REMEMBER John Randle? He has been out of the game for a few seasons now, but Randle was one of the NFL's great defensive tackles of the last 25 years. More than that, he was an outrageous character - face-painting, trash-talking, Favre-chasing, certifiable.

Randle was Trevor Laws' favorite player.

"When I came up, I was a big John Randle fan," said Laws, the Eagles' top draft choice in 2008, a second-round defensive tackle out of Notre Dame.

"I just loved the way he played, loved his attitude for the game," he said. "Just a smaller d-tackle out there, making big plays. I always tried to be like him . . . I'm not a huge one, I know that. I'm not small, but there are definitely bigger guys out there."

The yelling? The trash-talking?

"There's no one that's like him," Laws said. "But I get hyped up out there. I have fun out on the field . . . I can't just tell you right now. You'd have to take a microphone out there on the field."

The face paint?

"I used to put it on, all through high school," Laws said. "But I stopped - it got all sweaty and stuff."

Growing up in suburban Minneapolis when Randle was making his reputation with the Vikings, it makes sense that Laws would be impressed. Years later, after everything, it still makes sense. And if Laws turns out to be even half the pass rusher Randle was - his 137 1/2 career sacks are the most ever by an NFL defensive tackle - the Eagles will have found a key piece in their defensive resurgence.

Pressure up the middle remains the missing element on their defense. If you look back at the numbers the last few years, it is the lack of sacks from the tackles that really stands out.

Back in his day, Randle routinely used to get double-digit sacks in a season. It happened year after year after year. It is a much harder feat today, given that offensive holding is pretty much legal anymore. Especially in the interior line, the offensive guys have all of the advantages. As long as they can keep their hands inside your frame, they can grab on to anything.

So the standard is different. You cannot judge guys like Mike Patterson or Brodrick Bunkley simply on sack totals. They're both good players. Patterson is just ultrasolid, and Bunkley improved a lot in his sophomore season (after pretty much kicking away his first year). They're pros.

But the Eagles need more. It's all about the push up the middle. It's about collapsing the pocket and making the quarterback move his feet. You don't get a sack for that, and you don't get a hurry for that, but a consistent wallop up the middle will command the occasional double-team (freeing up ends and blitzers) or force the quarterback out of his comfort zone (and maybe into the arms of an end or a blitzer).

Laws will get his chance to commence walloping this season. He will be in the tackle rotation - because that is the other difference between these times in the NFL and when Randle started in the early '90s, the rotation thing. The way Laws figures it, the starters will play 60-something percent of the time, leaving 30-something percent for the guys behind them. He seems determined to get his share.

Laws is an interesting guy, with a lot of personality. He weathered the disaster that was last year's Notre Dame season - he said he pretty much spiked his laptop to keep from fixating on the haters. He relaxes sometimes by cooking, especially grilling, and says he regularly watches the Food Network.

A favorite? "It's got to be Bobby Flay," Laws said.

His hair is long and styled in dreadlocks. The NFL's recent debate on long hair - the subject has been tabled for now by the owners - has obviously caught his attention.

"I've been looking - I haven't been liking," Laws said, laughing. "But it doesn't matter - if I have to trim it up a little bit, it's no big deal. I buzzed it as a sophomore and I haven't touched it since."

None of that matters, of course - not the hair or the personality or the face paint of yore. The statement Trevor Laws needs to make for the Eagles is on the field - and, ideally, in the opposing backfield. *

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