Cedric Thornton was a pleasant surprise for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After spending the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad, then the following year as a seldom-used backup, Thornton emerged as one of the league’s best run defenders. Only 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt charted better in run-stop percentage among 3-4 defensive ends, according to metrics site Pro Football Focus.
As effective as Thornton was versus the run, though, he offered next to nothing as a pass-rusher. Thornton managed to record a lone sack despite starting all 16 games in ’13.
Meanwhile, 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry finally saw his opportunities rise last year. Curry was relegated to the inactive list for the first 10 games of his NFL career due to the Eagles’ depth at the time at defensive end, and again for two games last year while he was still adapting to the 3-4. Yet once he finally got into some games, Curry turned out to be one of the most productive pass-rushers per snap in the league, again behind only Watt according to PFF (minimum 25 percent snaps played).
Curry’s skill set is still probably best suited as a pure edge pass-rusher in a 4-3 alignment. However, he proved he can get after the quarterback regardless of scheme.
You don’t have to put them under a microscope to reach the conclusion that, in theory at least, Thornton and Curry are a perfect tandem. If the early depth chart at training camp serves as any indication, there could be more of a rotation at left defensive end than there was the previous year.
As Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf for PhiladelphiaEagles.com observed, Curry would sub in for Thornton in the Birds’ nickel package during Monday’s practice at the Linc. Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com adds that Curry is under the impression it’s a full-blown competition there.
Curry wound up lining up for around 30 percent of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps last season, finishing with four sacks—tied for second on the team. However, he was flip-flopping between both ends, relieving Fletcher Cox on the right side a fair amount of time as well. The Eagles might be better served by simplifying things for Curry and giving him one responsibility.
Curry should naturally improve with a second year in an unfamiliar scheme. He’s expecting big things out of himself, anyway, as he tells Joseph Santoliquito for CBS Philly.
“I see myself helping my team out the best way I can, and that’s pushing myself to the limit,” Curry said. “The things I did last year were to give us a little spark. This year, I’m going to have a chance to provide more of that spark. I want to take my energy level that much higher. I want to be the kind of player the fans talk about when they leave the Linc and they’re talking about our team.”
Curry has the potential to have a breakthrough season in ’13. Hey may be ideally suited for the 4-3, but he’s up to 6’3”, 279 pounds with a tremendous first step, so it’s not a question of size or athleticism. It may only be a matter of opportunity now, and it looks like is about to finally come his way.