On the surface, at least, it was business as usual Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. One day after the Eagles placed defensive tackle Malik Jackson on injured reserve with a likely season-ending foot injury, his replacement, Akeem Spence, reported for his first day of work.
The good news is Spence has a lot of experience. He’s a seven-year veteran with 57 career starts.
The bad news is that while Spence technically plays the same position as Jackson, their skills are very different. So he’s not really replacing Jackson.
Jackson’s specialty is pass-rushing. He had 28½ sacks with Denver and Jacksonville from 2013 through 2017. The Eagles were anticipating his making beautiful music inside with All-Pro Fletcher Cox, who had 10½ sacks last season.
Spence is basically a run-stopper. A serviceable one, yes. But he’s not going to be putting many quarterbacks on the ground this season, which is what Jim Schwartz’s defense is all about. Spence has just 10½ career sacks. He’s never had more than three in a season.
The Eagles are hoping Tim Jernigan can step up and play at least as well as he did in 2017, when he started 15 games alongside Cox during their Super Bowl run.
Jernigan has had a wild ride since then. He signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension with the Eagles that offseason, suffered a serious neck disk injury that kept him out of all but three regular-season games last season, was released in March because he was due to make $11 million, and was re-signed in May for five cents on the dollar after the Eagles signed Jackson.
Jernigan had the Eagles’ one and only quarterback sack in the 32-27 come-from-behind win over Washington on Sunday.
“I’m excited for Timmy,’’ Cox said Wednesday. “He was real excited when he got that sack.
“I’ve played a lot of ball with Timmy. We know each other. I’m looking forward to playing more with him. It [stinks] for Malik because we had a pretty good rotation going.’’
Jernigan wasn’t in the locker room Wednesday during the Eagles’ 45-minute media availability.
One of the main reasons Jackson signed with the Eagles, besides the $17 million in guaranteed money the team gave him, was the opportunity to play next to Cox.
“I feel real bad for him,’’ said Cox, who suffered a major foot injury himself in the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Saints last January and started fully practicing only last week, which explains why he played only 44 of 67 snaps against Washington.
“He wanted to go out and prove to the league that he could still dominate, and that what happened in Jacksonville last year [when he had just 3½ sacks and was benched] wasn’t him,’’ Cox said.
“He wanted to prove to all the critics that he could still play, and I was excited for him.’’
With Jackson out, and Spence and the Eagles’ other tackle, Hassan Ridgeway, not really guys you want to use regularly on passing downs, Schwartz is going to have to get creative again.
Which almost certainly means bumping defensive ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry inside on occasion, much like he did last year with Graham and Michael Bennett.
“I don’t know,’’ Graham said. “We’ll see. [Thursday] is third-down day, so we’ll see how they want to do that.’’
The obvious downside to moving ends inside is the risk of wearing them down. With that in mind, don’t be surprised to start seeing the Eagles include five edge-rushers on their 46-man game day roster.
“Things definitely change [without Jackson],’’ Curry said. “He’s a great player. The things he brings to our D-line, it’s awesome. It’s tough that we have to play without him.
“But Timmy, at the end of the day, we won a championship with this group, with him out there. He’s excited for the challenge. He’s going to make the most of his opportunity.’’
Curry has spent a significant chunk of his career playing inside in nickel situations. Bill Davis, who was Chip Kelly’s defensive coordinator, moved him inside on passing downs. Curry had a career-high nine sacks in 2014 under Davis.
“Whatever coach needs me to do,’’ Curry said. “I’m ready to do it. I come to work ready to bust heads every day.’’
Before Jackson’s injury, Schwartz had planned to primarily stick with two-and-two packages, which is two ends and two tackles. But he’s had success using three ends in sub-packages. Graham’s game-saving strip-sack of Tom Brady late in Super Bowl LII, probably the biggest quarterback sack in franchise history, came with Graham lining up inside.