When you look at the Philadelphia Eagles roster, it is easy to see how stacked they are on the defensive line. After the birds lost DT Bennie Logan to this years “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” Free agency period (Kansas City Chiefs), the Eagles simply needed to add an infusion of talent to compliment Fletcher Cox.
Despite Beau Allen ready and waiting on the depth chart, Howie Roseman did Howie Roseman things and went out and made a trade for Timmy Jernigan with the Baltimore Ravens. While Jernigan is a near lock to start alongside Cox in 2017, the play of UDFA DT Destiny Vaeao in his rookie year went sorely under the radar…giving the Eagles some much needed optionality heading into an important 2017 campaign.
The Former UDFA out of Washington State was nothing short of a strong option whenever he was given an opportunity to play, earning a spot on the birds 53 man roster, and another long look this season. Standing at 6’4 and 300 lbs, of pure athleticism, the American Samoa native may have only tallied 15 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble, but when you studied the tape, you see a guy who was a difference maker when he got his shots. He also got plenty of them, as he combined with Beau Allen for over 60% of defensive snaps.
Dangerously tough against the run game, Vaeao served as a wall at times while he bullied interior linemen at others. Blessed with great vision and the capability to diagnose plays quickly, he made sure his presence was felt anytime he was on the field. The former Cougar possesses a thick base to help with his run-stuffing ability, and the pure strength to keep offensive linemen off of his body. His pass rush isn’t far behind his run stopping, and as the 2016 season went on, you could see him really coming into his own, as a rusher.
I sat down with Vaeao to ask him about his first year in the NFL, what he thought about all the additions, and what he felt was his best route to increase his playing time?
“Man… first of all, I give it all to God. All my success all my hard work, is attributed to our father. As far as my first year in the league, it was fun, most of all it was fun, but I learned a lot about the game of football. Most of all I learned a lot about myself, as a player, and as a man. The hard work that is needed to make this team, or any NFL team, is a lot, but I never felt like using me not being drafted as an excuse. Like my agent told me “It doesn’t matter where you’re drafted, or when, once you get the chance to show what you have…. you go all out” So that’s what I did my first season.”
Moving forward, there’s a lot of competition at defensive tackle. With Beau Allen sidelined until Training Camp, there was a huge opportunity for Vaeao to really make the most of an open playing field, but as the sophomore pass rusher mentions, there’s a lot more to it than just flashing during OTA’s.
“I know I have a lot to work on and that has been the emphasis this offseason. To get better at the things I did well, and not so well. I have been getting in the gym working on my strength, working on my flexibility, and pushing myself in every way I can. I did okay against the run, I can do better. I did ok against the pass, I need to do better. Coach Wilson, Coach Schwartz, they demand the best out of us, even if we screw up, as long as we we’re busting our butt, doing what we could, that’s all he asks. So I need to keep giving that to him.”
Continuing on, he spoke about the additions to the team and what it would take for him to have an even bigger impact in 2017.
“All the guys the team brought in will only make us better as a whole. As a team, we are a better organization, so I am happy about it. Of course losing Bennie Logan, hurts, but I know we have the players here to succeed. We have the players that can win a lot of games.”
“As far as the things I need to do to have a better year this year? I am already doing those things. I won’t give it all away, but working on my strength to help in the run game and working on my speed, my get off, as that ball is snapped I need to be flying. That is always the goal for me and luckily I have the teammates around me that can help me with that. Playing next to Fletcher Cox, has been great for myself, for my growth. He is the best in the NFL and I want to take all I can from him as far as learning. Having Beau Allen, as well has really helped.”
“The next step in my career depends on me staying healthy and the dedication I put into my game. I am blessed to be in this situation, so it would be ignorant to throw it away feeling like I have arrived. The time to get better is now, it’s everyday. When you get up, you should be working on getting better and that’s what I am doing.”
The Eagles brass did an amazing job bringing in talent and depth to a team that needed help. Despite Vaeao not being considered the incumbent starter, he is a dangerous part of this ferocious defensive line. Time will tell just how great he can be in this potentially dominant defense, but it sure will be fun to watch it all unravel. The tsunami that Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, and Destiny Vaeao could bring to this Eagles defense, could prove to be devastating to opponents offenses this year…and I for one can’t wait to see Coach Schwartz unleash them all.
Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports