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Washburn faces tough decisions

When full-team OTAs get under way next week, we'll start to get a sense of how the pieces fit along the Eagles' defensive line.

Jim Washburn's group returns nine players, if you count Brandon Graham and Antonio Dixon, both of whom missed most of last season with injuries. Others who will be back: Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Phillip Hunt, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Mike Patterson, and Darryl Tapp.

They also added Fletcher Cox in the first round and Vinny Curry in the second. If you count defensive tackle Cedric Thornton, who spent most of 2011 on the practice squad, that's 12 guys likely fighting for 10 spots.

Of course, it's not as simple as just cutting two. We still have about three months to get through, which could bring injuries or even trades.

Having said that, let's take a look at production from last season. The first table shows overall sacks and hurries. Note that hurries are tracked by the team.

Note that I didn't include Dixon, Graham or Thornton in the table. Dixon had no sacks and one hurry in four games (42 pass-rushing opportunities). Graham had no sacks and one hurry in three games (28 pass-rushing opportunities). Thornton was not active on gameday.

After signing on for a second tour of duty with the Birds, Babin led the team with 18 sacks and 48 hurries. I'll save some of you the trouble of posting in the comments that he's not great against the run, but the bottom line is Babin was brought here to rush the passer, and he did that at a high level last season.

Cole finished second in both categories with 11 sacks and 42 hurries. And as I pointed out recently, he finished strong with five sacks and 14 hurries in the final four games.

On the interior, Jenkins led the way with 5.5 sacks and 24 hurries. Patterson and Landri also contributed.

As always, it's good to look at opportunities. In the next table, the first column is sacks per pass-rushing opportunity; the second is hurries per pass-rushing opportunity; and the third is sacks PLUS hurries per pass-rushing opportunity.

Thanks to Pro Football Focus for tracking total numbers of chances for each player.

Babin's numbers were not really padded just by having more pass-rushing opportunities than the other defensive linemen. He had the highest sack percentage and overall percentage on the team.

Landri was more productive as a pass rusher than he's given credit for. He'll likely have to battle Dixon and Thornton for playing time (and a roster spot?).

A couple other guys stand out here: Tapp and Hunt. They could be fighting one another for a roster spot, but both show why it's important to look at more than just sacks. Tapp's overall pass-rushing numbers were very good, even though he only totaled 2.5 sacks. He also missed four games because of injury.

Hunt played in nine games and only had two sacks, but his overall pass-rushing numbers were good too.

With Cole and Babin in place as the starters, Curry, Graham, Tapp and Hunt will compete to be a part of the rotation. Tapp and Hunt could be battling for one roster spot. Tapp is 27 and signed through 2012, while Hunt is 26 and signed through 2013. Keep in mind that the fifth defensive end is unlikely to be active on gamedays.

Andy Reid and Howie Roseman have given Washburn plenty of talent to work with. If everyone stays relatively healthy, he'll have to decide this summer which players fit the best in his eight-man rotation.

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