Last year, Vinny Curry said he ate everything under the sun.
He was moving from an edge pass rusher to a two-gap end in a 3-4, and was trying to bulk up in order to handle double teams in the trenches. He felt slower and sluggish and joked with reporters that his gut reached “from here to your microphone.”
His weight is down just a notch this season (he currently weighs in at 277 pounds) but looks leaner and more well proportioned. As we saw on Friday in Chicago -- like when he recorded the team's lone sack on the night -- Curry is explosive off the ball and can get in the backfield quicker than any of his line mates. He has been steadily building a case for why he should be featured more prominently in Billy Davis' attack.
While there is a chance that happens, the reality is that Curry may never be granted anything more than a specialty role in this system.
"Vinny Curry has a great pass-rush skill set. And you see that every time he's in there. When we're out of our 3-4 mentality and in our third down, Vinny's always in the back field," said Davis. "And he does that well. The two-gap part of it, he's a little undersized, but getting better, and better and better at two-gapping.
"So when you talk about Vinny and you put him in there in a four ‘I’ and ask him to take on 500 pounds of men and double team, that's not his world. When you ask Vinny to get in the gap and penetrate, that's his world. So we're trying to grow and put Vinny in the best positions for him. Then you have the whole defensive unit out there, and how it all fits together is where it gets to where you have to be creative and make sure the situation and the call match the talent and we do what they do best, and that's what Vinny does best is penetrate."
In other words, if the Eagles are in base, chances are Curry won't be on the field. (And the Eagles might be looking to stay in base more frequently this year.)
Is he OK with being a specialty pass rusher? Curry let out a loud laugh when that question was presented to him.
"Of course you want to be one of the guys, one of the lead players on the team. That's everybody. Everybody wants to be the best at what they do," said Curry.
Curry was inactive for the first two games last season before finally getting the green light against Kansas City in Week 3. He gradually started seeing more playing time as the season wore on. He played 337 of a possible 1,145 snaps on the year, or 29 percent of the time. He finished with four sacks and 11 hurries.
"A lot of patience. A lot of patience," said Curry, when asked about what goes into learning to become a two-gap player. "But I'm getting better and better at it as it was displayed this weekend. I'm still trying to better myself technique-wise, hand placement and everything. But you know, the realistic thing is those guys are 800 pounds, 600 pounds (combined). There's only so much you can do."
There's the rub. Unlike teammates such as Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan, Curry doesn't have the body type where he can bulk up to 300 pounds and carry the extra weight well. If he were that big, one of the best parts of his game -- that lighting-quick first step -- would be lost.
Curry's line coach at Marshall his freshman year was Jerry Azzinaro. Marshall ran a 3-4 scheme that season, and Curry rode the pine. Azzinaro moved on to Oregon the following year, Marshall switched to a 4-3 and Curry notched 26.5 sacks over the next three years.
He was drafted by the Eagles 59th overall in 2012 to play in Jim Washburn's Wide-9 4-3, which asked its linemen (and especially its d-ends) to race into the backfield with reckless abandon. Last season he found himself back in a 3-4, with Azzinaro as his coach once again, and had to alter his approach pretty drastically.
It's not an ideal situation for Curry but there will be opportunity for him to make an impact this season. And the third-year player knows that improving on the two-gap aspect of his game lies on his shoulders, even if they're not the perfect size for this scheme.
"It's about will and want-to at the same time. At the end of the day we're all men. Those two guys coming at you are men, you're a man, so it's all about the knock back and the perfect technique that Coach Azz is trying to preach every day. A lot of that has to do with my part as well," he said.
"My biggest thing last year was just to prove that this second-round pick ain't just no, 'Aw man, we got him and we wasted a pick.' This year is more just taking my game to the next level."