A Philadelphia Eagles second-round pick just a year ago, things have changed quite a bit in a very short amount of time for Vinny Curry. Curry, a defensive end drafted out of Marshall, was seemingly born to be a Philly fan favorite as he grew up in nearby Neptune, NJ, a diehard Eagles fan.
That fact, coupled with his earnest nature and draft pedigree led to a pile up of fans in his corner as he strove to carve out a place for himself in the defense. But, as the season unraveled and the defense fell apart, Curry never seemed to be able to get himself on the field.
It may not have happened early in the season, but once the selfish and mercurial Jason Babin was released in late November, and Jim Washburn and his wide-9 alignment were scrapped, the expectation was that Curry’s presence would then be felt, as he would be given a chance — his first since preseason — to show what he could do.
Those hopes never came to fruition, and the 2012 season was a wash for Curry, only getting himself on the field for a total of 89 snaps all year. Now with a new coaching staff and new defensive scheme, Curry is one of the many incumbent players with a lot on the line, and numerous questions surrounding him going into training camp.
Can he find a way into a starting spot in this defense and fulfill the promise and potential that made him a second round pick? Or is he destined for the trash heap, a casualty of the organizational changes?
New defensive coordinator Billy Davis has been using words like multiple to describe his scheme in the front seven. What this really means is — though the team will have a base formation that they work out of — they will be more of an amoeba up front. They will mix and match elements of the 3-4 and the 4-3 in order to best take advantage of the strengths of the guys already on the team, and counter the opposition.
And this is an important fact to keep in mind; Kelly and Davis are not starting completely from scratch, bringing in only players they want and see as fits in this defense. Plenty of spots will be filled with holdovers from the previous regime, holdovers that do not fit perfectly, and the coaches will be forced to work around them so to speak, in order to put together a cohesive and capable group.
This is where guys like Curry come in. After he was drafted last year, Curry was touted as a perfect fit for the wide-9 alignment. The thinking was that it would take advantage of his sleek build and great initial burst off the line and allow him to rush up field and either bend the corner or dart back inside to plant the quarterback on his backside.
But that never materialized, and now Curry is again a rookie, looking at an uphill battle just to make the team. Kelly and Davis have no allegiances to him, since they did not draft him.
In the base 3-4, with three down linemen and four linebackers, Curry’s body type and playing style unfortunately are not perfectly suited to either position. He does not have the short area quickness and change of direction necessary to play outside linebacker. And he would not seem to be big enough, or stout enough, to play defensive end, a position predicated on eating blocks and playing strong against the run.
This is where quality coaching comes in; thinking outside the box and seeing the potential in a player previously tabbed for an entirely different role. Since minicamps in May, Curry has been attempting to put on weight via Kelly’s magical milkshakes. This is no doubt because the coaching staff sees defensive end as the means by which Curry can make the roster.
Curry, who had good – if limited – success rushing the quarterback from the defensive tackle position at Marshall and then at the Senior Bowl, does possess raw elements to his game that could translate well to playing defensive end in a 3-4.
He is quick off the ball, has a strong bull rush, and if he continues learning how to use his punch and his hands in general he could make the team and possibly even become a contender for playing time. The imperative word there though, is “could.” He needs to develop his lower body in order to anchor against larger offensive linemen, and he needs to learn to love physical play and stopping the run.
But there is hope.
San Francisco’s Justin Smith, one of the premiere 3-4 defensive ends in the league, was only 267 pounds his combine year. He is now up to 285. And J.J. Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league at this point, plays 3-4 defensive end at 290 pounds. Curry, who came in last year weighing about 260, is now up to 280.
If he is unable to secure a defensive end spot for himself, the only other really feasible option for Curry is if he is able to have great success in specific sub-packages, like when the team run’s more of a 4-3 look, with four down lineman on third-and-longs. Billy Davis will look to provide a number of different looks for their opponents, but there is no telling week to week how many snaps a certain sub-package will play.
What it all boils down to for Curry though, is a combination of what the coaches see in him, and what he is able to bring day in and day out in training camp. There is nothing that says he can’t turn himself into a quality defensive end, but it is a tough road to hoe.
He has been running with the second team so far, but these next several weeks will be a make or break time for him. He has the opportunity. He has the ability. Now it is up to him to prove to the coaches and fans that he deserves a spot on this team. I for one think he can pull it off.