When the Eagles take the practice field later today as they begin to prepare for Sunday Night Football, there will be a noticeable difference on defense.
Malik Jackson won’t be there. Akeem Spence will.
Jackson is purportedly out for the rest of the season with a Lisfranc injury, ending his first season with the Eagles far too early. Spence, who agreed to terms with the Eagles on Tuesday, has replaced him on the roster.
Spence, 27, isn’t going to simply replace Jackson, but he’ll help the Eagles’ depth at the position.
Doug Pederson thinks it’s realistic for Spence to play Sunday night in Atlanta.
“I think so,” Pederson said. “Coach (Phillip) Daniels will get him coached up with what he needs to know and it’s realistic.”
Last year, the Eagles added defensive end Daeshon Hall on Dec. 11 and he played nine snaps on Dec. 16, so there’s a precedent here as well.
When asked if the Eagles thought about possibly trying to bring back Chris Long from retirement, Pederson said they were looking specifically at defensive tackles. He said they have enough defensive ends. This is worth noting because the main reason Long’s snaps were set to decrease so much in 2018 was Jackson’s presence as a third-down pass rusher.
Spence (6-1, 303) is in his seventh NFL season, but is now with his fourth team in four years. Last year, Spence played for then-Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke in Miami. Burke is now a defensive assistant under Jim Schwartz and Pederson brought up that connection unprompted on Wednesday morning.
So what are the Eagles getting in Spence?
“He’s a big guy, physical,” Pederson said. “Matt Burke was with him in Miami. [Spence] can be disruptive. He definitely fills the need we have there at that open spot. He’ll give us some really good minutes as a fourth tackle. But we’ll get him out of the field today, get him caught up, see how he moves around and fits in with the scheme.”
Spence will join Hassan Ridgeway as depth pieces for this defense, but Tim Jernigan is now expected to start. Jernigan appears to be fully healthy after returning from that serious back injury in 2018, but Pederson noted they’re still going to be “cautious” with him. Jernigan played just 25 snaps (37 percent) on Sunday, but will probably need to play more going forward.
Having Ridgeway and Spence backing him up should help too.
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