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July 27, 2022

Eagles training camp: Birds emphasize interior pass rush with talented defensive tackles

Eagles NFL
Jordan-Davis-Eagles-Training-Camp-07272022 Colleen Claggett/PhillyVoice

Jordan Davis at his first Eagles training camp.

The Eagles have won just a single Super Bowl in team history. The strength of that team, right down to that franchise-altering fourth quarter play, is the defensive line. It's been an organizational philosophy two-plus decades in the making and continues through the 2022 season. 

Just look at the defensive tackles. Fletcher Cox is the entrenched former All-Pro defensive tackle and Super Bowl champion. Javon Hargrave is coming off a Pro Bowl campaign this past season. Jordan Davis was perhaps the best defensive player on the best college defense of the century last year. Milton Williams, who should not be a forgotten man along this highly touted group, was an effective Day 2 rookie in 2021 too. 

That 2017 squad had a seemingly endless amount of edge rushers from the guy who made 'The Play' in Brandon Graham, to vet Vinny Curry, to rookie Derek Barnett and fan-favorite Chris Long. That type of rotation kept those dudes fresh late in games (and late in the season into February). That success could be replicated in 2022 for the Birds, but with the best interior d-line group I've ever seen from this franchise.

General manger Howie Roseman spoke to reporters on Wednesday and discussed how this defensive tackle unit has shaped over the last few seasons following Cox's stellar career and the 2020 signing of Hargrave. That duo is great, but bringing in players of Davis' caliber and Williams' promise adds a whole new dimension to the group. 

"In terms of the draft the last two years with Milton and Jordan, it was based on our draft board in terms of those guys, but I think you've seen over the last few years, kind of an increased emphasis from us as a front office in interior pass rushers," Roseman said. "When you look at the quarterbacks who are really effective in this league, you have to make sure that you're affecting them in the middle and getting in their face and doing things."

With a player of Davis' stature at 6"6' and 340 lbs. and Williams' athleticism, plus those two accomplished veterans, that's going to spell pain for opposing centers and guards trying to keep their quarterbacks upright. 

The two best defensive players over the last decade or so in the NFL? They're both interior pass rushers in Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt, guys whose Hall of Fame busts in Canton are already being sculpted. If not for being in the shadow of an all-time great in Donald, Cox would've liked gotten way more shine in his elite days as one of the biggest forces in the game as a defensive tackle. This is the formula for this year's squad. 

Cox, on his fourth coaching era in Philadelphia since he was drafted 2012, knows what it takes to make it in this city. He spoke to the media about the young guys Davis and Williams coming into their own. 

"Milton's in his second year in the defense, his second training camp," Cox said Wednesday. "Obviously, he practiced a lot last year. He's doing a lot of things differently than he even was last year. Jordan is going to take time to adjust to the way we practice, to the way we fly around and he'll get there. We're not expecting him to get there in the next week, but we're expecting him to get there. He's the guy. They drafted him in the first round. Everyone's excited for him."

I recall, 10 years ago, the Eagles trading up in the teens to draft an uber-talented All-American defensive tackle out of the SEC. That guy was a part of a championship roster and a star player. History repeated itself this past spring. The Eagles are hoping that Davis can grab that torch from Cox as the organization looks to make another deep run. 

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