Jim Schwartz is not afraid to be honest. This much was apparent during Philadelphia's spring practices earlier this year. The Eagles defensive coordinator ripped his defense for having a "crappy practice" back in May.
A few months later, Schwartz is still seeking for perfection. His unit is not exactly where he wants it to be, and he made that apparent on Thursday. An answer to a question about second-year cornerback Eric Rowe evolved into a criticism of his entire defense.
"Yeah, he's still a young player," said Schwartz. "He's only in his second year. Everybody wants to make him [out to be] a seasoned vet; he started for about half a year [last season] and he is changing schemes. But we're also through our OTAs and we're through our mini-camp, and we're through a little bit more than a week of [training] camp. And we've got to start putting those inconsistencies behind us, and I'm not just talking about Eric, I'm talking about every guy on defense.
"You saw what happened today. We'd make a play, give up a play. Make a play, give up a play. That's not a way to play defense; that’s not a way to play football. We've got to be consistent and that's our challenge. Our challenge is ironing that out, not just individually with guys like Eric or any of the other corners, but as a unit, we have to be more consistent. And that goes for everybody."
Schwartz is a tough critic, and perhaps a perfectionist. The Eagles defense certainly hasn't looked disastrous in training so far. When the Eagles began live tackling drills on Wednesday, the defense shined. Schwartz's unit was especially dominant in the red zone. As always, though, there's room for improvement. The defense was a little more sloppy on Thursday. Schwartz said his patience for mistakes is getting shorter.
"Yeah, we're getting close," he said. "I mean, you want to teach, and sometimes guys learn best from mistakes. You know what I mean? Sometimes when you make a mistake, it's engrained a little bit and you vow not to make the same one again. So, that's part of training camp. Part of training camp is going out and having some trial by fire and learning from your mistakes and things like that."
"What I'm really talking about is repeat mistakes. Everybody's going to make a mistake. I make a lot, players make a lot. The key is don't make the same one twice. Learn from your mistake. That's where our challenge is, and we're probably like 31 other teams in the NFL this time in training camp. Everybody's striving for the same thing – to be consistent from front to back, to have everybody on the same page, and then that allows the guys' talent to show."
Philadelphia's defense is expected to be the strength of the Eagles this year and beyond. There are high hopes for Schwartz and his unit. Schwartz is pushing his defense to live up to the expectations.
Watch Schwartz's Thursday press conference in the video below via the Bleeding Green Nation Facebook page.
Q. So S Malcolm Jenkins had to leave practice early today and you put in S Ed Reynolds. How would you assess your safety depth? How would things go if you had to play without Jenkins?
JIM SCHWARTZ: You know, Malcolm's a really good player, and I've been very pleased with Malcolm and Rodney [S Rodney McLeod] throughout training camp. But the facts are we need those guys behind them to step up. We need to find out who is going to be our third and fourth, and maybe even a potential fifth with special teams and stuff like that.
When a guy goes down, it's a great opportunity for those other guys to step up. The opportunity only exists if you take advantage of it, and those guys need to do a better job of taking advantage of it.
Q. Obviously you’re going to have a rotation at defensive end. DE Vinny Curry is going to likely get more reps than he's ever had in his career. What will that do for him in terms of production and what would that also possibly do conversely?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, there's a reason we re-signed him. We think he's a good player. I mean, certainly with good players, you want them on the field more. We think he fits the system, and you're right, we do have a rotation up front. It's hard to pass rush. It's hard to attack if you're going eight straight snaps. You've got to keep fresh guys coming.
I always go back to my baseball analogy with guys coming out of the bullpen, and you can throw a lot harder out of the bullpen than you can if you're expected to throw six or seven innings as a starter.
So, you know we're excited about him. He's multi-dimensional enough -- he can rush inside. We haven't done any of that yet. We're just trying to stay outside right now. But I look forward to those guys getting more reps. They're here for a reason.
Q. How has LB Mychal Kendricks been in coverage?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Sort of like a lot of other guys on the team. I won't single any guys out. But I'll just say that as a defense, we need to be more consistent. We mentioned Eric, and we could mention about 40 guys over there that we need to be more consistent. Mychal's a very, very good athlete. He can do some things. He's explosive. He can run. He can cover. It is a little bit new for him, but it's starting to get toward the end of being new.
Q. DT Beau Allen and DT Taylor Hart seemed to really fit what the last defense did here. How do you see them fitting into your scheme?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Don't sell those guys short. Just because that's what they were asked to do doesn't mean [that’s] the only thing [they’re capable of doing]. Taylor has been very slippery out here. He's got great size. He might not be really stout, but he's slippery. He can get on an edge. He's won his fair share of pass rush.
And Beau's just a load in there. He's hard to move. And when he can get that, I'll just conservatively say, 300-plus [pounds] going north-south, he's hard to stymie. We don't want him at the line reading. We want him attacking and driving people back, and he can do that.
Q. You have spoken highly of the safety tandem. Do you think what you've seen out here so far with the additions of the new corners that this team and this defense will be much improved from last year, where this team struggled with touchdown passes and everything else?
JIM SCHWARTZ: We're not really worried. I can't judge anybody on last year. I think every practice is new, every game is new, every season is new, and it's cliché, but we really can't judge ourselves on anything [from] last year. It's our job to take the pieces we have right now and find a way to be consistent and find a way to help us win football games.
I have been complementary to the safeties for good reason. Those guys are good players. They come to work every day. They're a great example to the secondary on how to be a pro, how to communicate, how to be in the right spots. Those guys -- when I say we haven't been consistent as a defense, I'd probably like to exempt those two guys because they've played very, very consistently. They're great communicators and we need more guys following suit.
Q. LB Jordan Hicks is a guy that might get rest as camp wears on since he's coming off the injury, but at the same time he's a middle linebacker. So all the mental reps he can get obviously are helpful. Is that an indication that he's picked up the defense really well so far?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Jordan's a smart guy. It doesn't take him very long, but that's Coach [Doug] Pederson's call whether guys get rested or not. I know this with Jordan, he's a pro, he'll come to work. If he's asked to practice, he'll practice. If he's asked to sit on the sideline, he'll get good mental reps.
Q. How has he done in terms of lining the front up?
JIM SCHWARTZ: It's not that complicated. So I don't want to give him any gold stars for that.