The Eagles kicked off their second set of OTA practices on Tuesday, but before the players took the field, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz took to the podium to speak to the media — for the first time since the team’s Super Bowl win in February.
While he didn’t spend much time evaluating tape from the win over the Patriots — or at least wasn’t going to discuss it — he said it ultimately didn’t matter if there were problems during the matchup, “We won the game. That was our objective.”
Schwartz has seen a lot of movement on his side of the ball so far this offseason, with the team adding DE Michael Bennett and DL Haloti Ngata, but releasing DE Vinny Curry.
There’s also been a lot of movement at the linebacker position this offseason. After being plagued by injuries in 2017, several of those sidelined starters are ready to get back in the lineup, including Jordan Hicks, but the team isn’t relying solely on existing talent. They ended up signing Paul Worrilow during free agency — who then tore his ACL in the first OTA practice this spring — but still released Mychal Kendricks that same day, and then signed a rookie free agent, Kyle Wison.
Depth at the position is one of the top offseason debate topics for Eagles fans, but Schwartz didn’t seem concerned.
Obviously, Schwartz was disappointed when Worrilow went down last week, but did mention that the benefit to it happening so early on, is that the team has a lot of time to strategize and get his roster spot filled.
Schwartz noted that this time of year isn’t really about setting a starter in any one position, but rather about individual development and cross-training. That was really the big message from the Eagles’ DC — Philadelphia is filling their roster with players who are multi-dimensional and able to jump in as needed throughout the defense.
While Schwartz wouldn’t comment specifically on the Kendricks release, he did mention that each and every player form last year’s Super Bowl winning team was a factor in the city of Philadelphia bringing home the Lombardi Trophy, but that as a nature of the business, many of those players wont be Eagles in 2018. (I started dreading this exact fact about 25 hours after the confetti fell.)
Even with a rotating roster, Schwartz was happy about Nigel Bradham’s 5-year contract extension he signed with the team this offseason. The DC went on-and-on about all the things Bradham brings to the Eagles defense, including him being the “heart of our defense”, in addition to giving the team a lot of energy, and being vocal in his position.
“Being the defensive play-caller when Jordan went down,” Schwartz quipped when asked what Bradham’s biggest contribution was last season. But he also noted, “he needs to finish more of the plays that he could’ve made for us,” joking that he may have gotten a few grey hairs from some of those pass breakups that could have been turnovers.
In addition to signing Kyle Wilson, the Eagles also brought in Corey Nelson to compete for a starting linebacker role in Philly. It seemed in the first open OTAs that Nelson was seeing a lot of the starter reps, but Schwartz explained that this part of the offseason program is designed for young guys to get experience and new guys to get acclimated with the scheme: “Nobody’s earning starting jobs now.”
As he did earlier in his press conference, Schwartz continued to emphasize their commitment to training players to fill in at multiple positions, and this is an important part of the linebacker group, specifically.
Another position group Schwartz pointed out as being important to cross-train, was in the secondary. Not only does he expect his player’s to be able to fill in at multiple spots, but he appreciates the players who go above and beyond, like Malcolm Jenkins, who can fill a role at either safety or corner.
Schwartz mentioned that Eagles fans are going to see a lot of variety in the slot position throughout the duration of OTAs and training camp, including Jalen Mills, D.J. Killings, and even Sidney Jones. The adjustments shouldn’t be too hard for these guys to pick up, with the DC explaining that corners have to be able to play the nickel when the receivers are over in the slot formation anyway.
He wouldn’t commit to every player cross-training in different positions, though. For example, Rasul Douglas will probably remain on the outside. You might see him on the inside occasionally, depending on how the defense is lined up, but for the most will take his reps on the outside.
Schwartz also talked about Sidney Jones getting back in the mix after his recovery, having done everything he could last season, short of actually getting on the field. His biggest job was being ready to play once he was cleared, but the DC mentioned that Jones being on the sideline with the team and participating in practices helped keep the mental aspect of his comeback solid.
Status of the DE group
Some of the big men Schwartz gets to work with this spring includes second-year Derek Barnett, league veteran Michael Bennett, and incoming rookie Josh Sweat.
Barnett is fresh off sports hernia surgery, but the DC wouldn’t discuss an individual’s injury, other than to say that all players are hurt in some capacity from the first snap of the season through the end. Barnett has so much experience heading into his second season, having made a long postseason push and is a little bit stronger heading into 2018.
“He set that bar pretty high in his first year,” Schwartz quipped. “He made a lot of big plays for us.”
The team also adding Michael Bennett to the DE group this offseason, and while (surprise, surprise) Schwartz wouldn’t talk about any of the legal issues, or even answer if he was in attendance today, he did go on to discuss why the team decided to bring him in. He described Bennett as a multi-dimensional player who’s had success as an outside DE, and inside DT and just overall, “a player who fits our scheme very well”.
It’ll be a deep roster to fight through for incoming draft pick Josh Sweat, but Schwartz described him as, “he’s a young player, he’s explosive. He fits what we’re trying to do defensively.”
The main thing to take away from everything Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday, is that the staff is emphasizing cross-training throughout the defensive positions.
EAGLES COACHES JIM SCHWARTZ AND MIKE GROH!Posted by Bleeding Green Nation: For Philadelphia Eagles Fans on Tuesday, May 29, 2018