Eagles

Derek Barnett shows off developing pass rush arsenal in strong NFL debut

Derek Barnett shows off developing pass rush arsenal in strong NFL debut

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Chris Long still remembers the first time he ever stepped foot onto an NFL field. 

"It was like cars moving by you on a highway," the 32-year-old vet said late Thursday night. "That's what it felt like to me. It was fast."

It didn't look quite that fast for Derek Barnett. 

The Eagles' first-round rookie got a chance to play in his first NFL game on Friday at Lambeau Field. And he didn't disappoint, picking up two sacks in the Eagles' 24-9 loss (see Instant Replay)

The first sack came with just under seven minutes to play in the second quarter. Barnett used a counter move and powered through Packers second-team left tackle Jason Spriggs, simply tossing him out of the way. 

Spriggs is 6-foot-6, 301 pounds. 

"It was nice to get one, honestly," Barnett said. "Anyway I can get there, it's nice to get there. Because [sacks are] so hard to come by." 

The buzz around Barnett coming out of Tennessee was about his incredible bend and speed pass rushing. During this training camp, however, he's been working hard to develop inside pass-rushing moves. 

That hard work paid off when he dropped Brett Hundley for an eight-yard loss. 

"It's a great thing to add to your arsenal," Long said. "For somebody like that, people are going to have to worry about his speed, it's just something that he's going to have to develop. Tonight was a big step."

A few minutes later, Barnett went to his bread and butter for his second sack. He sped around the edge to drop Hundley for a 12-yard loss. 

"I knew coming in they do quick game and stuff, so our coaches told us just keep on pushing, don't get down because the ball can come out quick," Barnett said. "Keep on grinding and eventually, you're going to get some." 

By the end of the game, Barnett had put together an impressive stat line: two sacks, four combined tackles, two QB hits and two tackles for loss. 

Barnett is one of three defensive ends on the team who were drafted in the first round. Long was the second pick in 2008; you already heard about his NFL debut. And Brandon Graham was the 13th pick in 2010. 

"I think what he did was what I wanted to do — get two sacks in the first game," Graham said. "And that's nice just to start it off right. It just feels good because he got a couple and it's going to carry over. He got a little bit of what the game speed is like."

Aside from facing Spriggs, Barnett also got a series against Packers Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari and held his own. Barnett said practicing against Jason Peters and Lane Johnson daily helped prepare him for Bakhtiari. 

"I thought [Barnett] really stepped up, and once he got his legs under him, he played well," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He played hard and it was exciting to see him around the quarterback."

It's just one game, but Barnett's NFL career got off to a good start on Thursday night.  

The cars weren't whizzing by him that fast. 

"It's fast. Faster than college," he said. "I just try to take it a snap at a time and just focus on that one snap and that one play. After that, clear to the next play."

Darren Sproles can still help Eagles as long as Doug Pederson doesn't get carried away

Darren Sproles can still help Eagles as long as Doug Pederson doesn't get carried away

You probably know the reasons why it didn’t make sense to bring Darren Sproles back like they did on Friday evening. He’s too old. The team needs to get younger. They can’t rely on him to stay healthy. 

How’s this for one reason the Eagles were right to bring him back? 

He can help. 

Yeah, I know Sproles is 36. I know he’s played just nine regular-season games in the last two years. I know he had a minor hamstring injury that turned out to be a not-so-minor hamstring injury last year. 

I also know that the Eagles are better today than they were yesterday. Because as long as Doug Pederson doesn’t get carried way, Sproles can still help the Eagles in 2019. 

That is a key point, though. During his three years as head coach, we’ve seen Pederson at times rely on Sproles a little more than he probably should. If he does that this time around, it might not help. But if the Eagles can settle Sproles into a role where he’s a punt returner and a change-of-pace guy on offense (primarily as a pass-catching threat), this can definitely work. 

Pederson loves Sproles. He hasn’t tried to hide that. At the owners meetings this offseason, when asked about Sproles and the possibility of a return for one more season, Pederson said openly, “I would love to have Darren back.” 

Now that it has happened, it’s up to Pederson to not run his favorite veteran Swiss Army knife into the ground. 

And because the Eagles will enter this season with a former Pro Bowler in Jordan Howard, a second-round pick in Miles Sanders and a Super Bowl hero in Corey Clement also on the roster, it should suppress the temptation to over-play Sproles. 

Sproles will be the Eagles’ punt returner. He can play on third downs. He can be used as a utility-type receiver hybrid on offense. 

I’m thinking somewhere in the range of 8-10 touches max per game is about right.  

Nick Foles got an overwhelming amount of credit for helping the Eagles push their way into the playoffs last season, but Sproles deserves a ton of credit, too. After many had written him off when his severe hamstring injury lingered, Sproles came back in early December and gave the Eagles a spark that helped propel them into the postseason. 

In the last five regular-season games last year, Sproles had 110 rushing yards, 138 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns. 

The Eagles were 5-1 with him in the regular season (4-1 down the stretch) in 2018 and 6-2 overall. 

And without him, they probably don’t win that Dec. 23 game at home against the Texans. In that one, Sproles became the oldest Eagle ever to have over 100 yards from scrimmage in a game. 

Sproles comes into this season just 162 all-purpose yards behind Tim Brown for fifth in NFL history. If he can stay healthy, he should have no problem easily overtaking Brown in 2019. 

And he might just help the Eagles make another run in the process. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Will Zach Ertz be a Hall of Famer?

Will Zach Ertz be a Hall of Famer?

Zach Ertz is the latest in a series of stories looking at the Hall of Fame chances of current or recent Eagles who are still active in the NFL

Friday, July 19: Fletcher Cox
Today: Zach Ertz
Sunday, July 21: DeSean Jackson
Monday, July 22: Jason Kelce
Tuesday, July 23: LeSean McCoy
Wednesday, July 24: Jason Peters
Thursday, July 25: Darren Sproles

Numbers: Has 437 catches for 4,827 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first six seasons.

Postseason numbers: Caught 31 passes for 316 yards and two TDs in six career playoff games, including the game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl LII against the Patriots.

Honors: Ertz made his first two Pro Bowls in 2017 and 2018.

Favorite stat: Ertz is the only player in Super Bowl history to catch a fourth-down pass on a game-winning fourth-quarter drive.

Records and rankings 

• Ertz set an NFL record in 2018 with 116 catches, breaking the mark of 110 set in 2012 by Jason Witten.

• Ertz’s 437 receptions are most in NFL history by a tight end in his first six seasons. He broke the record of 434 set from 2010 through 2016 by Jimmy Graham.

• Ertz’s 116 catches broke the Eagles single-season record of 90 set in 2007 by Brian Westbrook.

• Ertz already ranks third in Eagles history in receptions, behind only Harold Carmichael (589) and Pete Retzlaff (452).

• He doesn’t turn 29 until November, but Ertz already ranks 31st in NFL history in career receptions by a tight end. He’s only 153 out of the top 10. At his current rate — 5.8 catches per game since becoming a full-time starter in 2015 — that’s only 26 games away.

Analysis 

Maybe it’s silly to project Ertz as a Hall of Famer before his 29th birthday, but if he can stay healthy and keep stringing together the type of seasons he has been, it’s going to happen.

Since becoming a full-time starter four years ago, Ertz has averaged 86 catches, 914 yards and 5 ½ touchdowns.

If he keeps up that pace for six more years and plays until he’s 34, which most top tight ends are able to do, he’ll have 953 catches, 10,311 yards and 62 TDs after the 2024 season.

Not to mention a game-winning late fourth-quarter TD catch in a Super Bowl.

If he does that, nobody is going to keep him out of Canton.

Verdict: Will be a Hall of Famer.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.