X's and O's — How Eagles should utilize Michael Bennett

X's and O's — How Eagles should utilize Michael Bennett

Jim Schwartz gets another cog in an already impressive defensive front four in Michael Bennett, who fits the scheme Schwartz wants to run. 

Bennett can play both defensive end and tackle at a Pro Bowl level. Bennett’s pass rush, I would say, mainly consists of moves that come from his power. The initial step is always toward the QB, which forces the O-lineman to punch or grab him. As an OL myself, I wanted to be the first to initiate contact because I knew the snap count and the direction I wanted the defender to go. Bennett is so explosive and physical with his first step that he forces the issue. It's constant pressure on the O-line, always working toward the ball. 

Bennett also has very good hands. Good pass rushers never allow an O-lineman to get his hands on them. (Hand-to-hand combat in the trenches is where the game is won on passing downs.) Bennett is pretty good at using Mr. Miyagi's wax-on, wax-off technique as he knocks an O-lineman's hands off of him on his way to the QB.

The Eagles will use Bennett across the defensive line at every position but probably the most at DT. With the probable departure of Beau Allen to free agency, depth would have been a problem. Not anymore.

There will be serious competition at the starting DT opposite of Fletcher Cox. Yes, Tim Jernigan earned his extension last year, but Bennett will push to be a starter. Schwartz rewards results with more playing time and Bennett is good enough to compete as a starter in the middle at DT.

From an X's and O's breakdown, Bennett can be a major factor in the middle on pass-rush downs. On third down, the Eagles like to use Nascar personnel — three defensive ends and Cox. It’s hard to imagine being an offensive coordinator game-planning which D-lineman to double-team and which to chip with a running back. Which way do you slide the protection? 

Think about the Eagles D-line rotation OCs will have to prepare for. You'll have Brandon Graham-Cox-Jernigan-Derek Barnett or Graham-Cox-Bennett-Barnett or Chris Long-Bennett-Graham-Barnett. Prepare for a lot of QB-crushing hits from a top-notch defensive line that just got even more versatile.

Ex-Eagle marvels at how NFL Combine has changed

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Ex-Eagle marvels at how NFL Combine has changed

The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine started this week and I am really in amazement of the production it now presents. There are so many differences in the way the Combine was run, in comparison to how I remember it.

Let's start with the athlete swag and gear used to work out. Under Armour sponsors the athletes' workout uniforms; I remember I had regular Russell kelly-grey sweat suits, red t-shirts with the NFL logo and the blue shorty-shorts that came to only mid-thigh. The high-tech material and fit of the new workout gear weighs next to nothing and dri-fit spandex moves with the player's body like it is a part of their skin. 

I was a 300-pound O-lineman, so air drag and track shoes didn't matter to my 40-yard dash, but it does for a player like Donte "Action" Jackson out of LSU, who is trying to break the sub-4.2 in the 40. 

These new athletes run their 40 in track shoes like Olympic sprinters. I remember I ran the 40 in some New Balance running sneakers. I'm sure with the high-tech gear and preparation, I could have really put up some good numbers at the Combine, but my numbers were average.

Athletes are prepped today for the physical and mental gymnastics. The only real test I remember being stressed was the Wonderlic. I wasn't sent to a workout facility to concentrate on Combine-specific workouts. I stayed at Kansas State and worked out with my team strength and conditioning staff at the school. I maintained my diet at the KSU training table and splurged on fast food with my newfound money from agents trying to recruit me to represent me in contract negotiations. 

Now, athletes are taken through strenuous interviewing sessions implemented by their agents. Agents send the athletes to training facilities that force-feed them football 24/7. Their diets are maintained, body fat measured. They go through sleep studies and interviewing classes, which help for when teams question everything under the sun to see whether they'll get a good return on the athlete. Yes, a good return, because these athletes are investments. These companies, i.e. teams, invest millions of dollars into these athletes.

Back in a time that now seems like the Stone Age, there wasn't 24-hour coverage of sports, let alone the NFL Combine. The results for these athletes is now instantaneous. Back in 1995, we didn't know what our results were until later in the week. The O-linemen worked out on Friday and I walked around bragging back at KSU that I ran a 5.10 in the 40-yard dash, put up 26 reps on bench press (225 pounds) and a 32-inch vertical. All those results ... WRONG! I ran an electronic time of 5.24 in the 40 with 20 reps on the bench and a 30-inch vertical.

So folks, long story short, the amount of information and visibility these new athletes have to navigate is tremendous. Mentally, physically and emotionally, players have to be tougher to deal with this theatre that is now the modern day NFL Combine.

Similarities between 2017 Eagles and 2005 Steelers

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Similarities between 2017 Eagles and 2005 Steelers

Playoff football is here, baby! 

Six out of my 12 years in the NFL, I was blessed to be a part of the playoffs. My first two years with the Eagles, one year with the Lions, a year with the Giants and two with the Steelers.

During those playoff games I was one and done three times, done in the divisional round once, in the championship game twice, and I won Super Bowl XL.

As I watch the Eagles enter this divisional round, it brought me back to experiences that I will never forget. One impressive game was the Steelers at the Colts in the 2005 season. I remember the game clearly, as I looked across the sideline at Peyton Manning in his prime against our defense. There were so many key matchups in this battle with the Colts. Outside LB Joey Porter against perennial All-Pro left tackle Tarik Glenn. DT Casey Hampton against All-Pro center Jeff Saturday. The list of Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers on the field was evident, and it was very apparent at that point that this was a game for the ages.

When not on the field, I made it a point to take in the moment. I realized that I was in a special moment in my career, not because I was in my 11th year, but more so because I understood that there was something special going on. I knew we were going to win the Super Bowl because everything fell into place. This was the game when Jerome Bettis fumbled and Big Ben made the shoestring, saving tackle. 

I was at goal-line TE going into the end zone. Jerome was never a fumbler, and we ran 16 power to the right — our bread and butter play. Alan Faneca, our Pro-Bowl left guard, pulled to the right. All I had to do was cut the DE in the end zone. It was a guaranteed six points, and Bettis fumbled. Wow, what a play by Big Ben. 

This was one of the many plays during the year that led to Super Bowl XL in Detriot, Bettis' hometown. We as a team had to send JB into retirement with a ring. I just knew there was something special about this team going into the playoffs as a 6-seed.

Well ... Philadelphia, I feel like this team has the same mojo going on this year. I'm not saying that my Birds are going to the big game, but the Eagles have taken the next-man-up philosophy to a different level. Losing All-Pro players and future Hall of Famers throughout the season and still entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed is an unbelievable accomplishment.

So I wrote all this to say, make sure you don't lose sight of the moment. Take in the experience of a top-seeded Eagles team ready to fight the odds and naysayers. It can be done as long as the 53 men and coaches believe, even when no one else does.