Eagles

Eagles D-line coach: Too early to talk about Derek Barnett as starter

Eagles D-line coach: Too early to talk about Derek Barnett as starter

Two preseason games into his NFL career, Eagles rookie Derek Barnett is off to a pretty good start. 

He has three sacks in two games and has shown flashes of why the Eagles think they might have something special in the 14th overall pick out of Tennessee. 

It's just too early to talk about him as a starter.

At least that's what Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson said Saturday afternoon. 

"He's a rookie," Wilson said. "He's got a lot of work ahead of him."

Although Wilson doesn't think Barnett is quite ready to start, he has been impressed by many things the rookie has done. He thinks Barnett has the ability to be a three-down player and has been pleasantly surprised about how coachable he is. 

Eventually, Barnett will become a starter. That's always the plan for first-round picks. On Saturday, though, Wilson wouldn't say when he thinks Barnett will be ready. 

How will he know? 

"We'll all know," Wilson said. "The production and the consistency. And that's what you have to have in this league. It can't be flashes. It's got to be every week, when people come into the stadium, they know exactly what they're going to get. When we're at that point, we'll kind of know if he's that guy or not."

For now, Barnett is part of the Eagles' second-team defense along with Chris Long on the other side. Brandon Graham, coming off his best NFL season, and Vinny Curry are the current starters. 

While Graham's spot is seemingly solidified after making the All-Pro second team in 2016, Curry's spot seems less concrete. While Curry signed a huge contract extension before the start of last season, he didn't have a very good 2016. He failed to keep his starting job and came off the bench behind Graham and Connor Barwin. He had just 2 1/2 sacks, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2012. 

While Barnett has looked great early in the preseason, Curry has seemingly been invisible. 

But Wilson claims Curry has looked good. 

"I'm really focusing on guys who are able to do their job consistently," Wilson said. "And it's one of those things, if you're doing your job people don't really pick on you. Vinny's done a great job of being in position to make plays when he has opportunities. Obviously, due to the limited reps that he's had compared to the reps Derek had, those have shown a little bit. I've been pleased with Vinny."

When asked what Barnett needs to work on, Wilson listed three things: alignments, splits and understanding how offenses will attack him. 

Barnett has used this training camp to work on complementary moves to go along with his edge pass-rushing. While his outside moves got him the sack record at Tennessee, he'll need more than that in the pros. He's spent his summer working on inside power and spin moves. 

He's been working on those complementary moves, but there's no question that his outside pass-rush is still his go-to. From the moment the Eagles drafted Barnett, personnel chief Joe Douglas immediately began to tout the young defensive end's bend and ankle flexion. 

Wilson said guys work on their ankle flexion, but said it's a "gift" not everyone has. Basically, Barnett's ability to bend at his ankles keeps his cleats flat on the ground and helps keep his balance as he gets around offensive tackles. 

Wilson explained there are six points of balance when watching a player's bend: the right and left sides of hips, knees and ankles. Barnett has all of that going for him. 

"It's something that I think he found out quite early in his career," Wilson said. "It's something that we have to accentuate."

Because Barnett isn't yet a starter, he'll be coming off the bench as a part of the defensive line rotation. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz rotates his defensive linemen to keep them fresh. That will be a good thing for Barnett, who has really shown off his motor during this preseason. 

He goes hard on every play. 

"[Barnett] enjoys football," Wilson said. "He plays with great effort and that's one of the things at this level that I hope he never loses. He definitely enjoys the sport, he plays wide open all the time. So that's been exciting."

Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

You look at the stats, and nothing jumps off the page. No running back on pace for 1,000 yards, no wide receiver on pace for 1,000 yards. Heck, even the all-world quarterback hasn't thrown for more than 211 yards in his last three games.

No 100-yard games by a wide out or tight end. Only one 100-yard game by a running back, and that was two months ago.

Four different guys have led the team in rushing, three different guys have led the team in receiving, 11 different guys have scored touchdowns.

Heck, in the win over Dallas Sunday night, the Eagles' longest catch wasn't by one of the speedy free agent wide receivers, and it wasn't by Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins or Zach Ertz. It was by rarely used 11th-year tight end Brent Celek, who turns 33 in January.

You want Pro Bowlers? This is not the offense for you. You want guys to score you a ton of fantasy points? This is definitely not the offense for you. 

You want a Super Bowl contender? Welcome to Philly, where head coach Doug Pederson has found a way to get a bunch of players used to being the guy to suppress their egos and do whatever's necessary to help the team.

LeGarrette Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year. Jay Ajayi was a Pro Bowler last year. Alshon Jeffery has been a Pro Bowler and was fifth in the NFC in receiving yards per game over the last four years. 

They're used to being stars. They like being stars. They get paid to be stars. And they've all put their egos aside to be part of something special.

Pederson's greatest accomplishment this year has been to get everybody on the roster to buy into the notion of setting aside personal goals to help the team win football games.

These are guys with big-money incentives and tremendous pride in their numbers. They want to be considered the best at what they do. And they want to put up numbers that land them that next big contract.

But Pederson has them all locked into something bigger, something greater. That game in Minnesota in 2 ½ months.

"The bottom line is winning the game," Pederson said. "Bottom line. I don't go into a game saying, ‘Jay, you've got to get 100 yards rushing. LeGarrette or Alshon, you've got to have 100 yards receiving.’ 

"It doesn't work that way. We don't design the offensive plays to work that way. If it happens, great. Alshon a couple weeks ago had an opportunity to be our first 100-yard receiver this year.

"It's just the guys just want to win, and it doesn't matter who's hot in the game. Our quarterback is so prepared and well-prepared, knowing exactly where to go with the ball in the passing situations. We ask him to do so much in the run game. And it's all part of the process, and these guys have bought in 100 percent, and they prepare that way. 

"You see it on game day. They're just all making plays and they're all contributing right now."

The Eagles are an NFL-best 9-1, and a win at home Sunday against the lowly Bears gives them nine straight wins, which would tie a franchise record set in 1960 and matched in 2003.

Their last four wins have all been by double digits, they're averaging 32 points per game, and they're on pace to score the 15th-most points in NFL history.

And they're doing it without anybody on pace for a 1,000-yard season and with just one 100-yard game by a receiver or running back.

Every coach talks about unselfishness, but Pederson genuinely has these guys living it and breathing it.

Why does it work?

"Because we all want to win," Blount said.

And it works because the quarterback is the most unselfish guy of all and legitimately doesn't care about anything other than getting a win.

"Winning is contagious, and the guys feed off of that," Pederson said. "And so it really doesn't matter who makes the play. It's just at the end of the day, just find a way to win the game."

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

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USA Today Images

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

With each passing game, it's starting to become clearer and clearer why the Eagles used their first-round pick on Derek Barnett. 

The rookie defensive end is beginning to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. 

"This guy is very disruptive, explosive," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He's another one of those unselfish guys. He just wants to win and do whatever he can to help the team win."

Barnett, the 14th overall pick in April's draft, had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Eagles' 37-9 win Sunday night over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. 

In addition to Barnett's two sacks (he forced a fumble on one), he also applied pressure and hit quarterback Dak Prescott on two of his three interceptions. 

It seemed like Sunday was probably Barnett's best NFL game so far. The 21-year-old humbly didn't go along with that assessment. 

"I think I did some good things, but I need to do a better job in the run game," Barnett said. "I didn't do that well in the run game. At the end of the day, we won. That's all that matters. We got a victory and let's all go back to Philly." 

After failing to record a sack in his first five NFL games, Barnett now has 4.5 in his last five games. He is second among all NFL rookies in sacks this season. 

He's already eighth on the Eagles' rookie sack list and could move up that list quickly. Two more sacks would put him third behind just Reggie White (13) and Corey Simon (9.5). 

Sacks sometimes come in bunches. 

"I just think they're coming now," Pederson said. "I think he's getting comfortable in the role. He's developing. He's understanding the game. He studies tackles, he studies his opponent. He's developed a couple of different moves. It's just his willingness. It just clicks for any player. They start to come. I love where he's at right now too." 

Even before the sacks started coming, Barnett was quietly getting pressure. Now, he's getting pressure and finishing the plays. 

Barnett played 51 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps Sunday and is closing on the 50 percent mark on the season. While he hasn't been widely talked about as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, he could make a case quickly if these numbers keep piling up. 

More importantly, he could offer the Eagles a dangerous pass-rusher as they make their way down the stretch and into the playoffs.

And he's doing it with the same traits that made him attractive to the Eagles in the first place. 

Remember just after he was drafted, when vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas raved about Barnett's "excellent" ankle flexion? 

Well, check out Barnett's bend on his fourth-quarter strip sack: 


 

He bent around the left tackle and came at Prescott horizontally. 

He did it earlier in the game on the Rodney McLeod interception: 

 

And remember how much everyone praised his high motor and compete level? 

Check out his first-half sack. He willed his way to a sack and wouldn't let Prescott escape. 

Sunday was Barnett's second career two-sack game; they came less than a month apart. And it looks like there are plenty more sacks in his future. 

"They're starting to come in slowly but surely," Barnett said. "Everybody says to pass rush, you have to keep on rushing. You can't get down. You're going to be in your little slumps and stuff. You have to keep on grinding through it. It's eventually going to break."