Eagles Wake-Up Call: Defensive Line Outlook
This week we’ll continue to take a position-by-position look at where the Eagles stand going into the offseason. In the first five installments, we covered the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen and safeties. Now, it’s on to the defensive line.
STATE OF THE ROSTER
Asked during an appearance on Daniel Jeremiah’s Move the Sticks podcast to pick one defensive lineman he’d choose to build a defense around, Jim Schwartz offered a response that revealed a little bit about his overall philosophy.
“When you talk about up front, I think I’d have to go to defensive tackle as opposed to an end, because tackles are harder to take out of a game plan by an offensive coordinator,” Schwartz said. “You can chip a defensive end with a running back, you can put a tight end to that side, make him redirect. But the defensive tackle is closer to the quarterback, and he’s harder to scheme…
“That quarterback wants to set up in the pocket. They can be a factor in every single play. If the quarterback throws quick – he throws on three steps, or even some of the one-step stuff that guys do now – defensive ends can be rendered ineffective on a lot of that. It’s hard to speed rush, it’s hard to be able to affect the quarterback if he’s throwing the ball so quick. But defensive tackles are always in the fight.”
Safe to say, the opportunity for Schwartz to have Fletcher Cox as the cornerstone of his defense helped tip the scales in the Eagles’ favor when he was choosing where to coach.
Cox took a big step forward in 2015 and led the team in sacks (9.5), hurries (32) and tackles for a loss (16.5) en route to his first Pro Bowl nod. Many feel that he will crush it all the more now that he’s trading the two-gapping 3-4 scheme for an aggressive 4-3 attack.
“I like the fact that they’re moving back to a 40 front. I think that they have one of the premiere defensive tackles in the game,” said Seth Joyner. “I think the thing that Fletcher needs more than anything, he needs to be a three technique tackle. If you put him in a three technique, he’s unblockable. There’s not a single guard in the NFL that can block this guy one-on-one…I think the 40-front creates a better situation for Fletcher Cox.”
That should benefit those lining up alongside him — a list that currently includes Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin. Part of the trick will be figuring out how all the pieces fit together.
WHAT I THINK WILL HAPPEN
The Eagles just locked Curry into a five-year, $47.25 deal that averages $9.45 per season and includes $23 million in guarantees. That type of pay day signals that Curry is going to have a big role.
Joyner points out that, with Connor Barwin likely slated to play weak side defensive end, the Eagles have a bit of a crowded situation at DE.
“That kind of throws Brandon Graham in a situation where you don’t understand where he fits because you don’t sign Vinny Curry to what you signed him to and not have him be a starter. So you’ve got some decisions to make between Graham and Barwin.”
Depth may not be a bad thing, though, especially if we remember back to Jim Washburn‘s philosophy where he’d have his d-linemen go all out for a handful of plays before rotating fresh bodies in.
I can see Graham getting the nod in running downs with Curry rotating in both at end and tackle while being featured in passing downs. Plus, Curry can always rush from the inside. Logan should be able to make a relatively seamless transition to 4-3 tackle. It’s hard to have the same level of certainty when it comes to Beau Allen, who is more of a 3-4 nose. Oregon alums Brandon Bair and Taylor Hart currently remain under contract. Same for Marcus Smith, who has to prove that he can be an effective part of the DE rotation.
Cedric Thornton is scheduled to become a free agent and was non-committal about returning to Philly when talking to players at the end of the season.
Here are the top free-agent tackles and ends, according to FOX Sports’ WalterFootball.com (includes current teams and age).
1.Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets, 27)
2. Malik Jackson (Broncos, 26)
3.Damon Harrison (Jets, 27)
4.Nick Fairley (Rams, 28)
5.Ian Williams (49ers, 27)
1.Olivier Vernon (Dolphins, 25)
2. Robert Ayers (Giants, 30)
3.Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants, 27)
4.Tamba Hall (Chiefs, 32)
5.Justin Tuck (Raiders, 33)
Fairley was drafted 13th overall by the Lions in 2011 when Schwartz was the head coach, though it wasn’t the smoothest of partnerships…Mario Williams, who thrived statistically under Schwartz in Buffalo, is likely to hit the market...The Jets reportedly plan on tagging Wilkerson.
Here are the top d-line prospects in the draft, according to ESPN Scouts, Inc., including their overall ranking.
1.A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama (12)
2.Sheldon Rankins, Louisville (7)
3.Jarran Reed, Alabama (16)
4.Robert Knemdiche, Mississippi (19)
5.Andrew Billings, Baylor (24)
1.Joey Bosa, Ohio State (1)
2.DeForest Buckner, Oregon (6)
3.Shaq Lawson, Clemson (21)
4.Kevin Dodd, Clemson (30)
5.Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State (42)
WHAT YOU MISSED
“These are battles that they’re not going to win.” Seth Joyner on the Wide 9 and the linebackers that will be playing behind it.
Ruminating on the safety position heading into the offseason. Will Walter Thurmond return?
Beginning our combine prep with an eye towards the best available O-linemen in the draft.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Given the Eagles’ history with the franchise tag, writes the Daily News’ Les Bowen, they probably shouldn’t slap it on Sam Bradford.
The Eagles franchised quarterback Michael Vick in 2011, when it was hard to place a long-term value on a QB who’d managed an amazing comeback season in 2010, after going to prison in 2007. Vick said he was fine with the tag but signed a longer-term deal before the season started.
The next year was DeSean Jackson‘s turn for the tag, but the designation lasted just 13 days before Jackson was signed to the five-year contract he had sought. Jackson was less than thrilled with his deal by the end of the 2013 season, after which he was released.
So, five times the franchise tag has been applied to an Eagle, and in none of those instances did the relationship flourish. Vick is the only tagged Eagle to play more than a season for the Birds after being designated.
So, maybe not tagging Bradford will work out better, for him and for the Eagles, even though it will lead to a lot of short-term uncertainty at the game’s most important position.
CSN Philadelphia’s Reuben Frank writes on people who have influenced Doug Pederson, including good old Andy Reid.
“He’s so detail-oriented and fundamentals-oriented and obviously it made us all better as quarterbacks. It made Favre better. Teaching us the progression of plays. Then coming to Philadelphia and he brought me in as his quarterback. Nothing changed. He was still teaching fundamentals and details. That’s his teaching background.
“And it wasn’t about the plays. Obviously, we learned the plays. But how to detail your route, how to detail your eyes, how to focus on this aspect of that particular play. Just be who you are. Don’t try to be Brett Favre. Be who you are. And that’s going to be good enough.
“And he’s carried that all the way through his whole coaching career, as an assistant coach and as a head coach, and obviously has been very successful doing it, and he’s doing it in Kansas City, he’s doing the same things that he did back in 1999 when he came here and he stood up in the front of the room teaching. He loves to teach. Those are the biggest lessons for me, just being able to be in the room with him while he stood up there teaching.”
We’ll continue our Combine prep and check out what the media are saying about the Eagles.