It was recently announced that Eagles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has undergone back surgery to fix a herniated disk. The surgery is estimated to put him out of action anywhere from four to six months. Jernigan was brought over to Philadelphia last season through a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. The fifth-year lineman immediately produced for the Eagles, starting 15 games with 29 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. Alongside Fletcher Cox, Jernigan helped to anchor the middle of the defensive line on the way to the first Super Bowl win in Eagles franchise history.
While injuries are part of the game, the Eagles still hope that they can get Jernigan back in time for the start of the regular season. However, for the time being, a new opening has presented itself for some of the other members of the Eagles defense.
Heading into the 2018 season, the Eagles still boast one of the deepest defensive lines in the league. It is that same depth that led the Eagles to clinching the top-seed in the NFC during the regular season, and ultimately a Super Bowl Championship. However, while they lost some key players such as Beau Allen and Vinny Curry thrugh free agency, they were able to bring in veterans Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata.
As the regular season approaches, both Ngata and Bennett will be relied upon heavily to fill in for the Jernigan’s absence. While Bennett has been an edge rusher for most of his career, he is versatile enough to play on the inside when needed. However, while Ngata has played as a defensive end for the last couple seasons, in his prime he was one of the top run-stopping interior linemen in the NFL. While the Eagles certainly hope that Ngata will be able to have a career resurgence, it is their younger talent that will be asked to take on most of the newly available snaps.
Behind Cox and Jernigan on the depth chart, the Eagles are relatively thin at defensive tackle. In addition to Bennett and Ngata, the team will be relying on second and third-year players Elijah Qualls and Destiny Vaeao to help fill in. Qualls was selected in the sixth-round of the 2017 NFL draft, and although he was able to make the final 53-man roster, he saw limited playing time during the season. On the other hand, Vaeao came to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2016 where he played in all 16 games. However, in 2017, Vaeao played in only 11 games, recording just ten total tackles. In addition, younger pass rushers such as Derek Barnett and rookie Josh Sweat will also be looking to fill in wherever they can.
With Timmy Jernigan potentially out of action for the regular season opener, the Eagles will have to find a way to make up for his presence. However, through excellent drafting and the acquisition of veteran players, the Eagles look poised to step up to the challenge.