Philadelphia Eagles Defense Transformation

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Oct 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker

Connor Barwin

(98) runs off the field after a win against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Giants, 27-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles Defense Transformation: Linebackers

Much was made in the off-season about the lack of pass rush, and the expectation grew to the point where fans began to define trades for Miami DE Dion Jordan, or to move up in the draft to sign one of the top outside linebackers.

The Eagles opted to go a different path.  It was a familiar cliche’:  If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will go to the mountain.   The mountain in this case was more sacks and quarterback pressure, and Mohammed is the Eagles defense.  Since the Eagles were unable to attract more talent to the team, they improved the talents of players on the roster.   They did that when Billy Davis called one of his two-time former players: Kevin Greene.  Davis had this to say about Greene’s help:

"“He’s out here helping us coach. He shouldn’t be here this weekend. He should be getting a gold jacket fitted, because the guys got 160 career sacks… But his knowledge of the simplicity of pass rush, and what he’s bringing here for three days to help us and to pick his brain of how he did it, the players are grabbing him and how he did. It was very basic, fundamental way of rushing the passer that he’s bringing to our guys.” – Billy Davis"

Two players who immediately resonated with Greene tutelage were outside linebackers Conner Barwin and Brandon Graham.  Both reached a point in the event where they resonated with Greene.  Barwin saw Greene’s height, weight, measurable, and realized that he was a doppelganger in measurables.   Graham heard the message “become violent.  Pick two or three moves and perfect them.”

While the Eagles are driving opposing quarterbacks crazy with pressure, they are also training for the future.   Draft selection Marcus Smith II has not been able to crack the Eagles lineup and continues to be a game day question mark.  But that is not necessarily a bad thing as many believe.    To some, Smith was the heir apparent to Eagles legend Trent Cole, and should be pushing for starting time.  But with Barwin, Cole, and Graham, the Eagles are trying to get snaps for everyone.   Rather than stagnate the man’s training, he’s getting looks and snaps at the inside as well.  With the injury to Mychal Kendricks, the team has been using a consortium of Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho, and Smith.

"“He gets to go inside,” Davis said. “It’s tough to adjust your eyes. It’s the biggest challenge he has. He was outside his whole career in college. You move inside, the visual part of it changes … it’s a learning curve that’s a little bit different.”"

It’s tough to judge Smith’s career with so little football under his belt. Everyone knew Smith would be a project, and the Eagles had the luxury of taking that project on as the team was already set at starters.  It remains to be seen how the Eagles work this out, but linebackers are not a weak link on this defense.