joe douglas

Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

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Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

Team chemistry is such an elusive thing and, once you finally find it, such a fragile thing.

What was the difference between the 2004 and 2005 Eagles? It wasn't talent. It was a solitary wide receiver who was intent on destroying the chemistry of a Super Bowl team because he wasn't happy with his contract.

No sport requires this level of teamwork, and no sport requires this level of unselfishness. With very few exceptions, you really need a special group of people for sustained success in the NFL, and that's why figuring out what kind of person you're getting in the draft or free agency has become just as important as figuring out what kind of player you're getting.

Which brings us to the 2017 Eagles, who by any measure are the best team in the NFL as we arrive at the midpoint of the season.

They're rolling along at 7-1 with a six-game winning streak, with those six wins coming by an average of 11½ points. You know all the facts and figures. The NFL's fourth-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense, the hottest quarterback in the league, the stingiest run defense in the league in seven years.

Here's another number: 22.

That's how many new players are on the roster.

And that may be the most remarkable number of all.

GM Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas took a 7-9 team with a rookie coach and quarterback and instead of just hoping that another year together would turn them into a winner, they gutted the thing.

Some 42 percent of the 53-man roster that will face the Broncos on Sunday was not part of the 2016 Eagles. 

Think about all the key guys on last year's team the Eagles cut ties with.

The leading rusher and leading wide receiver. A former first-round pick. Both starting corners. Two defensive line starters who had played at a high level here. And so on.

And think about the new guys. How many key contributors on this team weren't even here last year?

Derek Barnett, Mack Hollins and Rasul Douglas came in the draft. Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, Corey Graham and Chris Long signed as free agents. Tim Jernigan, Ronald Darby and Dexter McDougle arrived via trades.

Corey Clement was an undrafted rookie. Jake Elliott was plucked off the Bengals' practice squad. Kenjon Barner was home in California out of work.

We've seen the Eagles make wholesale changes in the past and it didn't go so well. But this group is different. The Eagles managed to rebuild the roster and truly reshape the franchise while also creating a remarkable chemistry and maintaining the unselfish, team-first culture that Doug Pederson has been crafting.

To turn over nearly half the roster and emerge with a singular unit in which new guys and old guys are all working together for the common good is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But Howie and Joe pulled it off virtually overnight. And Doug certainly deserves a ton of credit for taking all these disparate parts he was given and helping mold them into a unified whole.

One thing most of these guys have in common is that they're winners.

Blount and Long won a Super Bowl last year. Torrey Smith and Graham won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Tennessee went 25-14 when Barnett was there. West Virginia was 18-8 with Douglas on the field. Wisconsin was 40-9 with Clement. North Carolina went 19-8 in Mack Hollins' two years as a starter.

This was not an accident. Roseman and Douglas wanted a locker room full of players who not only are talented but also have tremendous character and understand the commitment it takes to win.

Put enough guys like that together and you have a pretty good chance to build that winning culture all coaches and front office executives talk about but very few know how to build.

It's happened here and it's happened faster than anybody anticipated. Even the people that put this all together.

The Eagles went out and found 53 seemingly random puzzle pieces, and halfway through the season, it sure looks like they all fit together perfectly.

First draft with Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas at helm goes smoothly

First draft with Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas at helm goes smoothly

When Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and Doug Pederson left the war room and came down to talk to reporters at the NovaCare Complex just after 7:30 on Saturday night, the trio was all smiles. 

Maybe they were just delirious from the three-day marathon of the draft, but it seems more likely they're still enjoying the honeymoon phase of the relationship. Less than a year into Douglas' time with the Eagles, the three of them seem to be getting along great and having a grand ol' time. 

Saturday wrapped up the first draft with the three of them — more accurately Roseman and Douglas — at the helm. Things seemed to go smoothly, but like the first year in any process, there will probably need to be some refinement. 

"I think we'll go back and we'll look at this process a little bit and we'll sit down over the summer, probably over a beer and a cigar, and we'll talk about it all," Roseman said with a laugh as he looked at Douglas and Pederson for their approval. "How does that sound?" 

"That sounds great," Douglas answered. 

It'll take a few years for the world to accurately judge the Eagles' 2017 draft class.

For now, though, we can already scan the list of eight names and the way everything went down during the three days and see the influence of both men charged to lead the future of the organization. And if the relationship doesn't sour, it's easy to see how their styles can complement each other. 

"[They are] great guys to work with and be a part of, and our philosophies have really kind of combined, and hopefully it pays off on the field," Roseman said. 

Like he's been known to do over the years, Roseman pulled off a flurry of trades on Day 3. He traded picks 139 and 230 for 132, then traded 155 for 164 and 214, then traded 164 and 194 for 166 and 184. After the dust settled, Roseman had the same number of picks (eight) but ended up plus-8 based on the draft value chart, which, in value terms, means the Eagles picked up an extra mid-sixth-rounder. 

And the move to snag Sidney Jones, Achilles injury and all, in the second round was also classic Roseman. More than anything, including questionable decisions, Roseman's draft calling card has been using unique ways to maximize value. 

Then there was Douglas' influence. The Eagles took high-character, high-compete-level players who produced in college. It didn't take long to figure it out either. His fingerprints were all over the Derek Barnett selection at 14 (see story).

"Since Joe has been here, the things that he stressed to [the scouting staff] when we met and talked about what we wanted this team to look like, is that it's the war-daddy mentality of having guys on the field who are going to do whatever it takes to get better," Roseman said on Thursday night. "Guys who have an incredibly high motor and tremendous character."

When asked if that was a departure from the past, Roseman said it wasn't ... just more of an emphasis. 

For months, the Eagles preached the importance of collaboration — owner Jeff Lurie used it as a buzzword at the owners' meetings — and made a concerted effort to get Douglas in camera frames alongside Roseman. Lurie, in Phoenix in March, revealed that one of the terms for Roseman's regaining control of football operations, which includes personnel, was that he needed to build a top-notch personnel department. 

That started with the hiring of Douglas and his deputy, Andy Weidl, last May. 

"It was outstanding," Douglas said of his first draft with the Eagles. "This is a great place from the top down. There are so many good people in this building in every department. It was great just getting to know everybody. The working relationship has been outstanding. The communication, daily, has been outstanding. Have we always agreed on everything? No. But at the end of the day, we've always been able to step back and do what's right for the Philadelphia Eagles, and that's the No. 1 thing."

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

For family days at the University of Tennessee, former defensive line coach Steve Stripling's wife Gayle would make cookies for the crowd. And every time she did, it didn't go unnoticed by the Vols' best player. 

Every time, without fail, Derek Barnett would make a point to seek her out and say, "Hey Mrs. Strip, thank you for the cookies." 

It's a small thing, thanking someone for cookies. But it's something that seems to exemplify the type of players the Eagles are focused on bringing into the organization, especially with new VP of player personnel Joe Douglas leading the draft charge. And it was the one of the stories that stuck out most to Steve Stripling on Friday morning, 12 hours after the pick was made. 

"He's got that in him," Stripling said to CSNPhilly.com on Friday morning, just before boarding a flight from Philadelphia back to Tennessee, "and then on the football field, I've seen him just be a monster. 

"He has that ability to be quiet, unassuming, polite, respectful, all that, and then on the football field, he's a warrior. When he walks on the football field, he's different, totally different." 

Barnett, 20, is a pretty quiet and reserved guy. Some fans thought he didn't look pleased to be picked by the Eagles with the 14th pick on Thursday night, but that's not true. That's just his demeanor — off the field. 

On the field, Barnett is a relentless technician with an exceptional motor that powered him to 33 sacks at Tennessee, breaking Reggie White's long-standing record. 

"If you get to know him, he doesn't say much," Stripling said. "He's very quiet, but on the football field, when he says something, everyone pays attention. He just has that built into him, to play hard and he's a grinder and focused and all those things."

Stripling joined the Volunteers' coaching staff as an associate head coach and defensive line coach for the 2013 season. That was the year spent recruiting Barnett out of Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee. After Barnett's 2016 season, Stripling, 63, took a job as the director of football program development, but he was Barnett's position coach for all three years of his college stay. 

And from the time Barnett arrived on the Tennessee campus in 2014, it didn't take long for the coaching staff to realize something was special about him. 

Stripling recalls a play that the coaching staff has shown "a thousand times" since it happened back in 2014. During the first or second day of Volunteers' two-a-day camp, Barnett, then a freshman, showed that relentless style for which he's now become known. Barnett lined up as the team's right end as the ball broke to the left and the carrier jetted down field. From out of nowhere, Barnett chased him 40 yards downfield and delivered a sideline hit. 

Before that play, Tennessee knew Barnett was good. After that play, it knew he was special. 

"Usually when a freshman gets to camp, they're just trying to fit in, learn their way," Stripling said. "But it was from Day 1." 

The Tennessee defensive line room tried to live by an acronym: EAT — effort, accountability and technique. Barnett represented all of those facets. 

But perhaps more than anything, the technique part of his game is what really stands out. The use of his hands and his ability to bend as a pass rusher are the traits that vaulted him into the top half of the first round. 

And Barnett credits "Coach Strip" for a lot of it. 

"I’ll you what, he was hard on me," Barnett wrote about Stripling in the Players' Tribune. "From the very first day I arrived on campus, he was on me to refine whatever physical talents I had so that I could become a well-rounded football player."

In addition to working with Tennessee coaches, Barnett has also spent time in the offseason working with former NFL defensive lineman and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith. 

Barnett (6-3, 259 pounds) didn't perform well at the 2017 combine in Indianapolis. Even though he was dealing with the flu, he wanted to show more. But on Thursday night, that lackluster performance didn't seem to bother Douglas, who raved about his technique and even dropped some scouty lingo with the phrase "ankle flexion." 

Stripling, meanwhile, compared Barnett's bend as a pass rusher to former Colts great Dwight Freeney. 

"I think that's athletic ability to me, even though it's not a 40-yard time," Stripling said. "It's the ability to get low, reduce the surface and turn the corner. And I think that's one of his strong suites."

And then there's something Barnett has that simply can't be coached: instincts. Barnett, according to Stripling, has the unique ability to leave his gap responsibility at exactly the right time, when necessary to make a play: 

"I would say, 'Derek, how did you know the ball was going there?' He'd say, 'I just knew it.'"

For Stripling, Thursday night at the Ben Franklin Parkway was quite a thrill. A college coach since 1977, this was the first NFL draft he had ever attended. Hours after the Eagles used their 14th pick to take Barnett and hours after the hoopla surrounding the event had faded, Stripling sat up late with Barnett, his mother Christine and the rest of the family, reminiscing and reflecting. 

A little earlier in the night, when Barnett's name was called, Stripling happened to be seated near a group of inquisitive Eagles fans. 

"They were saying, 'who is this guy?'" Stripling recalled. "And I said, 'you're going to love this guy. He's going to work hard, he's going to be tough, he's going to make plays, you're going to love him.' I'm excited for him, it's going to be a good fit."