Breaking down the defensive lines of the Eagles, Skins, Cowboys, and Giants has turned into more of a competition to find the healthiest group rather than the most talented.
The Redskins took a severe hit losing starting end Adam Carriker likely for the season and his backup Jarvis Jenkins for the first 4 games of the year. Injuries have placed question marks in Dallas on the heads of Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff, while the issue of whether Demarcus Ware can handle the transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 looms large as well. Both the Eagles and Giants made some intriguing offseason acquisitions to bolster their defensive trench men and remain healthy at this time (knock on wood).
Each groups talent differs based on defensive schemes and playing style, however the rankings here are pretty cut and dry after recent events.
The departure of Osi Umenyiora may not hurt the Giants as much as one may think. Towards the end of his time in New York, Umenyiora became more of a distraction than a help and with JPP exploding onto the scene over the past 2 seasons it is likely that Umenyiora will not be missed. Justin Tuck is getting a bit slower but still complements JPP well on the other end of the line. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Shaun Rogers provide a massive core of the line, and the addition of Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson from Philly will help shore up any depth issues. Drafting Johnathan Hankins in the 2nd round gives the team a viable back-up who will likely spend most of the season learning instead of playing. Jenkins was solid in his first year in Philly, but struggled last year and Patterson and Rogers are both coming back from strange medical issues in 2012. Jason Pierre-Paul is one of the best in the business and Linval Joseph is quickly making a name for himself in the league, but everyone else has some sort of question mark surrounding them.
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Only a week into training camp and this group is already in a slightly chaotic form of upheaval. The transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 is causing DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to transition from OLB to DE, which could lead to a slow start for both players conceptually. Spencer recently underwent knee surgery and will miss out on much-needed reps in the preseason and training camp as he heals. DT Jay Ratliff has already had some injury concerns in camp and is a vital piece to this puzzle for new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The signing of Anthony Hargrove and George Selvie may loom large as both players provide reliability in a back-up or starting role for the team. The starting four of Ware, Spencer, Hatcher and Ratliff is an extremely solid one, however the transition of the defensive scheme and ever-growing injury concerns make it impossible to put this group ahead of New York.
This group appeared to be looking ready to rumble about 2 weeks ago with Carriker and Neild returning from injury and Jenkins with another year under his belt. A healthy Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will help this 3-4 defensive line as well, but the recent injury to Carriker and suspension of Jenkins have put this group in serious trouble. Long-time backup Kedric Golston is likely to become the starter at end opposite Bowen, which should be cause for concern for Redskins’ fans. While providing a strong understanding of Jim Haslett’s defense and reliability at the position, Golston simply does not have the talent of a Carriker or Jenkins. Barry Cofield struggled in year 1 in D.C. but improved last season and will once again be a key component to this defensive line. Chris Neild showed flashes two seasons ago as an interior linemen and will be relied on more than ever this year to spell Cofield at the tackle position. Chris Baker has been the talk of camp recently and will be assuming a much larger role than expected this season. If he plays up to his potential he could help many in Washington forget about Carriker for the time being. In summation, injuries are the story here and the Redskins really need to hope that a healthy Orakpo and Brandon Merriweather, combined with young talent in the secondary will cover up the deficiencies on the line.
While the Cowboys swap to 4 down linemen in the 4-3, the Eagles are switching over to the 3-4 under new Head Coach Chip Kelly in 2013. This does not mean the Eagles will only be utilizing 3 down linemen, as the 4-3 under may be utilized in certain situations. Gone are big name defensive ends Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, and Mike Patterson. In are the no-name youngsters Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Joe Kruger, and Dave King. Trent Cole is now an outside linebacker in the new 3-4 defense, which significantly hurts the rankings here. Fletcher Cox really appears to be the only lock to start this season, with newcomer Issac Sopoaga and Cedric Thorton likely starting alongside him. Rookie Bennie Logan has great potential, but how much did he benefit from being surrounded by Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo at LSU last season? Younger brother of Browns LB Paul Kruger, Joe, was a late-round pick who may compete for playing time with the likes of Vinny Curry and Dave King. Youth and a new defensive scheme does not bode well for this group and while the talent is there, the lack of experience will limit these guys for a year or two.