Eagles defensive tackes aiming to be "guard killers"

Posted: August 04, 2011

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - On the depth chart they are listed as defensive tackles, but the men in the middle of the defensive line have a different title in the mind of line coach Jim Washburn.

"If you call home and talk to your mom and she asks what position you're playing, say, 'guard killer,' " Washburn told his tackles, according to Trevor Laws.

With Trent Cole and Jason Babin set loose from the outside, Washburn wants his tackles pushing up the middle, taking away the space where quarterbacks want to step up to avoid pressure. They will be a key piece of the new defensive scheme.

"Really what we're doing this year is just attacking the line of scrimmage," Laws said. "He wants the tackles to dominate the guards, and that's our job right now, knock the guard back as far as you can and make plays on the football."

But one problem has emerged: The Eagles tackles have been hit with a string of injuries.

"I have never seen anything like this, the way that everybody's just been going down," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who has not been allowed to practice while the NFL and players finalized their collective bargaining agreement but who should take the field Friday.

Laws, who took a step forward last year after finally being healthy most of the season and who trained hard during the NFL lockout, hurt a hip flexor Wednesday and didn't practice Thursday. Antonio Dixon, last year's surprise starter, went down with a knee sprain Thursday. (The team said it was "mild" and Dixon thought he'd be back "soon.") Mike Patterson's playing status (obviously a secondary concern to his health) is unclear after suffering a seizure Wednesday. Victor Abiamiri, who had been playing tackle, tore his Achilles tendon and his season is already over - his career could be, too.

With veteran free-agent signings Jenkins, Anthony Hargrove, and Derek Landri unable to practice until Friday because of league labor rules, the Eagles had to bring in two players late Wednesday to have enough bodies to try to clog the middle of the line of scrimmage.

Ardmore's Charlie Noonan, a product of St. Joseph's Prep and Rutgers, got a call around 5 p.m. Wednesday and jumped into his late '90s Nissan Altima for a drive up to Lehigh. By mid-morning Thursday he was practicing with the first-team defense, filling in for Dixon. To his side was undrafted free agent Cedric Thornton.

The two were taking on Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, and first-round pick Danny Watkins.

"I knew some guys went down so I knew I was going to get a lot of playing time," Noonan said. "Just trying to make the most of it."

The team also added the undrafted Brandon Collier to help in practices.

Juan Castillo's defense is built around getting pressure from the defensive line, but the rash of training camp injuries has not worried the front office, which has high hopes for Jenkins, Hargrove, and Landri.

All three should be able to take the field Friday after players formally ratified a new CBA and each could compete for roster spots.

"You can study a defense all you want, but until you get in the huddle and start hearing the calls and you have to go out and go through them and get the calls when you're tired, you don't know if you're on pace yet," Jenkins said.

Laws and Dixon might also return before long.

Laws said he also expects to be back "pretty soon."

"I'll be all right. Just getting healthy," he said.

Dixon also said his knee injury wasn't too serious.

He hopes to get back soon to guard killing.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com, or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.


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