At de­fen­sive end, 8 def­i­nitely is a crowd

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Nick Fierro

PHILADEL­PHIA — Daeshon Hall is a mon­ster now. So is Josh Sweat. And Sha­reef Miller seems to flash in the big­gest mo­ments, ac­cord­ing to de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Schwartz.

Prob­lem is, only one is likely to start the sea­son in Schwartz’s four-man de­fen­sive end ro­ta­tion, and there might not even be room for all on the ros­ter af­ter it gets trimmed to 53 play­ers.

This is be­cause starters Bran­don Gra­ham and Derek Bar­nett are firmly in place and Vinny Curry seems set as a ro­ta­tional lock as well.

As the Ea­gles head to­ward their third pre­sea­son game, which will be played against the Bal­ti­more Ravens at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field on Thurs­day night, a closer look at this in­trigu­ing po­si­tion bat­tle re

veals how it could have an im­pact on the abil­ity of this year’s squad to con­sis­tently pres­sure quar­ter­backs and set the edge in run de­fense.

With eight on the ros­ter and likely room for no more than five af­ter the fi­nal cuts, there could be some hard de­ci­sions ahead.

The eight are Gra­ham, Bar­nett, Curry, Hall, Sweat, Miller, Eli Harold and Kasim Ede­bali. Of those, Ede­bali looks to have the longest odds. But these third and fourth pre­sea­son games could change the land­scape.

Start­ing with the premise that Gra­ham, Bar­nett, Curry and Miller, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Penn State this year and has had a pro­duc­tive train­ing camp and pre­sea­son, are not go­ing any­where, that leaves Sweat bat­tling a num­ber of team­mates with a lit­tle more ex­pe­ri­ence (and a chance to have fig­ured some things out) for per­haps one spot.

Ede­bali, with eight ca­reer sacks, in­clud­ing five with New Orleans in 2015, and Harold (nine ca­reer sacks, 64 games played, 24 starts) ac­tu­ally are the most ac­com­plished.

But Hall, ac­quired last sea­son, has flashed the most since hav­ing a chance to go through the off­sea­son pro­gram and get his body to the spec­i­fi­ca­tions needed to play end in a 4-3. He’s around 270 pounds now, af­ter ar­riv­ing at below 250 last sea­son, the result of hav­ing bounced around in dif­fer­ent schemes as a 3-4 out­side line­backer.

The for­mer third-round pick of the Carolina Pan­thers con­trib­uted two sacks, in­clud­ing one in which he knocked the ball loose, in last Thurs­day’s 24-10 win at Jack­sonville. And at 6-foot-5, he just re­ally looks the part more than Harold and Ede­bali, who have shorter wing­spans.

“I feel good right now,” Hall said. “Be­ing more com­fort­able in the sys­tem al­ways helps.”

Also in the Jack­sonville game, Miller fin­ished with a sack, two tack­les for a loss and two quar­ter­back hits.

Though far from a fin­ished prod­uct, he has a ton of in­nate abil­ity that the Ea­gles are count­ing on be­ing able to har­ness for the bet­ter part of this next

One of the other things I like about Sha­reef is that he’s shown the most when it’s been sort of el­e­vated. — Ea­gles de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Schwartz

decade.

What Schwartz said about him on Mon­day was in­ter­est­ing.

“It’s not al­ways per­fect right away, but you want guys that are showing steady im­prove­ment,” Schwartz said. “I think that’s him.

“And then one of the other things I like about Sha­reef is that he’s shown the most when it’s been sort of el­e­vated. Like in the be­gin­ning, he wasn’t re­ally stand­ing out when he was prac­tic­ing, then we had a light prac­tice and he stood out a lit­tle bit more. And then we had a pre­sea­son game and he stood out a lit­tle bit more.

“So I think those are all good signs for him too.”

Still, the po­si­tion group as a whole is odd be­cause no one player stands out as an ac­com­plished sack master. The most any have had in any sea­son is 9 1⁄2. That was by Gra­ham in 2017.

That’s led to trade ru­mors in­volv­ing Hous­ton Tex­ans OLB/DE Jade­veon Clowney, who’s dis­grun­tled at be­ing fran­chise-tagged as a line­backer in­stead of an end — the fran­chise salary for an end is con­sid­er­ably more than a line­backer — and not be­ing given any long-term se­cu­rity by the Tex­ans.

Yet there are so many good play­ers here.

With or with­out Clowney, the Ea­gles are star­ing down the bar­rel of co­nun­drum as it stands now.

Lots can change over these next two weeks, but the Ea­gles need to be care­ful in mak­ing the right calls when it comes to their fi­nal choices.

STEPHEN B. MOR­TON/AP

Ea­gles DE Daeshon Hall strip-sacks Jack­sonville Jaguars QB Gard­ner Min­shew dur­ing last Thurs­day’s pre­sea­son game.

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