Many of us did not see it coming… but Cedric Thornton is about to explode upon the scene as a winner in the Defensive Tackle sweepstakes to make this Eagles team as a regular roster member…
The second-year defensive tackle out of Division II Southern Arkansas is going to be tough to keep off the field judging by his training camp. Bob Grotz of DelcoTimes.com, who was there, summed it up better than anyone…
“Thornton played the preseason opener the way he practiced at Lehigh University. The effort was overlooked largely because the first-team defense was unable to get off the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
“Rotating in for three quarters, Thornton produced four tackles, including two for loss, and a sack. If the Eagles made their cuts today, he would make the team for the third time.”
Last summer undrafted rookie Thornton was the 53rd Eagle after the last major cut. However, rookie guard Danny Watkins wasn’t ready to start, then offensive lineman Winston Justice was hurt and the Eagles signed guard Kyle DeVan, whoM offensive line guru Howard Mudd coached at Indianapolis. To make room for DeVan, possibly the worst blocker to play for Andy Reid, the Eagles let Thornton go.
“I went through the celebration of making the roster,” said Thornton, whose mother and father are Baptist ministers. “The next day they got an offensive lineman. They told me to stay where I was and they put me on the practice squad. I was released but you can’t take the feeling away. I definitely made the team. And I was excited about that.”
Thornton learned defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s system on the practice squad and with three games remaining, was promoted to the 53-man roster. Thornton didn’t get on the field. His hard work didn’t go unnoticed, though.
Thornton has a team nickname— “Swamp Thing”…
Haha! Our regular poster Fields69 and of course movie buff PPW will love this—Thornton got the nickname “Swamp Thing,” a play on a muscular-looking cartoon character created when a scientist gets burned with a chemical trying to fend off a hit, then dives into the swamp. A quick glance at the 6-4, 300-pound Thornton, who turned the weight room into his home away from home, and the cartoon trailer and, well, the physiques aren’t all that different.
“They’ve been calling me ‘Swamp Thing’ ever since last year,” Thornton said. “I just took the name and ran with it.”
“I guess they’re trying to say I’m strong.”
Thornton might be the strongest defensive linemen in a group full of muscle men, from rookie first-round pick Fletcher Cox, veteran tackles Cullen Jenkins, Antonio Dixon and Mike Patterson to defensive end Trent Cole.The Eagles likely will start the season with Cole and Jason Babin at the ends, Jenkins and veteran Derek Landri inside and Patterson, recovering from brain surgery, on the physically unable to perform list.
Thornton is the third-best tackle and if he stays healthy, a lock to stick around.
Defensive end Brandon Graham helped himself with a sack against the Steelers, as did end Phillip Hunt, who had two sacks. Rookie end Vinny Curry, the second-round pick, is going to make the team. If the Eagles keep four tackles and Patterson, veteran end Darryl Tapp or Hunt will have to go. And the Eagles don’t want to do that.
“That’s going to be one of the positions that is tough,” Reid said. “I tell the players all the time to make it tough. Make it tough for (general manager Howie Roseman) and me to make a decision. It’s a great problem to have but that’s not sorted out yet. That’s not going to be an easy thing.”
Thornton has shown he’s strong enough to take on double-teams, a must for anyone playing in Washburn’s scheme. Thornton isn’t at all intimidated by the competition.
“It’s not a threat,” Thornton said. “It’s just something that pushes me and makes me elevate my game to the next level. I just try to take advantage as much as I can by watching the vets like Cullen, and Dixon and Landri. And it’s been paying off.”
Here’s a look at some of the other positions that have yet to be decided and the players involved.
1. Left tackle — The Eagles used to be set with five-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters. But Peters is out for at least half the season after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in the offseason. Now the position is so unsettled that the running joke at camp Monday was that the Eagles were considering asking former standout Tra Thomas, who is signing a ceremonial, one-day contract to retire as an Eagle today, to play one more year.
The Eagles signed free-agent Demetress Bell to be Peters’ stand-in, but he has since been demoted in favor of King Dunlap. If Dunlap doesn’t impress, the Eagles may be forced to reconfigure their line to give rookie Dennis Kelly a chance at one of the tackle spots.
“I was in the exact same situation as Demetress last year as far as trying to learn a new system,” Dunlap said Monday. “I told Demetress the other day that it was going to take some getting used to, but he’ll be fine.”
2. Punter — The Eagles evidently weren’t too pleased with Chas Henry’s rookie season in 2011, since they signed free-agent Mat McBriar to challenge him. McBriar, a former Pro Bowler, should win the job if he can prove he’s fully recovered from the foot injury that severely hampered his performance for Dallas last season and prompted the Cowboys not to re-sign him. McBriar had the better preseason game against Pittsburgh, averaging 42.3 yards per punt to Henry’s 37.8. But Henry showed his leg strength by booming a 54-yard kick and placing two punts inside the 20-yard line.
“Chas had a really solid rookie year,” McBriar said last week. “It’s great to have competition. I welcome it and I think that we’ll both get better. At the end of the day, we’ll see what direction the team wants to go in.”
[Sidenote— Henry is incumbent PK holder for Alex Henery… Do we really want to mess with that comfort zone skill set?]
3. Outside linebacker — Rookie Mychal Kendricks already is entrenched as the starting strongside linebacker, but Brian Rolle is facing a challenge from Jamar Chaney for the weakside spot. Rolle entered camp as the starter, but has only been so-so. Chaney, who was last season’s starting middle linebacker for most of the year, earned increased playing time before suffering a strained hamstring last week that has slowed his progress. The unique part of this duel is that Rolle and Chaney are related. They are distant cousins, along with former Galloway Township resident Myron Rolle, who is now a safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“My main goal has always been to make it hard for the coaches to keep me off the field,” Chaney said last week. “I always go out there with a lot of confidence and so does Brian. We’re best friends off the field and we’re competitors on the field. There’s nothing but love between us.”
4. Backup defensive line — The Eagles have a lot of depth at both defensive tackle and defensive end, meaning some talented players will be cut after the preseason.
Mike Patterson’s up-in-the-air status — he is missing the entire preseason while recovering from offseason brain surgery — could mean the Eagles keep an extra defensive tackle to join Patterson, Cullen Jenkins and rookie Fletcher Cox, the first-round draft pick. Antonio Dixon, Derek Landri, free-agent Ollie Ogbu and Cedric Thornton are the contenders for two or three spots. You already know how I feel about Cedric Thornton.
Landri has been among the most impressive players in camp and would seem to have an edge over Dixon, who is working his way back into shape after missing most of last season with a torn triceps. And sad to report, Dixon has reinjured the triceps yet again…
At Defensive End, Jason Babin and Trent Cole have missed most of training camp with injuries, giving others the opportunity to show their skills. Rookie Vinny Curry is a shoo-in to make the team, leaving Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt and Darryl Tapp to fight for one or two spots.
“I just have to come out here and work hard on focusing every day,” Hunt said last week. “I want to keep my mind focused on my technique, and be focused on every play, day in and day out. I’ll get better each day and each game, and hopefully pretty soon, I could get more reps.”
5. Backup quarterback — There is a lot of debate about who should be Michael Vick’s top backup. Mike Kafka entered camp as the No. 2 quarterback but did not play extremely well in last Thursday’s preseason opener and is sidelined for a couple of weeks with a broken left (non-passing) hand. That has given rookie Nick Foles and veteran free-agent Trent Edwards more reps. Both played well against Pittsburgh and have continued to impress this week in training camp and at NovaCare…
Foles will be the No. 2 quarterback for the next preseason game at New England on Monday. “I feel really comfortable,” Foles said last week. “Whether it’s in the cafeteria, in the dorms, or in the meeting rooms, just getting to know the guys is important so that when you’re in the huddle, they already know you and you’re all familiar. I feel really comfortable with all the guys.”