Chris Wilson

Derek Barnett has advantage most rookies don't

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Derek Barnett has advantage most rookies don't

A lot of NFL first-round picks are expected to show up on Day 1 and not only start but also become top contributors for their teams. 

Derek Barnett hasn't been met with those same expectations. 

While Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry have remained the Eagles' starters at defensive end — both have played at an extremely high level this season — Barnett has been able to rotate in and learn from them and the rest of his talented new teammates. 

It's a pretty good position for the rookie to be in. 

"We really never talked about it, to be honest with you," defensive line coach Chris Wilson said this week. "What he has done, these guys have really brought him under their wings. Guys like Fletcher (Cox), guys like Chris (Long). 

"And [Barnett is] a guy who you really want to help because he's hungry to learn and be a great player. He spends the time and effort to come in and these guys like that. They like being big brother and showing the tools and the tips that can help him. It's been fun to do that."

Having solid players in front of Barnett and being a part of what has become a dominant defense has certainly helped the rookie. There's no question about it. 

But Wilson didn't want the advantageous situation to take credit for Barnett's growing success. 

The rookie deserves credit of his own. 

 "It hasn't been, 'Hey let's put the rookie out there to put him out there,'" Wilson said. "He's been a productive player since we got him in here. He was productive in the preseason. He's beginning to be a really productive guy during the regular season. I have to give him credit as much as anything; he puts the work in." 

Barnett has played 261 of 578 possible snaps (45 percent) this season and has been on the field in some crucial situations. The coaching staff trusts him. 

When asked for the area in which Barnett has improved the most, Wilson didn't hesitate to say "in the run game." Wilson said that aspect can be difficult for a rookie because of the physicality at the NFL level. 

Barnett has been good against the run this season. He's had a chance to watch and learn from Graham and Curry, who are both also pretty stout against the run. That's helped. 

"Absolutely," Wilson said. "It's always good to see it in person and actually be able to physically touch it and watch these guys. The drill work, see how they work the drill work, to see how they go in and study the tape of the run game and things to look for in the run game. That's been big for us. He's been able to sit down with those guys and say 'OK, in this set, this is what we see and this is why we see it this way.' And that always benefits a young guy."

While Barnett has performed well against the run all year, his pass rush is starting to really come on. He has just 2½ sacks but has been getting more consistent pressure as the season has progressed. 

The 21-year-old rookie is looking more comfortable on the field with each game, but he's been comfortable in the defensive line meeting room from the beginning. 

Wilson said his meeting room is open and honest by design. Wilson cited an old saying: "You can't heal what you won't reveal."

"Derek's a very open guy," Wilson said. "It's like anything; it's the culture in the room. If you have something that you need to say, say it. You might get hammered for it, but you've got the freedom to give your opinion, that you're a part of the solution. Once he found that out, he was good and he knew to ask the right questions. That was the biggest thing I learned from this guy."

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."

Eagles DL coach impressed by Derek Barnett, but tempering expectations

Eagles DL coach impressed by Derek Barnett, but tempering expectations

Chris Wilson has liked what he's seen out of Derek Barnett this offseason. 

He's just trying to not get too carried away. 

The Eagles' second-year defensive line coach has been very impressed by the team's first-round pick, and for good reason. Barnett has flashed throughout spring practices, showing why he was worthy of the 14th overall pick. Just last week, the young defensive end beat Lane Johnson on consecutive plays to get into the backfield. 

Still, Wilson is trying to temper his expectations. 

"We haven't put a pad on," Wilson said Monday morning when the team's position coaches met with reporters. "We haven't had to tackle anyone. You're just being cautiously optimistic about what he brings to the table. 

"The great part is what you saw on film and what we saw on film, is what we're seeing here, from a leadership standpoint, from a work-ethic standpoint. He doesn't expect anything to be easy. He doesn't look for anything outside of being coached. So I'm pleased with him. The key thing is to just keep developing him and be realistic about where he is at this point."

So what does Barnett need to work on? 

"Everything. He needs everything. He's a rookie," Wilson said. "He hasn't put any pads on. 

"What I do love about him is he's a thermostat, he's not a thermometer. He's not trying to gauge the temperature of the room. He comes in, he has the right mindset. Those have all been characteristics I like. The only way to learn it at this level is to play. Getting used to the speed of the game is a big part of his [job] right now. I've been pleasantly surprised, but again, he's a rook and he's got a lot of things to learn. What I am pleased with is his overall ability, his talent level is something that will bode well for him and for us." 

Barnett enters a defensive end group that already includes Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long. It's fair to wonder how Barnett will fit in. Throughout the spring, the team has been using mostly Graham and Curry as its starters, but there will be some sort of rotation during the season. 

Once training camp hits, Barnett will get to make his case for more playing time. 

In the spring, so far, so good. Barnett has shown off the end "ankle flexion" vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas raved about shortly after the Eagles drafted him. It was one of the traits that helped Barnett break Reggie White's sack record at Tennessee. And it was one of the things Wilson noticed when he watched film. 

"He was dominant in probably the best league in college football (SEC)," Wilson said. "He was dominant. He did it at a high level, he never missed a football game. Everyone you talk to in Tennessee's organization had the right things to say, the things that fit this organization, as far as his toughness, how he treats people, what kind of teammate he is. Never missing a game, breaking Reggie White's sack record. Those things are relevant. 

"And we didn't meet his representative. He is still the same guy he was."