As a savvy veteran coach, Jim Schwartz is always looking for any kind of advantage he can get.
So it’s no surprise that he wasn’t all that interested in answering a question about how the Eagles plan on replacing safety Will Parks, who will begin the 2020 season on IR.
“There's no sense giving Washington any idea who we're going to plug into different roles, how we planned on using them, and things like that,” Schwartz said.
But Schwartz may have inadvertently answered the question a little later, when he was asked specifically about cornerback Craig James and safety Marcus Epps.
Schwartz has a nickname for Epps — Eppsy!
Nickname aside, my guess is that it’ll be Epps and not rookie fourth-round pick K’Von Wallace to take the Parks role on defense for the first three games of the season.
Here’s what Schwartz had to say about Eppsy:
“Came to us in the middle of the year last year. We plugged him in some of our dime packages, but we limited what he was asked to do in our defense. He played a lot in the post and the other guys, like [S] Rodney [McLeod] and Malcolm [Jenkins], sort of covered up.
“But with the whole gaining some experience last year and just adding another year in the same system, from the very first day of training camp not only has he improved mentally - and he's been always good that way - but just understanding and the little intricacies.
“But he was improved physically, too. Was faster, more explosive. He did miss a little bit of time with some injury stuff in training camp. I saw those guys as really improved players for us, and I think both of those guys will play a big part in our effort this year."
So who exactly is Marcus Epps?
You’ve probably heard his name and know him as a special teams player. But you might not know who he is or what he can do.
Well, Epps is a 24-year-old who really impressed the Eagles after he joined the team last November. When the Eagles waived Andrew Sendejo last year, the Vikings claimed him but waived Epps. Then the Eagles claimed Epps. I’ll easily argue that the Eagles got the better end of that quasi trade.
The Vikings took Epps in the sixth round out of Wyoming last year. Epps went from a walk-on at Wyoming to a three-time team captain and made 234 career tackles, 18 1/2 for loss and picked off 9 passes.
He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but he tested well at the Wyoming pro day last year despite dealing with some cramps, according to the Casper Star Tribune, which also wrote that Epps said one scout clocked him at 4.46. Here are his pro day numbers and where he would have ranked among safeties at the combine:
40 time: 4.52 seconds (13th)
Vertical: 38.5 inches (5th)
Broad: 10 feet, 4 inches (8th)
20-yd shuttle: 4.06 seconds (3rd)
3-cone: 6.79 seconds (2nd)
Where Epps has really impressed the Eagles, however, has been in the classroom. He picked up their scheme very quickly last year, which likely impressed Schwartz. Schwartz has said several times this offseason how difficult it can be for rookie safeties to learn and play in his defense.
In his second game with the Eagles, Epps played 17 snaps on defense. And in the final six games of the season, Epps played 99 defensive snaps, including 33 in the must-win game against the Giants. He even played 13 defensive snaps in the playoff game.
(Epps also played 112 special teams snaps in seven games. If he had been with the Eagles all last season and played at that pace, he would have been among the Eagles’ leaders last year.)
During this training camp, Epps missed some time with a foot injury but he returned and I get the sense his roster spot was never really in danger.
While you might be asking “Who the heck cares about the third safety?” — and if you’re asking that and still reading, thanks! — remember that the third safety in Schwartz’s defense plays quite a bit. And the Eagles had a pretty big role in mind for Parks this season.
Eventually, Parks will heal from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him, but they’ll miss him in the interim.
“It was disappointing to lose Will,” Schwartz said. “He was a good addition for us in the off-season. He was a young veteran player. Played with a lot of physical toughness and also brought some spirit to us, so we'll feel his loss.
“But we have plenty of guys that can make up for whatever roles we had in mind."
Schwartz, of course, wouldn’t name anyone. But keep an eye on Eppsy.