Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Defensive end

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Defensive end

Coming off the best year of his seven-season NFL career, go ahead and pencil in Brandon Graham as a starter at defensive end.
While his sack number (5½) wasn't nearly high enough, it also wasn't indicative of the type of season he had. Graham, a former first-round pick who took years to come into his own, was extremely disruptive in 2016 and was named as a second-team All Pro selection.
So he's a starter.
But Connor Barwin was released after the season, and there are several candidates to replace him in the starting lineup: Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett.
Either way, there will be some sort of rotation, but it's unclear exactly how this rotation will work. The best chance any of those guys to earn playing time is to win the starting gig.
We'll start with Curry. The Eagles tried to give Curry the chance to start last season. They started last spring with Barwin and Curry as the starters, but Graham simply outplayed Curry and never gave up the job. After signing a $46.5 million contract last offseason, Curry played just 43 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.
And even when he played, the production wasn't there. Curry finished the year with just 2½ sacks, his lowest total since he didn’t get any as a rookie in 2012.
Next up is veteran Long, 32, who joined the team on a two-year deal this offseason. He's coming off a Super Bowl win with the Patriots, but it's unclear just how much he has left in the tank. Unless Long comes in and really outplays Curry and Barnett, it seems more likely that he'll be a depth piece. The Eagles would probably much rather have one of their younger players win the job.
That leads us to Barnett, the rookie first-round pick out of Tennessee. The 14th overall pick broke Reggie White's Volunteers sacks record in college, and he did it without eye-popping combine numbers. Instead, he did it with his incredible bend and textbook technique.
The good news for the Eagles is that technique should translate to the NFL, and Barnett doesn't seem like the type of kid who will rest now that he's heard his name get called on draft night. During the spring, he was a handful for right tackle Lane Johnson, who is one of the best right tackles in the league.
Perhaps the biggest question isn't just who starts, but where?
Last season, Graham was able to be productive as the Eagles' left defensive end, which meant going up against right tackles, while Barwin struggled against better left tackles. In the NFC East, that is a big deal because of Dallas and Washington, which have two of the best left tackles in the NFL in Tyron Smith and Trent Williams. That means that in four of 16 games — a quarter — the Eagles' right defensive end will face off against an All Pro left tackle.

Eagles not distracted by legendary trophy

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Eagles not distracted by legendary trophy

It was kind of hard not to be caught up in the moment Wednesday morning, what with the striking Halas Trophy on display at the NovaCare Complex.

The Halas Trophy, named after legendary Chicago Bears founder and head coach and Navy war hero George Halas, is awarded annually to the NFC champion.

The Eagles are one home win receiving that trophy and advancing to the Super Bowl, and on Wednesday, with the trophy resting on a table alongside Eagles and Vikings helmets, much of the focus of the NFL world was on the Eagles.

And a few feet from that trophy, Doug Pederson spoke about how this is just another week.

It's not, of course.

But his goal is to convince his players it is. No matter how much hype, no matter how much media, no matter how much attention.

"I think you just have to continue doing what you're doing," Pederson said. "The guys are going to prepare themselves the way they have all season long. It's obviously a great opportunity, a great honor faced in front of us, and we just attack each day the same."

The Eagles have done a remarkable job staying focused this year and really the last two years under Pederson.

This team has lost just twice this season when playing its starters — at Kansas City in September and at Seattle the first week of December — and has stared down every challenge that's come its way.

On 6:40 p.m. Sunday at the Linc, the Eagles face the Vikings with a berth in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis at stake.

"You've just got to stay grounded (and) in the moment," Pederson said. "You have to block out the clutter, block out the noise and focus on today. Focus on Wednesday and get yourself prepared like it's any other Wednesday."

Out in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where the Vikings practice, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer may have a tougher task than Pederson getting his team to focus after its wild last-second win over the Saints.

Plus, the Vikings essentially have two fewer days to prepare for Sunday, since they played this past Sunday and they also have to travel one day.

Zimmer told reporters in Philadelphia Wednesday morning that once the Vikings took a look at the Eagles, they were able to move past the Saints game and focus on the task at hand.

"I think they watched the film of the Eagles and I think it gets them focused pretty quick," he said.

"That game was Sunday, today is Wednesday. We're over that. We've got a big task in front of us. This is a heck of an Eagles team, outstanding defense, top in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage.

"I can go on and on about this team. I think they understand the task that we have at hand and the opportunity that we may have as well."

How Doug Pederson compares to other 2016 head coach hires

How Doug Pederson compares to other 2016 head coach hires

When Doug Pederson was hired as one of seven new NFL head coaches before the 2016 season, he certainly didn't seem like the Eagles' first choice. 

Boy, did they luck out. 

Because while Pederson has led the Eagles to an overall record of 21-12 and into the NFC Championship Game in his second season, the other six coaching hires have floundered. 

Pederson, 49, has every right to gloat. He has every right to point at the folks who called him the worst or near-worst hire of the offseason and laugh in their faces. 

He doesn't want to. 

"Listen, I don't pay any attention to that, quite honestly," Pederson said a few feet away from the George Halas Trophy that he's trying to win this weekend. "I drive home at night, knowing I put in a full day's work. I get up in the morning and come in here, however, I can serve this organization, serve these players. That's all I know. That's all I know. I love football. I love football. I love teaching it, I love being around these guys. 

"And I'm going to pour my life into these players. And if it's good enough, great, because that's all I know I can do and I've given my best effort. I don't care about what's written. It's kind of like the underdog thing, our players don't pay attention to that. And I'm kind of the same way."

A quick look at the other six coaches hired in that 2016 offseason will bring back memories of some hot names, the guys everyone wanted the Eagles to hire. 

The Giants hired Ben McAdoo ... fired. 

The 49ers hired Chip Kelly ... fired. 

The Titans hired Mike Mularkey ... fired. 

The Dolphins hired Adam Gase ... 16-17 in two seasons. 

The Bucs hired Dirk Koetter ... 14-18 in two seasons. 

The Browns hired Hue Jackson ... 1-31 in two seasons. 

And the Eagles hired Pederson, the guy nobody wanted, the guy who seemed like their second choice. 

He's one game away from getting them to the Super Bowl.