Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Bennett should transition to tackle full time

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

With Timmy Jernigan potentially out for the vast majority of the 2018 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles should shift 32-year-old Michael Bennett to defensive tackle.

In case you haven’t heard, the Philadelphia Eagles have a defensive end problem.

With three of the team’s four incumbent rushers returning from last season, as well as the addition of Michael Bennett via trade and Josh Sweat in the draft, it’s safe to say Jim Schwartz is going to have his work cut out for him to try to make sure everyone gets enough snaps while also optimizing his rotation.

For a guy like Schwartz, that’s saying something.

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Known for relying on one of the most efficient defensive line rotations in the league, with its starters typically only seeing the field about 60 percent of the snaps to remain fresh, Schwartz knows a thing or two about keeping multiple rushers happy, but at some point one of these players is bound to feel like the odd man out.

Or do they?

While the Eagles may be absolutely ripe with talent at defensive end, their defensive tackle rotation took a major hit earlier this year when it was announced that incumbents starter Timmy Jernigan would miss the first eight-to-ten games of the season due to surgery on a herniated disk in his back. This is obviously a major blow, as the Jernigan-Fletcher Cox pairing arguably produced the most potent one-two defensive tackle punch of any duo in the entire league last season, so needless to say, Philly is going to need to find an adequate replacement if the team is going to recapture the magic going into 2018.

Could that replacement be Michael Bennett?

As famously one of the most versatile rushers in the game, the Seattle Seahawks would often shift the three-time Pro Bowler inside to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs in their 4-3 defense, as well as when the team shifted into sub packages.

Bennett’s inside-out versatility sounds a lot like the player he’s replacing, 2017 starter Vinny Curry, who would often be asked to rush from inside on obvious passing downs as well, but unlike Curry, Bennett is just as lethal on the inside as he is on the outside. This, when coupled with a pretty lethal bull-rushing technique should allow Bennett to pierce through the line of scrimmage and attack the ball at the point of impact, a major tentpole of Schwartz’s attacking 4-3 scheme.

Even on obvious running downs, the Eagles defensive linemen are tasked with breaking through the line, which is why the team was among the league leaders in tackles for loss last season and finished 15th in total sacks.

Though some will be quick to point out that Bennett may not be ideally suited to defend against the run on obvious rushing downs, or in short-yardage/goal-line situations, that’s a big reason why the team also signed Haloti Ngata this offseason. Measuring in at a whopping 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, Ngata’s still one of the league’s premier run-stuffing nose tackles at the ripe old age of 34, and while he likely can’t, and doesn’t want to log starter snaps in what is most likely the final year of his career, he does provide immense value in base packages alongside Cox.

However, in 2018, it’s hard to still call the Eagles base defense a 4-3.

Last season, the Eagles lined up in a defensive subpackage a whopping 73 percent of the time, rotating out a linebacker like Mychal Kendricks or Dannell Ellerbe for a defensive back like Patrick Robinson or Corey Graham to better matchup against the also essentially base three wide receiver sets most teams typically employ. While Bennett may not be as effective as Ngata when going up against a traditional 12 man package of two tight ends two wide receivers and a running back, or even a power running play out of the I formation, he is ideally suited to play defensive tackle in the nickel, with either Long, Barnett, or Sweat on the outside opposite of Brandon Graham.

Next. Michael Bennett already looking like a steal on defense. dark

Though it may be slightly unorthodox, penciling in Bennett as the team’s second starting defensive tackle would ultimately ensure that Jim Schwartz can keep his four best linemen on the field as much as possible, and make the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line that much scarier going into 2018.