reid’s merit as a head coach and McNabbs ability as a QB, is the fact that there are 52 other players on the roster, and a number of them had a hand in the Eagles first-round exit a few weeks ago. In the NFL, games are won and lost in the trenches, and the big bodies on the interior line aren’t getting the job done.
Does anyone remember the 2006 NFL Draft? In search of an upgrade at defensive tackle, the Eagles selected Brodrick Bunkley with the 14th overall pick. Considering where he was selected in round one, it is fair to assume the Eagles expected Bunkley would be in the mold of perennial All-Pro’s Kevin Williams and Tommie Harris. Bunkley had all the measurable’s: 6’2, 306 pounds and ran a 5.0 flat 40-yard dash. He was big, strong and light on his feet. He was supposed to be that defensive tackle that reeked havoc on QB’s and stuffed the run effectively.
Instead, after four mediocre seasons Bunkley is considered in league circles to be an above average defensive tackle with little ability to sack the quarterback. Bunkley only has six sacks in four seasons in the NFL. Though Bunkley is solid against the run, teams don’t select 4-3 defensive tackles early in the first round in hopes he will be an effective run stuffer. The Eagles selected Bunkley because they thought they were acquiring a playmaking tackle who would give them six to eight sacks a year.
Bunkley isn’t the only person to blame, though. It starts with the guy who makes the personnel decisions- Andy Reid. Despite spending three first or second round picks in the past five drafts on defensive tackles, the Eagles’ front office hasn’t selected a single DT that is anything more than a slightly above average player.
Mike Patterson is similar to Bunkley in that his big time plays are few and far between. Trevor Laws is proving to be nothing more than a backup level talent, which isn’t all that suprising considering draft experts saw him as a rotational tackle and nothing more due to his small size. Antonio Dixon was a nice suprise last season as an undrafted free agent, but Dixon leapfrogging Laws on the depth chart is more of an indictment on the Eagles lack of success in the draft then anything.
Sure, the Eagles will survive next season if they decide to address other needs rather then upgrade at defensive tackle. However, if the Eagles want to really improve their defense they must get pressure from their defensive tackles and Bunkley and Mike Patterson are not getting the job done.
Have we forgotten how vital Corey Simon was to the Birds during his tenure in Philly? He was a playmaker who gave the team production in both run defense and pass rush. Bunkley and Patterson are a solid duo against the run, but they are both one trick pony’s without playmaking potential.
The Eagles defense, more than anything else, just needs more playmakers to make it a successful, championship caliber piece of the team.