The sixth part in our ultimate Eagles OTA preview shifts over to the defensive side of the ball, and more specifically the defensive line. The heart of Jim Schwartz’s Defense saw plenty of changes this offseason. From the signing of veteran Chris Long, to the departures of Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan, and the arrival of Derek Barnett, Schwartz has reloaded the Defense and is ready to fire. The first shots will be seen during OTA’s this week, so what can we expect?
A new dawn:
Bennie Logan and Connor Barwin were once two staples along the Eagles defensive front..but one offseason later, and their careers have veered in a new direction. In their place, the Birds’ have bought in the likes of Tim Jernigan, Chris Long, and of course Derek Barnett. OTA’s will be the first time that we see the new look Eagles Defensive font, along with starting rotations and an early idea of an established pecking order.
Derek Barnett and Elijah Qualls headline the rookie class, while it’s veteran Chris Long who will be looking to earn a starting role alongside Brandon Graham. Expectations are high for the revamped unit, and with competition being the theme..the next few weeks are bound to be an intense affair. There’s still plenty to be decided..but the sheer of excitement of a new tenacious unit is sure to bring a surge of energy to the workouts.
Round the outside:
One of the most intriguing positional battles heading into OTA’s is that of the starting role opposite Brandon Graham. The hot favorite is clearly Tennessee product and first round pick, Derek Barnett, but with Chris Long looming in the distance and Vinny Curry watching on eagerly, ensuring that he makes up for a disappointing 2016 campaign, the battle is wide open.
Beyond the favorites, Marcus Smith may be on his final lifeline in the City of Brotherly Love after flashing some of the potential that many believed to be squandered in 2016. Steven Means will look to emerge as more than just a special teams contributor following some flashes of physicality in 2016. His high-motor was enough to earn him a place on the final roster, while some speedy quarterback hurries and big hits saw him climb his way to some big snaps.
Finally, Alex McCalister was a name who turned heads last offseason before an injury cut his rookie campaign short. With the competition heightening, can McCalister shine as he did one year ago?
This battle will show no signs of slowing down until the end of preseason, but it’s important for every single Defensive end to prove their worth if they have a chance of securing their role, regardless of how highly the player is currently regarded.
Curry’s bounce back:
Eliot Shorr-Parks reported today that Vinny Curry may have been playing with an MCL injury during his disappointing 2016 season..further adding to the narrative that he simply needs to rebound in explosive fashion this season.
After earning such a huge contract one year ago, Curry’s progress seemed to stagnate. Now with an even more crowded corps of DE’s, the pressure will be heavier than ever for the local product..and his road to redemption begins tomorrow, as he aims to outshine those who will be chomping at the bit to snatch his spot.
Curry will need to hit the ground running when OTA’s open tomorrow, sending a firm reminder that he isn’t going anywhere.
The battle in the trench:
At the interior spots, the starting roles seem all but cemented. Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan appear to be the tandem who will roll into 2017 entrenched as “the guys”, creating a vicious interior pass rush that has a knack for stopping the run.
However, even though Logan partnered Cox one year ago, the duo of Destiny Vaeao and Beau Allen run rampant in what rapidly became a committee effort. With Beau Allen’s injury meaning he will likely miss the majority of offseason workouts, the door swings wide open for Vaeao take the reins..but he will be joined by Elijah Qualls, Justin Hamilton and former Richmond Spider, Winston Craig.
Destiny Vaeao proved along with Aziz Shittu last year that Jim Schwartz doesn’t care about potential or where you were drafted. He cares about execution and production..so if sixth round pick and former Washington teammate of Sidney Jones, Elijah Qualls can follow that trend..then the Eagles pass rush will not only be deep in 2017, but explosive.
The next hidden gem:
Destiny Vaeao proved to be a steal for the Eagles last year, as he combined with Allen to play in over 60% of defensive snaps. One year later, a 313 lbs, defensive tackle out of Washington, who has the versatility to play outside, is his direct competition. The Eagles have found great success in the late rounds and beyond recently, and with so much up for grabs..it’s almost unlikely that we won’t see another offseason hero earn his shot at the big time.
The Eagles aren’t silly either. While there is depth at DT, there is also an extremely dynamic unit who can hurt offenses in multiple ways if given the chance..and that goes far beyond the starters.
UDFA Winston Craig our of Richmond is the perfect example. The 6’4, 290 lbs, pass rusher simply exploded in 2016. With 8 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in his final season alone, leading the team in those categories as well as QB hurries, Craig even added a pick and 3 passes defensed to his tally. A team captain for the Spiders, Craig ended his four-year career at Richmond with a total of 166 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks and 2 picks.
It’s interesting that Craig completely contrasts the style of Elijah Qualls. Craig is a tenacious pass rusher, who carries his weight well and is extremely agile, using his long wingspan to his advantage. While the bigger bodied Qualls thrives in plugging holes and run Defense..although he may have a niche under Jim Schwartz.
Both players have extremely high upsides..the question is, whose will be enhanced the most under Jim Schwartz?
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports