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Sorting Out Starters, Contributors on the Eagles Defense

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Sorting Out Starters, Contributors on the Eagles Defense

ASSOCIATED PRESS

You can say that again. Trevor Laws celebrates after sacking David Garrard during the first half -- one of six sacks to complement eight passes deflected and 11 quarterback hits.

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Defense is an area where the Eagles, both under the late Jim Johnson and second-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, like to rotate players. Often the depth on the defensive line is as important as the starters, given how many substitutions the Eagles make in any given game.

Yet there are essentially four types of defensive players -- full-time starters, contributors who play most of the time, situational players and backups. The fabulous data compiled by Pro Football Focus can give us a better read on those divisions as they shake out in the early part of the season.

Let's dive into the numbers...

Full-time (80 percent or more of defensive snaps): Quintin Mikell, Nate Allen, Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Trent Cole, Ernie Sims and Stewart Bradley

These seven players, including the entire defensive backfield, form the unit's backbone. Unless they're injured or need a quick breather, they never come off the field.

Also, want to win money from your friends? Bet them that they can't name the only Eagles player to be in on every defensive snap. You'd never guess it was rookie safety Nate Allen.

Major Contributors (50 to 80 percent): Brandon Graham, Joselio Hanson and Trevor Laws

Graham played in 81 percent of snaps in Week 1, but with better backup play over the last two weeks, he's found the field about 60 percent of the time instead.

Laws is a pleasant surprise this year. While some thought he might be cut in the off-season, he's earned himself more playing time than even the starters at tackle. Finally, Hanson's increased playing time shows just how intrinsic that nickel corner is in today's NFL.

Situational Contributors (25 to 50 percent): Mike Patterson, Akeem Jordan, Broderick Bunkley, Juqua Parker, Antonio Dixon and Darryl Tapp/Antwan Barnes

Only three times last season did either Patterson or Bunkley play in less than 50 percent of the defensive snaps. Yet in all three of this year's early games, one or both of the starting duo played less than half the time -- their repetitions dwindling further with each game.

Parker has seen a sort of renaissance as a situational pass rusher, and has become a huge contributor in that effort. I'll talk more about his resurgence later.

Strongside linebacker Jordan plays on three-quarters of rushing plays, but only a third of passes. He's generally replaced by Hanson in passing situations. Meanwhile, Barnes got a lot of pass rushing opportunities in the first two games, then was inactive last week in favor of Tapp, who saw the field for the first time. Tough to tell what their roles are going forward. Dixon is a backup, mostly for passing downs.

Backups (25 percent or less): Omar Gaither, Dimitri Patterson, Kurt Coleman, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou and Jorrick Calvin

These guys aren't getting on the field unless there's an injury or the game is getting out of hand.

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