The Eagles were on the field Friday for their second training camp practice, and we heard from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for the first time since mid-spring.
On injured players
Schwartz opened up by talking about some of the players missing due to injury — like, Jalen Mills — and he said that he’d rather people miss training camp than games in the regular season, but overall they just need to be patient.
He also noted that Cre’Von LeBlanc’s absence was “injury related” (and not trade related, as was speculated) despite the fact LeBlanc was practicing on Thursday.
On corners playing inside/outside
Schwartz was asked about rotating players, and how he sees the corner position being filled.
“I think its different in a lot of ways. you see some slots in this league that are real short, quick guys. And then you see other guys who are big, physical guys. I think it helps us to have different body types that can play in there, there’s different schemes we can do to mitigate that a little bit.
But, pretty much, there’s a big value in versatility. There’s big value in being multi-dimensional, and corners that can play physical and also have the quickness to be able to match up on some of those guys.
You mentioned Avonte; you play with good technique you can mitigate some height advantages sometimes. Time your jump really well, those kind of things. So, we’ll continue to have guys play inside and outside, it’s important to us.”
The DC also noted that players having experience at different positions has proven to be helpful when injuries happen and they may need to move around the field. Schwartz specifically talked about Malcolm Jenkins having played 7 different positions for the Eagles last season. And while not everyone can quite do that, the ability to play two positions is still valuable.
On the defensive line
The DC was asked whether there were higher expectations on Derek Barnett this season coming off of injury and with Michael Bennett and Chris Long no longer on the roster. Schwartz said that the expectations were always pretty high, having drafted him in the first round, but that Barnett has rewarded them for that highlighting some late-season big-plays during his rookie season.
Schwartz was also asked about what he’s seen so far from Josh Sweat. He talked about how there’s a big difference between someone’s rookie year, and already being established both on and off the field, and Sweat also was dealing with some injuries. But, the game seems to have slowed down a bit for him and he did a really good job during the team’s OTAs this spring.
The DC did note, however, that how Sweat contributes this year will be dependent on how hard he works in training camp. Overall, though, they are excited about what he brings to the defense.
“He’s long, he can play with some power, he’s got speed, he’s around the passer when he rushes because he’s so long.”
Schwartz also said that Sweat is super strong and probably has some of the strongest hands among the defensive line, noting that he played 2-gap in college and can be very good against the run.
He was also asked about the differences in the pass-rushing group this season compared to last. Schwartz commented that he tells his players all the time that the defensive line is the engine that runs the defense, and that’s something the guys embrace. They set the tempo and have to be physical, but every team is a little different so he doesn’t really view one as better than the other.
Schwartz did say that it’s great to have Timmy Jernigan back, and that you could feel his presence on the field as early as the very first snap on Thursday. New addition Malik Jackson is already fitting in, with Schwartz saying it took him about half-a-minute to understand what the Eagles are doing on defense.
Then, you add in Fletcher Cox and a healthy Brandon Graham, Schwartz said he’s very optimistic about where this group can go.
“And then adding other players. We traded for Hassan Ridgeway, we got the development of Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector and other guys on the outside, not just Josh Sweat. Joe Ostman has really been impressive going through a lot of this stuff. Shareef Miller showed up a little bit yesterday. I think we’ll find enough pieces to be able to put it all together.”
Schwartz talked a little bit about losing Michael Bennett, who he admitted was a big contributor last year, but that players change and every year you have a different set of characters. As coaches, they can’t dwell on that, but rather figure out a way to keep the production high with the players they do have.
“A guy I probably missed in that whole thing was Vinny Curry. I am really excited to have Vinny back. Vinny played a really strong role for us that Super Bowl year, and throughout the spring he looked as good, if not better, than I ever remembered him.”
On new review rules for pass interference
Schwartz was asked whether the new rules for reviewing pass interference will change the way he coaches the defense. He said that they still have to coach good technique, and players need to play with good technique, and they just have to realize things are going to maybe look different in 4k slow-motion replays than they do on the field.
He said, if anything, it puts more pressure on head coach Doug Pederson and his staff to determine whether to review a play, either offensively or defensively. But ultimately, the new rule doesn’t really change their coaching, it’s not like they were trying to get away with anything or get away with sneaky fouls before the rule.
Schwartz also talked about how they’re going to have to wait and see how the new rule is officiated and try to play to that. He emphasized what he’s said for years, that it doesn’t really matter what he thinks as a coach, or what the players or media think, it’s what the officials think that they need to play to.
On coaching additions
The DC was asked about the value of adding former Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke to the coaching staff this offseason, and Schwartz noted that Burke will be up in the box during the games, but that as a former coordinator he’ll provide another set of eyes.