How the Defensive End Rotation Could Work
It’s early and it was just a single glimpse but it’s at least worth noting that on the first day of Eagles’ practice this spring, Jim Schwartz chose Vinny Curry and Connor Barwin as his front-line defensive ends.
The new regime made its feelings towards Curry known by inking him to a five-year, $47 million contract this offseason with $23 million guaranteed. The 27-year-old played just 35 percent of the defensive snaps last year and even less than that the two years prior under Billy Davis and Jerry Azzinaro, but with that lightning-quick first step and natural pass-rushing ability, the feeling is that Curry can flourish in this attack-style defense.
Barwin played end in a 4-3 early in his NFL career, and while it’s to be determined just how his game will adapt to the new system, the argument can be made that his play since joining the Eagles has earned him first-crack considerations.
That chosen pairing meant Brandon Graham was running with the second unit opposite Marcus Smith. Graham just moved into the starter’s role last season following a long climb and posted 6.5 sacks, seven hurries, three forced fumbles and 12.5 tackles for a loss according to stats kept by the team. The switch to a 4-3 should cater to his natural strengths as well and is being viewed as a welcomed development despite the fact that he likely won’t be on the field as much.
“[Schwartz] wants maximum effort out of every play so the rotation is going to be good. I think we go every four, five plays [during practice] and I think that’s how it’s going to go in the game,” said Graham. “I know that he wants us fresh all the time while we’re out there.”
That was the philosophy when Jim Washburn was here in Philly. Check out how the snaps were doled out in 2011, per Pro Football Focus:
Jason Babin 720
Trent Cole 640
Darryl Tapp 306
Juqua Parker 262
Phillip Hunt 180
Brandon Graham 56 (injured)
The Bills had a healthy defensive-end rotation under Schwartz in 2014 as well. The starters — Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes — each played about 72 percent of the snaps, and both finished with double-digit sacks (Williams had 14.5 and Hughes 10). Manny Lawson and Jarius Wynn were on the field roughly 30 percent of the time, combining for 3.5 sacks. That 2014 Bills squad racked up 54 sacks in all — most in the NFL — with three players finishing in double-digits (Marcel Dareus was the third).
Starter or no, there is plenty of opportunity to get after the QB in this type of system. Graham helped prove that once already when he posted 5.5 sacks, seven QB hits, 31 hurries and led the NFL in snaps/pressure (according PFF) while in a rotational role in 2012.
“I don’t think we have selfish guys,” said Graham. “When people get tired and want a blow, the next group will go in and we just got to pick up where they left off and don’t be the weakest link out there.
“For me, man, I’m excited because we’re back in the 4-3. I feel like whenever I’m out there and I’m giving maximum effort and making makes plays and helping us win, that’s all that really matters.”