We are less than a week to the Eagles’ season opener against Washington, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz spoke on Tuesday about how they’re preparing for a team with so many new parts, how some young players forced tough roster cuts in the secondary, and a bit about Derek Barnett.
Here’s what the DC had to say:
On Washington prep
Schwartz said he wasn’t putting too much stock into Darius Slay’s play the last time he matched up with Terry McLaurin. Slay and the scheme he’s playing in are different, so it’s not something they can really compare.
The coordinator discussed how there’s another layer of uncertainty having zero exposures to a new coaching staff — they can look back at Ron Rivera’s track record, but what the staff did last year won’t be what they’re going to do this year. Usually they are able to either confirm or disprove that a team will be similar to the year before during the preseason, which they didn’t have this year.
He said in that sense, Washington has a bit of an advantage over the Eagles because they have four years of film to look back on, since they’ve had some continuity on the coaching staff.
Schwartz said it was “disappointing” to lose Will Parks, but didn’t want to get into how they were going to use him or what they might do in his absence. The DC didn’t want to give Washington any advantages ahead of Sunday. Similarly, he didn’t want to talk about the defensive end rotation, but did say that rotating those guys is something that’s been important to them and that hasn’t changed.
The DC was asked about Washington rookie running back Antonio Gibson and how it would be challenging to prepare for him — especially out of the backfield — without any preseason tape. Schwartz admitted that they watched some of his film from last year at Memphis and explained how his large size makes him a bit different than some of the other running backs used as a receiver.
“This guy is 6 foot, 230 pound type guy with explosive straight line speed. We have to respect him whether he’s lined up at the running back position or lined up at a wide receiver position. And when he is in the open field, you know, we’re going to have to do a good job tackling and maybe even gang tackling, because we’re not talking about a 180-pound or 190-pound guy. We’re talking about a guy that’s probably around 230 pounds on Sunday and has the speed, if he can make you miss to go the distance, but also could use his power and try to run guys over.”
On Washington QB Dwayne Haskins
“He’s got some really good arm talent.”
Schwartz said that Haskins made several really tight throws in the game against him last season, and it showed not only his accuracy but his arm strength. They also learned to respect his athletic ability, because even though he didn’t run the fastest 40-yard-dash, he was able to do some things with his legs, as well.
They also expect him to make a big improvement over his rookie season, and he was also limited by the offseason, but they’re preparing for him to be better.
On the Eagles’ secondary
Schwartz was asked about some of the roster choices the team made over the past week — namely keeping Craig James and Marcus Epps over guys like Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas.
“I think Craig was one of our most improved players. He went from being sort of a special teams only guy last year. He did have to start against the Jets, but he was more of a niche special teams for us this year, and came in from the first day of training camp and really looked like a different guy.
Cover skills were outstanding; knowledge of our scheme was outstanding; gave us some versatility.”
He noted that he would put Epps into that same category of improvement. Epps has a better sense of the intricacies of the safety position and came in physically improved and more explosive.
Additionally, Schwartz isn’t worried about the depth at outside corner with the loss of Jones and Douglas. He said Cre’Von LeBlanc has improved a lot this offseason, as well, and they’ve also used Nickell Robey-Coleman on the outside as well.
“I would probably put Cre’Von LeBlanc in a similar category I talked about with Craig and Epps. We sort of always viewed Cre as just a nickel, even though against the Giants a couple years ago he had to go and play outside corner for almost a whole half and really did well for us.
But in his career, NFL career, he’s really been more of a nickel slot. We moved him around a lot and we like his versatility. We think he can handle a lot of different roles, and we’re comfortable with him outside.”
Schwartz said that some of the roster decisions were made in part because these younger guys came out and performed so well, that some of the older players didn’t make the team by default — there’s only so many roster spots to fill.
He later said that Casey Toohill was another guy who earned his way onto the team this year. From the time Toohill got to camp, he did nothing by improve, according to Schwartz, and did things exactly how he was coached to.
“He looked different at the end than he did at the beginning. I really liked that. I really respected it. He very rarely made a mistake, and if he did make a mistake, he was quick to correct it. He played with a lot of energy and brings some size and speed to that position, some length and some speed.”
On Derek Barnett in Year 4
“I’m still very bullish on Derek. I think he’s going to play a big part in what we do. He’s tough. He can rush the passer. He plays with great effort. Not the biggest guy but he’s strong at the point of attack, and run game. I think he fits our system.
He has had some unfortunate things with injuries, but he’ll put those behind him.”