Malik Jackson learning to play with Fletcher Cox, without Fletcher Cox

Malik Jackson learning to play with Fletcher Cox, without Fletcher Cox

As the newcomer, Malik Jackson knows he has to learn how to play next to Fletcher Cox. He needs to learn the nuances of Cox’s game and how the All-Pro likes to rush the passer. 

That’s a little hard without Cox at practice. 

When Jackson took the field for his first session as an Eagle on Tuesday at OTAs, Cox wasn’t on the field as he recovers from an offseason foot surgery that’s expected to keep him sidelined until training camp. That’s Cox’s return goal, so Jackson and Cox won’t line up next to each other for over two months. 

So Jackson is trying to find other ways to get ready to play next to the Eagles’ best defensive player. Here’s what he told reporters on Tuesday: 

It’s my job to come in here and adjust to him because he’s been here, he’s the guy. For me, you watch film, you see what he likes to do, you talk to the guys around here. You understand what he likes to do when he rushes and stuff and you [learn] from that. 

It certainly can’t hurt for Jackson to glean as much as he can from the tape, but there’s a level of rapport that just can’t be built until the two are on the field together. For now, Jackson is getting used to playing next to Tim Jernigan, who is working with the starters in Cox’s absence. 

Eventually, Jackson’s presence could be a huge boost for Cox, who is already one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL. Last month, he seemed excited about the possibility teams won’t be able to shift protections to one player all the time. Double and triple teams have become the norm for Cox in recent seasons. 

But Cox in April also cautioned reporters that getting on the same page with a new defensive tackle next to him won’t just come during practices in training camp. There are few live-tackling sessions in camp and sacks are off limits because of red jerseys. 

We’re going to spend some time together and it’s nothing that can happen overnight,” Cox said. “It’s things that have to build over the season, him being next to me. Me learning how he plays, him learning how I play certain things. … It’s going to take some time. Some of those things we can pick up in training camp, but most of those things, the important things, I’d say will have first, second, third, fourth game of the season when we get those game reps.

A big difference will be on third downs, when Jackson is expected to stay on the field. In the last couple of seasons, Cox has lined up next to a smaller defensive end — Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham or Michael Bennett — on third downs. Now, he’ll be next to Jackson, who is listed at 290 pounds. That’s going to be a change.  

For Jackson, all this is a change. He’s coming to a new defense and a new team. The 29-year-old, who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos before going to Jacksonville, said he likes the vibe in Philly. Everyone is relaxed and having fun, but serious about their work, he said. He also likes Jim Schwartz’s defense. 

Early on, returns on signing Jackson are pretty good. But we won’t see his full value until he lines up next to Cox in a game that matters. That will be the pay off, which is why he’s doing everything he can to get ready for that moment. 

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

I get why people are so outraged by the comments made Monday by a Kansas City radio host who linked Tyreek Hill’s off-the-field issues with the death seven years ago of Andy Reid’s son Garrett.

The guy tried to make a case that Big Red’s inability to be a strict disciplinarian as both a parent and a coach was responsible for both. 

“It did not work out particularly well in his family life,“ is what Kevin Kietzman of Sports Radio 810 WHB said. “He’s had a lot of things go bad on him, family and players. He is not good at fixing people. He is not good at discipline.”

Of course, these sort of remarks are irresponsible, hurtful and off-base. But you consider the source and they're probably not all that surprising.

And let's be honest. We all understand you don’t record the eighth-most wins of any NFL head coach in history and the seventh-most playoff wins without being able to discipline players when it’s necessary. We’ve all seen coaches who truly are bad at this stuff, and they don’t have three losing seasons in 20 years. They don’t last three years.

So yeah, this isn’t about that. Andy doesn’t need to be defended. Not about this.

And outrage distracts us from the real point. The real shame of Kietzman’s comments is that he connects a lack of discipline with heroin addiction.

Garrett Reid, Andy’s oldest son, died during training camp in Bethlehem seven years ago from a heroin overdose after a long battle with addiction, and the notion that his death somehow was the result of his father not disciplining him enough shows such a lack of understanding of addiction and substance abuse.

Addiction is a mental health disorder. It’s a disease.

It’s not a weakness. It’s not a character flaw. It’s not a lack of discipline.

Treatment can help, but it’s a long and difficult process. The changes substance abuse cause in a person’s brain, the addictive traits of heroin and other opioids, make recovery difficult and in some cases impossible.

Garrett was a good kid, a smart kid, and he and his family battled his addiction for years.

Here’s part of Andy’s statement the evening Garrett died:

“We understood that Garrett's long-standing battle with addiction was going to be difficult. He will, however, always have our family's love and respect for the courage he showed in trying to overcome it.”

This guy doesn’t know Andy and the battle he and his family fought to try and help Garrett through that battle.

Addiction and substance abuse have become such an epidemic in our communities. Big city. Small town. Everywhere. All of us know someone who’s lost a family member. All of us have either directly or indirectly felt that pain.

What Kietzman said is wrong in so many ways, but worst of all is how he trivializes addiction by implying that a little parental discipline would have saved Garrett Reid’s life.

This was a horrible thing to say for a lot of reasons, and it’s been nice to see so many of Andy’s former players rallying behind him on social media.

No parents should have to go through what Andy and his family went through seven summers ago at Lehigh. No parents should have to go through this either.

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive tackle?

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive tackle?

The Eagles bolstered the defensive tackle position in free agency, through a trade and by re-signing one of their own, but whether the unit is better or worse in 2019 largely falls on one player.

Key additions: Malik Jackson (free agent, Jaguars), Hassan Ridgeway (trade, Colts) 

Key departures: Haloti Ngata (retired)

Why they could be better: Fletcher Cox gets some help

Cox was basically a one-man show in 2018, lining up for 80 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. The next closest defensive tackle on the club: a way-past-his-prime Haloti Ngata (Ngata... Ngata... not gonna be here anymore) at 35.5 percent. Of returning interior linemen not named Cox, only Trayvon Hester was on the field more than 8 percent of the time.

And, incredibly, Cox set a new career-high with 10.5 sacks and finished second in the NFL with 34 quarterback hits. Opponents knew the guy next to him was either washed, a defensive end moving inside or just a body, and it didn’t matter one bit. Couldn't stop him. So what happens when Malik Jackson averaging 5.5 sacks over the last six seasons is occupying the space next to Cox? Tim Jernigan returns, too, and Hassan Ridgeway — acquired for a seventh-round pick — provides a veteran challenger for Hester’s spot. All of a sudden, this is a deep, dangerous group.

Why they could be worse: Cox’s injury

Up to this point, all indications are Cox’s offseason foot surgery was not serious and the four-time Pro Bowl selection will be ready to go for training camp. Great. When it’s July 25 and he’s practicing with his teammates, this immediately becomes a non-issue.

Honestly though, the only argument for the Eagles’ defensive tackles taking a step back in 2019 is if Cox isn’t 100 percent going into this season — and don’t act like it can’t happen. Every year in camps all across the league, there are players who were to be “ready for camp” who don't come back until late August, even after Week 1. Again, there is no reason to assume that will be the case with Cox, but on the off chance he’s not himself come September, any dip in performance, let alone absence, would be felt by the entire D-line.

The X-factor: Jernigan

Thanks to the Jackson signing, the defense probably won’t need to depend on a whole heck of a lot from Jernigan. Yet, imagine if he’s healthy and providing a high-end starter's level of talent off the bench, at a position where the Eagles were literally plugging in journeymen like T.Y. McGill last season. Yes, that is a real person who wore midnight green in ’18.

Jernigan basically missed all of the previous year with a mysterious back injury, pretty much only making a few bit appearances in the playoffs. But just one year earlier, he was a regular on a Super Bowl-winning defense, recording a respectable 2.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits. He posted even bigger numbers with the Ravens before that. Now, he’s the No. 3, playing on a team-friendly one-year deal, with much to prove. If he’s healthy and motivated, the Eagles may very well field the best interior in the league.

Are the Eagles’ defensive tackles better or worse?

There really isn’t much to add at this point. As long as Cox is healthy, it’s a no-brainer. Jackson is an upgrade, Jernigan is healthy as far as we know and there’s competition for the other roster spot. BETTER

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