Jim Schwartz impressed by Derek Barnett; addresses rest of defense

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-OTA
May 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz speaks with the media during OTS’s at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Schwartz met with the local Philadelphia media for the first time since the end of last season this morning. The second-year defensive coordinator addressed the concerns and new additions to his unit, highlighting what improvements need to be made and discussing individual players.

Here’s a few takeaways from the presser:

Schwartz offered high praise for the team’s first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft in Derek Barnett.

“Turn around and look at that 92 (mural of Hall of Fame pass rusher Reggie White), any time any one can break a record that guy has, that’s going to get your attention pretty quick,” Schwartz explained acknowledging Barnett breaking White’s all-time FBS sack record.

“He’s good against the run, he’s good against the pass. He’s played right and played left. All those things led us to draft him. How much he can contribute, how quickly he can be ready is up to him and coaches,” says Schwartz. “We’re really excited about him. He’s given great effort in practice, we’ve pointed out his effort a couple times chasing the ball and those kinds of things. For a rookie to do that kind of stuff is pretty impressive so far.”

That high praise from a coach who has full control of his unit and will likely be the one who determines who starts and who contributes immediately, bodes well for Barnett. Schwartz has been around some high caliber defensive end talent ranging between Jevon Kearse to Mario Williams, so for him to praise the first-round pick in such a manner right off the bat is an encouraging sign for how the team and himself view a player of Barnett’s caliber.

Schwartz explained the addition of veteran cornerback Patrick Robinson to the team’s cornerback group. He acknowledged the Eagles had interest in him during the 2016 offseason prior to Robinson signing with the Indianapolis Colts, which means the team already has a feel how they will use him and envisioned him fitting into Schwartz’s system beforehand.

“Two years ago we evaluated him when he was with San Diego. Thought he had a really good year. Had some inside and outside flexibility, played nickel, played outside,” Schwartz said. “Last year was bit of a lost season for him with injuries. He looks like he’s back healthy now and he’s a guy who brings some experience in there.”

The Eagles need Robinson to return to 2015 form. Robinson allowed the lowest total of reception yards against him in coverage in 2015 (300 yards). He primarily played nickel for the Chargers that season, but as Schwartz alluded to, has also played outside with them as well as the Saints and Colts.

With Ron Brooks coming off a devastating season ending injury and the lack of experience on the outside with just Jalen Mills heading into his second season as the other most experienced starter, Robinson will be leaned on heavily this season.

While addressing the defensive line, Schwartz was asked about Vinny Curry’s down season and had an interesting take on it.

“A lot of times with Vinny, his pressure numbers were high, but his sack numbers were low,” Schwartz explained. “He didn’t do as good of a job finishing the rush as he did starting the rush.”

Curry had a total of 40 pressures in 2016 according to Pro Football Focus. He played sparingly behind former Eagle Connor Barwin and those pressure numbers reflect that, but they also reflect Schwartz’s point on Curry as well. Curry had multiple opportunities to improve on a two and a half sack total last season, but failed to get the quarterback down as many times as he could. Schwartz compared him to one of his former pupils that was a successful starter in the NFL.

“In 2001, I was with the Titans. I had Kevin Carter and he had two sacks and it was a lot of the same things,” Schwartz said. “There was a lot of missed opportunities for sacks, times where he slipped and fell, or the quarterback ducked underneath of him. When the season was over we realized he had 8-10 sacks that he had the opportunity to make that he didn’t make them. Good players can make that transition, Kevin Carter did. It was a one year blip and that’s the challenge for Vinny, proving that last year was a one year blip.”

Schwartz clearly believes in Curry’s ability and is prepared to offer him opportunities to prove himself. He’s challenging him to be better after signing a lucrative extension during the 2016 offseason, the Eagles are going to need Curry to step up to the plate in order for him to remain on the cap struck team moving forward. Schwartz is offering a second chance to elevate his game, but if Curry fails, he won’t last long in Philadelphia.

Schwartz seems to be a believer in second year cornerback Jalen Mills, but was brutally honest about the corner’s up-and-down rookie season.

“The thing I like about Jalen is he’s very competitive, even though he’s young he does make improvement,” Schwartz said. “I’ll sum his rookie season up – it was a rookie season. There was some things he did well and he flashed, and there was times he didn’t play as well as we needed him to. His challenge is creating that consistency.”

Mills is presumably heading into the 2017 season as a starter at cornerback for the Eagles, but with the addition of rookie Rasul Douglas, Robinson and perhaps a healthy Brooks, no spot at cornerback is a guarantee at the moment. The challenge for Mills will be showing he has improved upon his rookie performance and earning a starting job rather than playing into one due to injury like he did last season. He earned that trust early in training camp last year, basically pushing Eric Rowe down the pecking order making him expendable, and becoming the team’s main insurance policy, which put him on the field a lot due to Leodis McKelvin’s nagging injuries.

The addition of Tim Jernigan as Bennie Logan’s replacement at defensive tackle was one of the lowkey additions of the offseason that excited many fans. Schwartz spoke about his new role and how it suits him better.

“Watching him when he came out of Florida State and a little bit with the Ravens, you always cross over film and you watch him, he’s playing a different scheme now,” Schwartz explained. “It’s a lot less reading, it’s a lot more attacking. It fits him. He can win individual pass rushes meaning when the center is sliding away, he’s a tough matchup for a guard. He’s not physically the biggest guy, but he’s really strong, very active and it’s been a great addition for us.”

Jernigan offers an upgrade over Logan in this specific scheme. Schwartz alluded in this presser that his philosophy on defense is to mainly rush four and that the defensive line sets the tone to this defense. Logan was known for his elite run-stuffing ability, but lacked natural pass-rush ability whereas that’s a strength of Jernigan’s and what he was accustomed to prior to being a second-round pick in 2014. There’s reasons to be excited about Jernigan especially when you turn on the film and see a center and guard double-team Fletcher Cox regularly, and as Schwartz pointed out, Jernigan wins individual matchup versus guards, which he’ll be seeing regularly thanks to Cox’s impact.

This was just a routine press conference and the first time we’ve heard from Schwartz in awhile, but he seems pleased to the upgrades and additions the team made this offseason on the defensive side of the ball. His main improvements he wants to see is at cornerback of course. He pointed out that better coverage leads to sacks and more pressure. That’s something the team lacked a lot during the long haul of the season and something Schwartz and company look to focus on improving moving forward. It’s a positive sign that he’s fully aware of what was the down fall of the defense’s production in 2016 and we should expect it to be improved moving forward.



Mandatory Photo Credits: USA Today Sports Images