Defensive tackle may be one of the brightest spots on the entire Eagles roster. When you partner the monster contract extension given to Fletcher Cox during the offseason an the impact Bennie Logan has as the second starter, the duo easily rank among the best in the league. But behind Cox and Logan..there could well be a changing of the guard.
Until now, Beau Allen and Taylor Hart have been the backups. As late-round draft picks in 2014, Allen and Hart have undergone very different careers to this point. Allen has played in all 32 games over the last two seasons, notching up 28 tackles..while Taylor Hart spent his rookie season on injured reserve, bulking up for his second year and eventually making an impact, racking up 27 tackles in 14 games last year.
But, that was under Chip Kelly..and more importantly, behind much more depth. In Chip’s 3-4 Defense, Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry proved to be the “guys” in 2014..before the door eventually opened for the pair a year later.
But under Chip Kelly, things were different. It wasn’t just the shape of the Defense, but the culture. After surrendering more rushing yards than any other team in the league a year ago, it’s clear that the run-stopping ability of Taylor Hart that earned much praise during his College career was not as good as it was made out to be. Fundamentally, the pair looked capable of holding the fort..but they lacked the explosiveness and ability to finish tackles to successfully plug the running lanes.
Insert Jim Schwartz, a 4-3 Defense and two undrafted rookies, Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu.
Vaeao has quietly impressed the coaching staff at Training camp..and it’s not hard to see why. He was a man in hot demand when it came to pre-draft visits and for good reason. 83 tackles and 19 for a loss, 7 sacks, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles during his time at Washington State make the 6’3, 298 pound Defensive Tackle an explosive addition. During the Collegiate Bowl, Vaeao recorded a 35.5 vertical leap which at the combine would have tied him for second among defensive linemen.
As for Shittu, CBS Sports compared the Defensive lineman to Vinny Curry which should tell you all you need to know. The 6’2, 288 pounder ended his season with a bang, racking up 3.5 tackles for a loss, eight overall and 1.5 sacks in the Rose Bowl en route to earning Defensive MVP. After suffering a torn ACL in 2014, Shittu bounced back with 56 combined tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
The main criticism heading into the Draft with both of these prospects was their technique. But what they lack in fundamentals, they make up for in sheer explosiveness. It’s a direct contrast to the more technically sound, yet subtle skill sets of Hart and Allen.
After a quiet Training camp, it’s apparent that Allen is far better suited in a Nose Tackle role where as Hart seemed to find his rhythm as a 3-4 Defensive end.
With Logan playing as a 4-3 Defensive end in college, himself and Cox looked primed to dominate opposing Offenses in 2016..and one trait they both share is explosiveness. With pre-seson around the corner, it will be interesting to see how the snaps are shared between the old guard of Allen & Hart..and the gritty rookies of Shittu and Vaeao.
The Eagles desperately need to ensure that a repeat of the defensive flaws showcased in 2015 does not happen..and under Jim Schwartz..the more dominant, albeit raw skill set of the undrafted rookies seem far more appealing to his scheme than the more technically sound but underwhelming playing styles of Hart and Allen.
A big preseason from the undrafted rookies could see a passing of the torch at the backup DT positions. The question at this stage becomes can Allen and Hart fend off the incoming threat by flashing a mean streak and some raw dominance in preseason? If they can’t..it would not only cement a new culture at DT..but on the entire Defense.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports