Tuesday was the first day in months Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz fielded questions from reporters. Plenty of topics were discussed, including replacing some key guys and expectations for a couple young players.
Here are five takeaways from 18 minutes with Schwartz on Tuesday morning:
Replacing Chris Long and Michael Bennett
During this offseason, the Eagles first traded Michael Bennett to New England and then Chris Long retired. As it was pointed out to Schwartz, that’s 15 1/2 sacks the Eagles are losing from last year. Going into last season, Bennett and Long were the Eagles’ top rotational defensive ends. This year, their top rotational guys are Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller. That could be a mighty steep drop-off.
Schwartz said that’s “business as usual” and pointed to losing Connor Barwin in 2017 and Curry in 2018:
“So change in the NFL is nothing new. There is a challenge every year trying to replace certain production, so it's nothing new. We'll miss those guys. They were important parts of what we did, Chris for two years, Michael for one.
"That's just life in the NFL. You'll have some roster turnover and you have to deal with it. I like some of the additions we have had. We have some younger players moving into some of those roles.”
My take: Schwartz is right that teams lose players every year and they have to replace them, but losing Barwin in 2017 and Curry in 2018 aren’t equal to losing Long and Bennett this year. Barwin was coming off a five-sack season and didn’t seem to be a great scheme fit. Curry was coming off a three-sack season when he started every game. I’m surprised, though, that Schwartz didn’t name Malik Jackson when asked about this. Sure, Jackson is an interior rusher, but adding a good defensive lineman at any position will help. They might have lost depth at DE, but they should have way more depth at DT this year.
Big year for 2017 picks
This will be an important season — probably for different reasons — for Derek Barnett and Sidney Jones, the Eagles’ first two picks from the 2017 draft.
Schwartz said both players have played good football for them, which is true to different extents.
On Barnett: “I think the next step for a guy like Derek, he was playing at a very high level before he got hurt last year. Obviously wasn't able to bounce back from that and finished the year on the IR. With him it's a matter of picking up where he left off.”
On Jones: “Sid was sort of the same thing. Battled some injuries early, then had some productive time on the field, and then battled injuries again and struggled through some times on the field. I think that'll be an advantage for him going forward. It was a tough season for him, but he did experience some success. He saw some tough times. Persevered through it. Finished the year healthy even though he wasn't really back on the field for us. It's an important off-season, important training camp for him.”
My take: I sort of agree with everything Schwartz said. It seems like a long time ago, but it is important to remember that Barnett had success early last season. He had 2 1/2 sacks in six games, which doesn’t sound good, but he had those 2 1/2 sacks in the first four games when he was healthy. He was on pace for a double-digit sack season.
And Jones, as much as it’s forgotten, played fairly well as the nickel corner spot early in the season. That’s a completely new position for a guy who had played one game in a year before that. But he got hurt and he needs to stay healthy. If he does, he could still have a really good career.
As you already know, Malcolm Jenkins isn’t at OTAs and this appears to be a contract-driven absence. It has been odd to see the Eagles’ practicing without their defensive leader, but Schwartz doesn’t seem too worried.
“I know this, when the chips are down, you'll be able to count on Malcolm Jenkins,” Schwartz said. “And a lot of other guys we're trying to find that out about, and that's what they're doing here at this time of year. Malcolm has some of those credits already in his bank account.”
My take: It’s not a big deal that Jenkins is missing OTAs, but it’ll be interesting to see if he shows up to mandatory minicamp. If he starts missing things and is willing to get fined, then this is a much bigger story.
Schwartz was asked to name some players who impressed him by how they returned this offseason from a physical standpoint. First, Schwartz said he didn’t want to answer the question … then he answered the question.
Rasul Douglas: “I think Rasul Douglas is in that category. Over the last couple years, even though he wasn't a starter, he probably has a year of starting experience under his belt and you're starting to see that when he goes out.”
Hassan Ridgeway: “I think one guy that's really made a lot of strides since we got him, because we got him right at the draft, has been [DT Hassan] Ridgeway, defensive lineman. We play a different style up front and sometimes players don't look good right away, but he made a quick transition to what we do, and he's been impressive out here.”
My take: Douglas posted on social media recently a before and after photo of him looking absolutely ripped. I had a chance to chat with Douglas about his transformation and will write about it later this week. The Ridgeway news is good too. He’ll be battling Treyvon Hester for that last DT spot. Either Ridgeway wins the job or he pushes Hester in a competition. Either way, it’s good for the Eagles.
Pump the brakes
After mentioning Douglas and Ridgeway, Schwartz offered an important caveat.
“They all look good this time of year. I think 27 years in the NFL I could probably make a pretty good all-star team of OTAs and first week in training camp and we can put that group together and there probably wouldn't be very many people that a lot of guys have heard of.”
Schwartz said they’re evaluating at this time of the year, but not making final determinations. OTAs are for individuals to get better. He also said he’s sure a bunch of us reporters have written stories about players who stood out in spring practices and never amounted to much in the league.
My take: Guilty as charged.
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