IS THE EAGLES DEFENSIVE UNIT READY FOR PRIME TIME?
8 key Eagles could be iffy, but Pederson insists he’s unfazed before opener
PHILADELPHIA — Cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Cre’Von LeBlanc are out until November at the earliest. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill still doesn’t have a timetable for his comeback from an MCL injury suffered early in training camp. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (foot), defensive end Derek Barnett (shoulder) and linebacker Nigel Bradham (foot) didn’t see any preseason action. Safety Rodney McLeod (knee) and cornerback Ronald Darby (knee) were only recently cleared for full contact coming off injuries from last season.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s eight key pieces of the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense who have question marks hovering over their heads heading in their season-opening game at home on Sunday (1 p.m., FOX) against the Washington Redskins.
But not to worry, insists coach Doug Pederson, who expects big things from Cox, Barnett, Bradham, McLeod and Darby right away and an improvement over what the injuryinduced squad did last year.
Pederson even went on to say that he feels particularly good about
“I put in the time, done the conditioning and I’m going to be back to my normal self [on Sunday].” — Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham
Barnett, who nevertheless showed up on the team’s first injury report as a limited participant with that same shoulder injury that first started bothering him last October, eventually landing him on the injured reserve list.
Barnett enters his third season with just 7.5 career sacks as a result.
“I feel really, really good about Derek,” Pederson said. “He’s been probably the one that’s been practicing the most during training camp with getting more reps each and every week. So he’s in a really good spot, so I have no issues with him not playing or being there.”
Cox not only didn’t practice until Wednesday, but when he did, he had a new starter alongside him in Malik Jackson. Like Pederson, he didn’t view it as a potential problem.
“Me and him have to attack and we have to play off of each other,” Cox said. “For today to be the first day of me practicing with him, we did some really good things in practice. It’s still going to take time. But we could be really special.
“… It’s a long season. I just had to be smart about my injury, post-surgery, and we had a really good plan with the medical staff and the coaches understood. And now I am where I am and ready to roll.”
What’s more, there should be no rust, according to Cox.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he said. “You do it for so long when you’re a kid, you never forget how to ride a bike.”
Then there’s the linebackers, who feature three newcomers (Zach Brown, T.J. Edwards and L.J. Fort) and will have to make due without Grugier-Hill indefinitely. But at least Bradham was a full participant on Wednesday.
“I haven’t tackled nobody yet, though,” Bradham said. “So this week will be the first.
“… Everything has paid off, man. I put in the time, done the conditioning and I’m going to be back to my normal self [on Sunday].”
The secondary will feature some new looks as well. After a strong offseason, Sidney Jones appears to be a starter on the outside now along with Ronald Darby. Both are coming back from injuries last season. Avonte Maddox, their top choice for the slot position, and Rasul Douglas also will be in the mix.
Although starting safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod return, McLeod missed most of camp coming off a major knee injury that landed him on IR last year as well.
Their third safety, veteran Andrew Sendejo, is new, having come over from Minnesota, though he has been praised for picking up the defense almost instantaneously.
With so many newcomers and players who haven’t practiced, though, the Eagles’ defense gives its fans every reason to be concerned about its effectiveness, especially against an opponent that will try to punch them in the face with a ball-control offense.
So when it comes to Sunday, forget what the coaches and players have said and just trust your anxious eyes.
“I just had to be smart about my injury, postsurgery, and we had a really good plan with the medical staff and the coaches understood. And now I am where I am and ready to roll.”
— Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham, celebrating after a sack last season, insists he’ll be back to his old self Sunday despite missing training camp and the preseason.