Everybody talks about Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy, but the Eagles have ridden a few other players to their 10-4 record at this point in the season. These players have flown completely under the radar, but deserve very high praise. First up is Antonio Dixon, the second year undrafted player out of the University of Miami. After surprisingly making the team last year, the 6’3″, 325 pound defensive tackle has made a huge impact on the Eagles’ stingy run defense. After injuries to Brodrick Bunkley and Stewart Bradley, reserves had to step up to make sure the run defense didn’t suffer. Dixon more than stepped up. The heaviest defensive player on the Eagles by nearly 20 pounds has been a rock anchoring a run defense that has stopped runners such as Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Chris Johnson in their tracks. His play deserves pro-bowl consideration and has brought much needed stability and consistency to a young and injury-prone unit.
When the Eagles lost all-pro fullback Leonard Weaver for the season in week 1 against the Packers, the Eagles suffered a big loss. Weaver brought great power running, a strong option in the passing game, and tough blocking to the table. Without him, the Eagles lost one of their most valuable weapons and the offense was in danger of losing a whole dimension. However, Owen Schmitt was signed in September as a free agent. A third year player out of West Virginia, Schmitt has stepped right into the offense and has been very productive. He has very underrated blocking skills and is an adequate receiver out of the backfield. He affords the Eagles even more flexibility with their stars and makes playcalling a whole lot easier for Reid and Morninwheg with his wide array of skills.
The third unsung hero for Philadelphia this season has been King Dunlap, the Eagles’ 6’9″ swing tackle. He has started four games this season, and has been effective on both sides. He has not played great by any stretch of the imagination, but he has been good enough. He has been called upon more than anybody had hoped for, but he has done just enough to keep Michael Vick alive and well. In fact, he handled John Abraham against the Falcons, keeping the less mobile Kevin Kolb on his feet and comfortable en route to an Eagle victory. After Winston Justice gave up six sacks a few years ago coming off the bench, Eagles fans hold their breath when a starting tackle goes down. Dunlap certainly has not performed perfectly, but he has avoided a disaster. That’s all the coaches can ask of him.
Dimitri Patterson did not expect to see much playing time this season, but after a flurry of injuries in the defensive backfield, he was forced to start at right corner. He has been targeted a lot, but for the most part has played very well. He is easily the best tackling corner the Eagles have and maybe one of the best in the league. He has great anticipation skills as well and is capable of creating turnovers. He does lack deep speed, and therefore he can be torched on the deep ball. Still, he has exceeded everybody’s expectations. Kurt Coleman is another defensive back who has been a pleasant surprise when he was forced into a starting role. A rookie seventh round pick isn’t supposed to make the team let alone start, but Coleman has held his own when he has been thrown into the fire. The final unsung hero is Moise Fokou, 2009’s seventh round pick. He was inserted into the starting lineup after guys like Akeem Jordan proved to be thoroughly ineffective. Like Antonio Dixon, he has helped this run defense emerge as a top 10 unit and has played sound, fundamental football.
David Akers is the only Eagle to have completed ten or more NFL seasons, and with so much youth (24 players are still in their first three years on the team), the Eagles will need their young guns to grow up fast and contribute. If they do, the Eagles should be a very competitive team into future years.