Broken down, the core of the Eagles defensive line is young and promising. With Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox on both ends, and a now heavier Bennie Logan in the middle, the front line of the team’s new 3-4 defense is starting to take shape. None of those players are older than 25.
After that, there are question marks.
Part of this has to do with the scheme. Guys like Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham — although Graham is now an outside linebacker — are not great scheme fits in the 3-4. The team also recently lost Clifton Geathers to the Redskins, though he was more of a depth piece.
While a 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker is the biggest hole in the front seven, the Eagles need some serviceable depth at the defensive end position. This is where Joe Kruger comes in to play.
Drafted in the seventh round last year by the Eagles, Kruger’s stock slipped a bit more than what it should have. Had he stayed for his senior year at Utah, he would have been a much higher pick in 2014.
He impressed during camp, but suffered a shoulder injury during the preseason and was placed on IR. This move might have helped him, though — the time away from football allowed Kruger to put on some added weight, better suiting him for the role of 3-4 defensive end.
With Geathers gone and Curry seemingly on the trade block, Kruger has the opportunity to secure a backup role for 2014.
Here’s a quick analysis of Kruger’s game, which can be found on his NFL combine profile:
STRENGTHS Very impressive size. Athletic. Long arms. Plays with power, capable of bull rushing offensive lineman back into the quarterback. Extends his arms and can keep offensive lineman off his frame. Good first step, comes off the ball well. Plays with a firm base. Flows to the football well, and is an effort player. Possesses the ability to redirect.
WEAKNESSES Plays with a high pad level too often. Pops upright off the snap and will give up leverage. Needs to add more weight. Struggles to bend as a pass rusher. Lacks counter moves, will get stuck on his block. Inconsistent hand placement.
There’s some substance to that analysis that should be exciting. Kruger has the big body (6’6″, 269) needed for a 3-4 defensive end, and the word upside seems to be tossed around a lot with him.
The Eagles appear done in free agency, so a trade for a 3-4 defensive end is an avenue worth keeping in mind. They would obviously help bolster the unit, but it might be worth letting Kruger prove himself in camp before doing anything like that. I fully expect the Eagles to draft some depth at defensive end, but Kruger’s name is one to keep an eye on.