About 20 minutes after Tuesday’s practice, Antonio Dixon slouched in the folding chair at his locker, gazing into his uncertain future.
In one vision, Dixon pictured another season of rotating in and out of the Eagles’ defensive line, smothering ball carriers and occasionally showing off his improved pass rush.
In another, he’s playing somewhere else, jettisoned to who-knows-where as the team makes its final roster decisions.
“There’s a lot of good players here,” Dixon said “That’s obviously why I’m in the predicament I’m in, because it’s a pretty good team. We’re stacked on the D-line.”
Reality is settling in for the fourth-year veteran who arrived in 2009 as a rookie free agent cut loose by the Redskins and claimed quickly off waivers by the Eagles. A stout, 322-pound defensive tackle with better-than-average quickness and lateral movement, Dixon quickly carved his niche in the team’s run defense. By 2010, he started 10 games in place of an injured Brodrick Bunkley.
But then came a dramatic scheme change introduced in 2011 by new defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who prioritized speed over size and made sacking quarterbacks the top priority for every lineman, tackle or end.
Then came a torn triceps injury last October that cut short Dixon’s season after four games.
Then came first-round pick Fletcher Cox, a defensive tackle with tremendous burst off scrimmage, and the emergence of second-year tackle Cedric Thornton, another high-upside prospect who is custom made for Washburn’s scheme.
On Tuesday, head coach Andy Reid said the front-office phones are ringing off the hook, and you have to wonder if trade talk at the NovaCare Complex centers on Dixon and Darryl Tapp, another lineman who could become casualty of the numbers game.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” admitted Dixon, who will play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Jets. “I just found out today. I just know that I’ve got to go out and play my best, and if they don’t keep me I’ve just got to try to go somewhere else.”
All NFL teams must trim their rosters to 53 by Friday evening. Even with defensive tackle Mike Patterson ineligible to play until Week 6 at the earliest, the Eagles have 11 other linemen -- six ends, five tackles -- jockeying for snaps or jobs.
It’s possible the Eagles keep them all and go thin at another position, but it’s also possible that Dixon and Tapp are victims of the youth movement.
Dixon, who’s had a rough camp at times, admitted that he has no clue right now where he stands.
“I don’t know, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It’s kind of hard right now.”
Asked if he’d be surprised to be headed for the exit Friday night, Dixon shook his head.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.