Good morning, Inquirer readers! It took only one game for the Eagles to lose a starter. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after suffering a Lisfranc foot sprain in the season opener. He is likely done for the season. The Eagles signed defensive tackle Akeem Spence on Tuesday to take Jackson’s roster spot, but Tim Jernigan will likely step up into the vacant starting position. I’ll have more on what to expect out of Spence below.
The 1-0 Eagles begin their preparations for the Falcons in Week 2 with Wednesday’s practice. It will be their first road game of the season and they’ll likely do some work indoors with simulated crowd noise to prepare for Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta got smoked by the Vikings in their opener, 28-12, but the Eagles can’t sleep on Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and company, especially away from home.
— Jeff McLane (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Eagles had several options when deciding how to replace Malik Jackson on the roster. They could have simply signed Bruce Hector off the practice squad. They could have figured they had enough defensive ends who could play inside and signed a veteran edge rusher like Chris Long or Connor Barwin. They could have traded for a defensive tackle, however unlikely that might have been at this point in the season.
Or they could have done what they ended up doing, which is sign a defensive tackle with experience off the street. Akeem Spence has six years of NFL experience. He’s played in 88 games and started in 57 of them. He last played for the Dolphins and was in their camp before getting released last month. He started all 16 games for Miami last season and recorded 2 sacks, 42 tackles, 9 quarterback hits and 6 tackles for losses.
He’s not a stiff. But he’s also not the caliber of pass rusher that Jackson was/is. While Jackson was built like a hybrid, the 6-foot-1, 303-pound Spence is a strictly inside guy. He’s played in 4-3 schemes and has some rush abilities, but he isn’t going to command extra attention and free up Fletcher Cox from double teams.
Spence grew up in Florida and played college football at Illinois. He played alongside all-American Corey Liuget for a season. He declared for the NFL draft after his redshirt junior season and was selected by the Buccaneers in the fourth round. He played alongside another Pro Bowl three-technique player in Gerald McCoy, but started only part-time.
After four seasons in Tampa, he signed with the Lions as a free agent. He notched 3 sacks, 39 tackles, 9 hits and 4 tackles for loss in Detroit in 2017, but left for the Dolphins the following year.
In 2014, Spence was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession and the NFL suspended him for one game. He was one of several Dolphins who participated in the protest against social injustice during the national anthem in 2017.
The loss of Jackson will affect how defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz utilizes his defensive line. He had some flexibility with Jackson and, for instance, rushed him at end with Brandon Graham at tackle on several occasions Sunday. But we may see more of Graham and Vinny Curry inside on passing downs. Jernigan, even though he recorded a sack Sunday, isn’t a rush specialist.
Spence will be given time to get caught up to speed, which will increase snaps for Jernigan and reserve defensive tackle Hasaan Ridgeway, but he will eventually be tossed into the mix.
The Eagles were stressed at defensive tackle last season with Jernigan’s neck injury and the relative ineffectiveness of Haloti Ngata. Jackson, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract in March, was supposed to solve some of those issues. But now he’s gone and likely for the year.