Three teams in the NFCE essentially have an extra rookie defensive lineman this season. The Redskins have 2011 2nd round pick Jarvis Jenkins, the Giants have 2011 2nd round pick Marvin Austin, and the Eagles have 2011 undrafted free agent Cedric Thornton. Jenkins tore his ACL last August, but has since been cleared to return to football. Austin tore a pectoral muscle, also in August, and was lost for the season. He too has been cleared “to do everything.” Thornton, meanwhile, was able-bodied, but with a deep and talented DL in place, he spent the season “redshirting” on the practice squad. (He was active for 3 games last season, but didn’t see any defensive snaps). According to Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz, a team out there tried to sign Thornton away from the Eagles to their active roster, but the Eagles gave him a new deal to stay.
Here’s what I wrote about Thornton when I did the Eagles’ pre-draft depth chart:
One spot that would make a lot of sense in the first round of the draft is UT position, or the “under tackle” position in the Eagles’ Wide 9. The two DT positions in the Eagles defense, the UT and the NT, are different. The Eagles like to line up the NT in the gap between the C and the G. It’s his job to shoot that gap and try to command a double team. The Eagles go three deep at NT: Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, and Derek Landri. The UT, meanwhile, typically lines up on the outside shoulder of the other G. The idea is for the UT to get one-on-one matchups with the G, while also forcing one-on-one matchups with the DE on the OT on that same side. You want your UT to have some good pass rushing ability. That’s the position that Cullen Jenkins plays. Behind Jenkins, the Eagles are thin at the UT spot, and they could use a long term answer there to develop before it’s too late and they have to send the 31 year old Jenkins to the glue factory. Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox would be perfect in that role.
Note that on my depth chart Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton are listed under both DT positions. They could both probably play either spot, but I think that they’re both better suited to play NT. If the Eagles draft a DT, they’ll probably have to cut either Landri or Thornton, and I don’t think it’s a no-brainer that Thornton would be the odd man out. Landri was fantastic last year, but if the training camp battle is close, Thornton is 5 years younger, and let’s not forget… Landri didn’t make the initial 53-man roster in 2011 and the team was very slow to re-sign him this offseason.
I had a chance to speak with Thornton a couple days ago. The highlights of that conversation:
- He had apparently been picking up trash all day with Jaiquawn Jarrett and Antonio Dixon for Earth Day.
- He thinks he can play either DT position, but noted that he prefers the left side. The left side is typically where you’ll find Cullen Jenkins in the Eagles’ D, which tells me he likes the UT spot better.
- His agent had told him he’d likely be drafted in the middle rounds. (Ed note: It is believed he slipped due to character concerns – he was suspended for 2 games in his Senior season for violating team rules. ESPN had him rated as the 3rd best available undrafted free agent after the 2011 draft.)
- After the draft last season, Thornton told his agent that he wanted to play in Philly. He had been a Tennessee Titans fan, and wanted to play for Jim Washburn. As luck would have it, once teams were allowed to begin signing undrafted free agents, Washburn happened to be the first coach to call him.
- Washburn pulled a little bait-and-switch on Thornton… sort of. Washburn was apparently very cool, calm and collected on the phone, but Thornton had no idea that he was a lunatic screamer (my words, not Cedric’s) on the football field. Thornton was quick to note though that he likes Washburn’s style in that when you do bad, you get screamed at, but when you do good, you get hugs.
- Thornton was a DE in college at Southern Arkansas. He said he led the nation in TFL’s in 2009. (I looked it up, and he had a very impressive 23 of them, and 8.5 sacks). He said that he has been working on developing a repertoire of inside pass rush moves, whereas last season during camp he felt like he really only knew how to bull rush.
At the very least, he’s a player to keep a close eye on in camp. If he has truly developed a nice compliment of interior pass rushing moves, he could stick. If he doesn’t make the roster, it’s highly likely he’ll make it somewhere else in the NFL.