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Despite Dawkins' Departure, Eagles Defense Looks Good

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Trent Cole is one of the top defensive ends in the league and Asante Samuel is one of the cornerbacks.

You probably already knew that.

A panel of NFL personnel people, asked by Philly2Philly.com, confirmed that along with some other interesting tidbits about an Eagles defense, that even without Brian Dawkins for the first time since 1995, could rank among the top in the league.

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles, individually and by unit, compared to the other 31 teams according to our panel of experts.

Defensive Ends – Cole, who will turn 27 this season, ranked among the top 10 defensive ends in the league. The Pro Bowl player recorded nine sacks last year and 29 ½ over the past three seasons.

“He’s really become a good player,’’ one of the personnel men said. “He’s a very consistent pass rusher, who almost has to be doubled every play. And he’s gotten better against the run.’’

Said another member of the panel: “I remember when he came out of the draft, you weren’t sure about him. He was small. He has skills, but you had to think of him as more of a 3-4 linebacker than a hand on the ground end. He’s really gotten bigger and stronger.’’

On the other side, none of the panel was overly impressed with Juqua Parker or Victor Abiamiri, who expect to battle for the starting left defensive end spot.

As a unit the Eagles defensive end ranked just barely in the top half of the league.

“Abiamiri could be good, but I need to see him do it,’’ one scout said. “The rest of them are all just situational guys.’’

Defensive Tackles – Starters Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley, a pair of former first-round picks, failed to crack the top 10 in our unscientific vote, but both made it into the top quarter of the 62 starting defensive tackles in the league.

Patterson ranked slightly higher than Bunkley in the overall vote, but all in all the panel ranked them pretty much equal.

“I’ve always liked (Patterson) better (than Bunkley),’’ one scout said. “He’s just a better player in my opinion. I know the other guy looks the part, but Patterson makes more plays, seems to play harder and is just more consistent.’’

Patterson was the Eagles first-round pick, No. 31 overall in 2005. Bunkley was the team’s first-round pick, No. 14 overall, in 2006.

“I don’t think (Bunkley) is what they, or anyone else, expected him to be,’’ one personnel man said. “He’s not a great inside pass rusher. I think he comes out on third down. But he’s pretty strong at the point. You put him with (Patterson) and you have a good middle there.’’

The Eagles backup tackles – second-year man Trevor Laws, Dan Klecko and converted end Darren Howard – give the unit enough depth that they just missed the top 10, actually finishing 11th best in the league.

Linebackers – The voters were not thrilled with the Eagles young group of Stewart Bradley, in the middle, Akeem Jordan, on the weak side and Chris Gocong on the strong side.

As a unit they finished in the bottom half of the league’s linebackers, and none of three made it in the top half individually as well.

Bradley garnered the most support from the group, but still finished below the cut-off point of the top half of middle linebackers.

“It’s tough to compare with so many teams playing 3-4 schemes, now,’’ one pane member said. “I think (Bradley) is the best they have. Keep in mind, the middle is still kind of new for him. He was drafted to be a SAM (strongside). I think he’ll get better. Ask this next year and he’ll likely get better grades.’’

Jordan and Gocong didn’t register much support at all, as most of the panel wasn’t overly impressed with either’s play last season.

“Nothing special,’’ one scout said. “There are a lot of guys I’d rather have.’’

Omar Gaither is the only backup with any real playing time experience on the roster.

Cornerbacks – Samuel made it into the top 10 in the league and Sheldon Brown made it to the top quarter of the 64 starters.

“I like both of them and I think they play off each other pretty well,’’ one of the members of the panel said. “It’s like when it was Brown and (Lito) Sheppard. You have the one guy willing to gamble and make plays and the other guy as solid as he can be.’’

The backup group of Ellis Hobbs, Joselio Hanson and Jack Ikegwuono pushed the total unit into the top five group of the league.

“They have always had excellent corners for as long as I can remember,’’ one personnel man said. “Even before Andy and his guys got there, they were good. And then, they have made it point to keep it that way. It’s a high priority for them.’’

Safeties – Strong safety Quintin Mikell ranked in the top quarter, but the fact that second-year man Quintin Demps has the edge over free agent signing Sean Jones ranked the unit just out of the top half in the league.

“Mikell is solid, had a good year for them last year,’’ a scout said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how he is without Dawk back there with him. Is he ready to take over? He might be. Or is he going to miss his partner?

“Demps showed he could run, but I’m not sure about him. We actually liked him more as a corner than as a safety. I’m not sure he has what it takes to be a centerfielder back there.’’