Malik Jackson was carted off the field on Sunday afternoon, leaving Eagles fans everywhere with their hearts in their mouths. Would the injury bug bite again? The defensive tackle who signed a three-year deal with the team this offseason was reportedly wearing a walking boot on Monday, which is never a good sign. Doug Pederson was cautious when talking about the injury to reporters, stating that he will ‘miss time’, but that the team is waiting on test results to determine whether or not he needs surgery.
Whether Jackson is ripped of his first season in midnight green, or it’s just a few weeks, the loss is a big one and will hurt the defense.
In his last three seasons, he started 42 games, accumulating 105 tackles and 18 sacks. A career-high 8 sacks in 2017 set the tone, but Jackson’s ability to penetrate the backfield and bring down running backs is what really stood out to the Eagles.
Here are three ways the team could negate the potential loss of their new DT2.
Practice squad call-up
While the Eagles may have lost Treyvon Hestor to the waiver wire, they were able to bring back Bruce Hector, who was traded to Arizona in exchange for Rudy Ford…who is currently on the Eagles roster. Not a bad trade, right?
Hector, at 6-foot-2 and 296 pounds, went undrafted in 2018 and played in eight games for the Eagles last season, notching 0.5 sacks. He’s spent two offseason’s with the team now and came in very handy last year when the Eagles had a severe lack of defensive tackle depth. While he may lack the ideal length and size, he brings a lot of fight to the table and could fill in as a DT4 while Hassan Ridgeway takes the leap up.
Ridgeway was originally a fourth-round selection back in 2016 and before being traded to the Eagles, played in 34 games (starting 6), notching 41 tackles, 6 TFL, 4.5 sacks and one pass defensed. In 2018, he only played in 6% of snaps, tallying 6 tackles. But he appeared in five games that year and also had 3 tackles, 1 TFL and 0.5 sacks in the Colts short playoff run.
The 24-year old was drafted into a 3-4 scheme originally, but the 6’3, 305 lbs, was never really a space-eating mauler. Ridgeway’s athleticism lends itself to being a more efficient pass-rusher, as evidenced by his preseason traction as a Colt, where he amassed 4 sacks in 2 games. It’s not like this was new, either. Ridgeway has 17.5 career sacks as a Texas Longhorn before being drafted in the fourth-round.
If Ridgeway can step up behind Timmy Jernigan and get into a stance alongside Bruce Hector, the duo could provide the ‘Allen and Vaeao’ effect that the team had in 2017.
There are some intriguing free agents still available. Mike Pennel, who was released by the Pats in August, is one of them.
Pennel spent 2018 with the Jets, grading 17th among interior linemen according to pro football focus. New York opted to decline his option upon the arrival of the new league year and he ended up signing with the Pats.
The only issue is that the 28-year old who had 15 starts to his name was met by the arrival of Danny Shelton. Pennel became a bubble player who did well in the preseason, but not well enough to stick on the final 53. Could he find a new lease of life in Philly?
25-year old Willie Henry was surprisingly cut by the Ravens this offseason. The former fourth-round pick has trickled down the depth chart as his stock plummeted, but he did look good in 2017, where he played in 14 games, tallying 33.5 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Veteran nose tackle and former Eagle Bennie Logan also remains unsigned and could be an intriguing option.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about this Eagles team, it’s that versatility is key. We’ve seen the NASCAR packages including 4 defensive ends, we’ve seen Fletcher Cox drop into coverage. There’s no reason why we can’t see someone like Josh Sweat, a slightly heavier DT, take a bump inside on a few rogue snaps. There’s no reason we can’t see formations where the four linemen are spread out much wider, allowing 3 defensive ends to line up over the outside shoulders of the opposing guard. Jim Schwartz has plenty of talent on his books already and may not feel the need to go out and bring in a fresh face, at least until we know the extent of Jackson’s injury.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports