Eagles revamped defense with low-profile moves
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles quietly improved their defense after bolstering the offense with high-profile additions.
They drafted defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round, acquired cornerback Ronald Darby and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan in trades and signed defensive end Chris Long in free agency.
Those are the most notable new faces on a unit that went from being one of the NFL’s worst three straight seasons to middle of the pack under first-year defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“Please don’t put on my résumé that I elevated this to a top 15 (defense),” Schwartz said. “That’s a participation trophy in my mind. And I don’t want to split hairs or whatever. The stat that we care about the most is points allowed. I think we were 12th in there. That’s still not as good as we can be. On paper, we’re better. We have added not only depth, but we’ve added some key components to the defense.”
After finishing in the bottom three in yards allowed between 2013-15, the Eagles were 13th last year. They ranked 12th in fewest points allowed and 10th in takeaways.
“We have to give our team consistently the best chance to win the game and the best way we can do that is points allowed,” Schwartz said. “There are two things: first is don’t allow very many points, and number two is set the offense up to score. That’s one thing that we were very good at last year.”
Barnett , Long and Jernigan join Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox and ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry to form one of the strongest and deepest defensive lines in the league.
“Keep guys fresh, keep throwing fastballs out of the bullpen,” Schwartz said. “But that being said, over the course of the season, you also have to reward production.”
Darby is one of four new cornerbacks, joining rookie Rasul Douglas and veterans Patrick Robinson and Dexter McDougle. Second-year pro Jalen Mills will start opposite Darby, who was acquired from Buffalo.
“I like where we are,” Schwartz said. “I think Jalen Mills is one of the most improved players on our team. Add veteran guys in like Patrick Robinson and (safety) Corey Graham, both of those guys have some multidimensional skills, can play inside and play outside.”
Linebacker is the only position where the Eagles stood pat. Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks are the starters. Hicks is an outstanding middle linebacker, Bradham is steady and Kendricks had an impressive preseason after being the odd-man out in nickel situations.
“It’s our responsibility to get the guys that can best produce on the field,” Schwartz said. ”(Kendricks) certainly forced himself into that conversation.”
The revamped defense has a tough test in Sunday’s season opener against Kirk Cousins and the Redskins. The Eagles allowed 27 points in each of their losses to Washington last season.
Signing wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount got most of the attention in the offseason. But the new guys on defense could make the most impact.
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