A Defensive End Preview

Sheil Kapadia:

Jenkins has been getting some reps at defensive end with Jason Babin out. We didn’t see him outside much last year, although Jenkins played defensive end while in a 3-4 with the Packers.

“I just gotta get back used to it,” he said. “My hand work is a little off, especially on the left side. When I did play D-End in the past, I was used to being on the right side, so when I’m on the left side, I gotta get used to the hands, vertical steps and all that stuff.”

I’m a fan of whatever looks Jim Washburn wants to throw at offenses, but with Trent Cole also out with swelling in his shoulder, now seems like the perfect time to get lots of looks at the quartet of Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp, and Philip Hunt. You’re not going to be able to keep all four of those guys.

Seeing Cole and Babin both dealing with injuries is also a worthy reminder that they’re not youngsters anymore. They were tremendous pass rushers last year, but a decline could be coming.

UPDATE: Graham is running with the ones, and Jenkins and Tapp are rotating on the other side.

Jim Washburn is a Quote Machine

Reuben Frank compiled the full transcript of Jim Washburn’s session with the media earlier this week in two parts. It’s so glorious I’m having trouble picking my favorite parts.

“I can’t lie,” Washburn said. “That’s why they don’t want me to talk.”

Please keep talking, Wash.

Eagles Draft More Linemen Than Anyone Else

Great numbers by Jimmy Kempski over at Blogging the bEast. Turns out, the Eagles have drafted more total offensive and defensive lineman in the last five years than any other team. Alright, so they’re not actually first by percent of total picks, but still, Andy Reid values numbers in the trenches.

Note that the Eagles have taken 18 linemen in the last five drafts. That’s the same as the Redskins and Cowboys combined.

On Run Defense and Wasting the Offense's Time

Interesting nuggets on Jim Washburn’s philosophy, from Rich Hoffman:

"I know that Jason Babin is not a great run player," he said. "But in this thing we’re doing, if he does it the right way, he can be adequate – or more than adequate.

“We could put a 300-pounder out there and he would be a whole lot better [against the run)] But this is 54 percent pass on first down in the NFL. So if you get some big stud out there that can play the run, crush the run, but can’t rush the passer, then you’ve conceded 54 percent of the time.

“[Babin] can be a whole lot better as a run player, but he wasn’t terrible. That’s the truth.”

Washburn says the goal is to hit the quarterback every pass play, and he says that his team’s performance tends to be more about what they do than what the opponent does, and that when he shows different formations and such – like when he has a player standing up and not in a stance – it tends partly to be about making the other teams waste time in practice on inconsequential stuff, and partly keeping his own guys interested. That last part, he says, is a big part of the job.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Defensive End

Darryl Tapp Juqua Parker

What the Eagles did: Back in February, I ran the numbers on the pass rush from the Eagles defensive line. The results were telling:

2011 Eagles Defensive Ends

While production was way up across the entire group (thanks Wash), there was a clear separation. Trent Cole and Jason Babin were spectacular, and with any luck we can get similar production from that duo going forward. They are Pro Bowl-caliber players going into their 30 and 32-year-old seasons, respectively. That places them on the tail end of their prime, most likely, but certainly still in it. No worries there for 2012.

The next pairing I would group are Philip Hunt and Brandon Graham — the question marks. I’m not so sure about his run defense, but Hunt’s pass rushing in limited snaps showed tremendous potential. I’m very interested to see if he can increase his role this season. Graham basically experienced a lost year in 2012. This is his make-or-break campaign. He has the raw talent to push for serious playing time, or he could fall away completely.

The final two were Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp. As situational pass rushers, neither player was bad, per se. But compared to the rest of the group? The Eagles let Parker walk in free agency, and Tapp now has serious competition to remain on the roster.

Meanwhile, the team added Vinny Curry in the second round, making him the most talented football-playing Eagles fan anywhere. Curry slots right in with Hunt and Graham at this point. He’s young, ideally-suited to Jim Washburn’s schemes, and could contribute right away.

What I would have done: I might have tried to trade Darryl Tapp away during the draft for an extra pick, but I can see the logic in keeping him around at this point. After Babin and Cole, Tapp is the only defensive end with starting experience. He’s a solid veteran insurance policy, even if he looks like the odd man out right now.

Other than that one nitpicky point, solid job by Howie Roseman.

Way-too-early prediction: Especially with the flexibility to slide Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox outside, I can’t imagine the Eagles would keep more than five players at defensive end. Barring injuries, Cole, Babin, Graham, and Curry are all locked in. As I discussed above, there’s reason to be fairly bullish about Hunt’s chances as well. That puts Tapp (and whichever free agent replaces the now-injured Maurice Favorite) out on the street.

Other than that general roster prognostication, I don’t really have any idea who will emerge as the first guy off the bench. It should be one of the more interesting positions to watch from a playing-time competition standpoint.

Photo from Getty.

My 2012 Eagles Draft Predictions

Danny Watkins Eagles NFL Draft

Last year at this time I made eight predictions about what the Eagles would do in the draft. Some of them were more conservative than others, and I missed on one of my biggest guesses — saying that the team wouldn’t draft at their assigned first round spot. Still, I managed to get six of eight correct, and predicted the general thrust of the draft rather well (linebacker and offensive line, not defensive line).

So I’m back again for another round of likely folly. Here are my predictions for what we will see over the next few days.

  1. Carpet-bombing the defense: early and often. Big picture: all the talented young players are on offense. You can quibble with this if you want, since there’s no reason to give up already on guys like Brandon Graham or Nate Allen. Still, the defense needs more playmakers going forward, and the only way to do that is to spend at least three out of the Eagles first four picks on defensive players. I expect the team to come out of the draft with as many as half their picks going toward the front seven.

  2. No rookie running back, no safety. Unless the Eagles fall in love with one prospect, I just don’t see much benefit in adding another young running back or safety. Both positions have a single open back up job and that spot really needs to be filled with a veteran whose only responsibility is to fill in this year if something goes wrong. Instead, watch out for an Ellis Hobbs-type trade for a marginalized veteran player.

  3. One offensive lineman, maximum. Last year the Eagles snatched up three interior linemen to build out Howard Mudd’s new blocking scheme. If not for Jason Peters’s injury, I’m not sure they would have bothered drafting even one this year, but a long term project at tackle now makes sense.

  4. Chad Hall 2.0. Andy Reid loves the multidimensional ability that Hall brings to the offense so much that he’s willing to overlook his complete lack of NFL-caliber skills. I think the Eagles will draft someone like Florida’s Chris Rainey to return kicks and serve as a speedier x-factor on offense. Best case scenario, the team also gets its long-term replacement for Jason Avant with this guy.

  5. Choir boys. Howie Roseman made some comments to reporters recently in which he seemed to flirt with the idea of taking more character risks. His actions over the last two drafts say otherwise. I expect the Eagles’ fascination with captains, seniors, and consistent, big-school performers to continue (e.g. no Vontaze Burfict).

  6. Michael Vick is still safe. With few good quarterback options in this draft and the whole organization focused on getting Vick back on track in 2012, there’s no good case to reach for a quarterback of the future. Trent Edwards is tremendously uninspiring, but his competition is likely to be either a late round flier (Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore) or a veteran to be pursued later.

  7. Surprise neglect of cornerback early on. With Asante Samuel gone, there’s plenty of room to go after Dre Kirkpartrick or another cover guy in the first round. But of the Eagles defensive spots, cornerback still has the most options. The team is heavily committed to Nnamdi Asomugha over the next few years and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a likely candidate for a contract extension. Curtis Marsh is the wildcard. He made no impact in 2011, but was always considered a project with all the skills. Todd Bowles may not need another youngster.

  8. At least ten rookies. Last year one of my failed predictions was that the Eagles wouldn’t use all of their picks. But of course, they love drafting players and will probably end up trading back to add picks at least once.

I’m not making a prediction for the first round, although I already laid out what I think the Eagles are thinking (Peter King shoutout). Fletcher Cox is the potential trade-up candidate, Luke Kuechly the likely front-runner if they stay at 15 overall. Barring that I’m less sure, although a versatile pass rusher like Melvin Ingram makes the most sense of the remaining players.

Photo from Getty.

Brandon Graham, Bust?

Dave Spadaro:

Graham is back at square one, in a sense. The Eagles are counting on him to deliver the promise that made him a first-round draft pick. Is he that special player who the Eagles coveted so much that they traded up in the first round to acquire? Or is he just not the right fit in the league?

Or is Graham somewhere between the two extremes?

"Day by day," he says. "I’m just taking it day by day."

Maybe I’m the only one, but this was the first time I read a puff piece on the Eagles website and came away thinking the profiled player was more of a bust then when I started reading.

Despite Jenkins' Return, DT is a Top Draft Priority

Les Bowen:

Even though Jenkins is 31 and might not be a long-term starter, his return, along with the return from injury of Antonio Dixon, might mean the Eagles don’t target a defensive tackle with the 15th overall selection in the April entry draft. If they re-sign pending free agent Derek Landri, that will become even less likely.

Disagree. As I briefly mentioned a few weeks ago, the defensive line is in need of young talent. This Cullen Jenkins contract restructuring is nice, but he’s not a long term solution at tackle. Nor is Mike Patterson, Derek Landri, or Trevor Laws. Plus, as Sheil Kapadia noted today, there’s already a robust rotation that would easily integrate a new addition.

All in all, if the Eagles address middle linebacker in free agency and Luke Kuechly remains the only consensus first round 4-3 linebacker, defensive tackle immediately jumps to the front of the line in terms of most likely early pick.

Jim Washburn, the Draft, and Size at DE

Jevon Kearse Trent Cole Eagles

Linebacker is by far my preferred first round draft choice for the Eagles. Given the severe dearth of talent at that position, it’s not even a particularly close decision in my mind.

That said, teams shouldn’t reach too far for need. You should attempt to select the best player available, lest you end up with another Danny Watkins. With that in mind, I could easily see the Eagles going with a different position in the first round, perhaps cornerback after they trade Asante Samuel, or, more likely, defensive line.

Whether or not it’s the first round, Jim Washburn could use an infusion of youthful talent along the front four. Trent Cole and Jason Babin are both Pro Bowl-caliber ends, but they’re both closer to the end of their prime than they are to the start — and the situtation behind them is murky. Brandon Graham is coming off a serious injury and a lost season. Darryl Tapp and Philip Hunt have had their moments in the Wide Nine, but neither can be trusted to take over as a starter if needed.

The defensive tackle spot is in a similar situation, but I’m just going to look at defensive ends today. The question is, what kind of end does Washburn want? And the answer to that question suggests that there may be more turnover than we think.

Jim Washburn DE Draft Picks At right are the defensive ends selected in Tennessee in the 12 years Washburn was coaching there. He must have had tremendous input into which players were taken. In theory, these are players that are prototypical for what Washburn wants to do at the position.

The thing that jumps out at me immediately is their size. Washburn’s only drafted two defensive ends shorter than 6’4”. And his free agent picks have all been in that 6’4”-6’6” range too: Kyle Vanden Bosh, Dave Ball, Kevin Carter, etc.

It’s just an interesting piece of trivia until you look at the Eagles current group of ends. Tapp is only 6’1”. Hunt is 6’0”. Graham,at a generously labeled 6’2”, would (given the opportunity) be the smallest defensive end who’s ever started for Washburn. Now, this doesn’t rule them out completely. If they’re good enough they’ll play, regardless of size. Both Cole and Babin, listed at 6’3”, are still on the small side of Washburn’s range.

(Note: Washburn’s tackles have been on average 6’3”. Only Cedric Thorton and Antonio Dixon currently fit that mold.)

But, with that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if those two and Graham are the only players at defensive end who return in 2012.

Tommy Lawlor, the authority on all things Eagles draft, mentioned some of the defensive ends scouting consultant Phil Savage talked to at the Senior Bowl. Based on Washburn’s preferences, I would be surprised if the Eagles selected the relatively short Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw. Cam Johnson, a player Tommy likes a lot, would a more natural fit at 6’4”.

Come April, the Eagles have ten draft picks. I could easily envision a scenario in which they spend four of them on the defensive line, and at least two at end. And when you’re shuffling through prospect profiles for a preview of players who might end up in Philly, keep your eye on height as a key factor.

Photo from Getty.

Washburn and Spagnuolo

Peter King:

Someone Who Knows told me a major roadblock to Steve Spagnuolo taking the defensive coordinator job in Philadelphia was the presence of very strong personality Jim Washburn on the defensive line.

This doesn’t surprise me. The Wide Nine was always a red herring in talks about whether a new coordinator would be compatible with Washburn. The bigger issue is that a new coordinator would have to cede all control of the line to his supposed underling. Remember, Washburn doesn’t take orders from anyone.

'We Can Just Let Him Walk'

Jason Wilde, for ESPN Milwaukee:

“You look at it now, even though they’re saying that stuff, before the season and throughout the whole offseason, everybody had that attitude that they could just replace me, that I was just another player. ‘We can just let him walk,’” Jenkins said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “Certain players spoke out publicly about guys they hoped they’d bring back, but back then you didn’t hear anybody say too much about me. So I don’t pay it too much attention.”

The Packers’ loss was the Eagles’ gain. I’ll be surprised if the Eagles choose to cut Jenkins just so they don’t have to pay him the $5 million roster bonus in March.

Is the Wide Nine to Blame for Poor Run Defense?

Since I’m worried that these may be some of the Eagles final days with Jim Washburn as defensive line coach, now is as good a time as any to analyze his impact on the defensive line. A few days ago I showed how Washburn formed an elite pass rush.

Today, let’s look at the run defense.

During the season the Wide Nine technique was often scapegoated for poor run defense. While no one doubted that the Eagles linebackers were awful, many also alleged that Washburn’s scheming put too much pressure on those overmatched LBs.

To that end, it’s worth examining the defensive line to see how much it contributed to the problem, if at all.

Football Outsiders numbers suggest that, if anything, the line was the only thing working correctly against the run. While they place the Eagles squarely in the middle of the league on adjusted line yards, the defensive line was third-best in the NFL at both power success (denying short yardage runs) and stuffed percentage (runs stopped behind the line of scrimmage). The bigger problems appeared in second level and open field yards, which are generally the responsibility of the linebackers and safeties.

But let’s look more specifically, player by player. Pro Football Focus has the numbers there:

Eagles Defensive Ends Run Defense

At defensive end, I don’t see much cause for blaming Washburn. Both Trent Cole and Darryl Tapp improved on their tackle and stop percentages in 2011. Juqua Parker dropped off, but there’s little reason to think that was because of the Wide Nine.

Jason Babin does come out looking pretty bad here. Among defensive ends with at least 25 percent of their team’s run snaps, Babin ranked near the bottom — 51st — in stop rate. Unlike Cole, Babin isn’t a complete player. But if he can continue to put up big sack numbers, it won’t really matter.

Eagles Defensive Tackle Run Defense

The two main holdovers from 2010, Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws, both improved against the run last year. Broderick Bunkley helped Denver reach the second round of the playoffs, but the additions of Derek Landri and Cullen Jenkins more than made up for that loss.

Overall, I just don’t see any merit to the arguments that blame poor run defense in Jim Washburn and the front four. All signs point to the putrid tacklers playing behind them, not the line itself.

An Eagles Pass Rush Worth Keeping

Trent Cole Philadelphia Eagles

With the bottle still spinning in the Eagles presumed search for a new defensive coordinator, the fate of defensive line coach Jim Washburn is up in the air. Will Steve Spagnuolo, the free agent front runner, see working with Washburn, or are the tactical and personality differences too great to overcome?

All I know is, it would be an absolute shame if Spagnuolo or any other new coordinator failed to incorporate Washburn into his scheme. The numbers bear out what an amazing job Washburn did with the Eagles defensive line, turning it into the best pass rushing front four in the whole NFL.

Pro Football Focus has a great statistic on this, Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP). The stat measures the percentage of pass rushes in which players record a sack, hit, or hurry (weighted 75 percent for the latter two).

Here’s what PRP had for the Eagles defensive ends in 2010, with Jason Babin’s year in Tennessee included for reference. “25% Rank” is the player’s standing next to all other pass rushers with at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.

2010 Eagles Defensive Ends

As you can see, the Eagles defensive line was very effective under Sean McDermott. Darryl Tapp was the worst regular contributor, and he ranked 29th among all defensive ends. Trent Cole led the league in hurries and Brandon Graham showed promise before his knee injury.

But what about 2011:

2011 Eagles Defensive Ends

There were a number of changes. For starters, even without Graham, substitutions were up. Cole was in on over 100 fewer passing plays. Also, the zone coverage attempts by defensive ends that marked 5-10 percent of plays in 2010 were largely eliminated.

The result of these changes and the new Wide Nine technique was an across the board jump in pressure from the ends. Cole moved up to number one in the NFL, Babin improved on his Titans production, and Darryl Tapp — still the laggard — brought up the rear at 10th best in the league. Moreover, even the back ups scored highly in limited snaps.

That is a remarkable improvement. To be complete, let’s also check the defensive tackles’ pass rushing:

2010 Eagles Defensive Tackles

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Broderick Bunkley had the highest PRP among Eagles defensive tackles in 2010. In 2011, the Eagles had three (almost four) who scored higher than Bunkley. That says pretty much everything that needs to be said there.

All the numbers above are interesting, and you can pull out other nuggets in the comments (such as Hunt’s efficiency or Laws’s ineffectiveness), but overall this tells a clear story about the positive impact Jim Washburn has had on this defensive line.

I’m optimistic that a good coordinator can adapt to Washburn’s strengths, but I fear that whoever the Eagles bring in will be too stubborn to do so. Cross your fingers.

Photo from Getty.

Jim Washburn Doesn't Take It From Anyone

Sean Jensen, at Yahoo Sports:

When he signed with the Tennessee Titans, defensive line coach Jim Washburn told him that he’d give snaps to the best players, regardless of where they were drafted or how much they were paid.

“ ‘If Jeff Fisher tells me who to play, I’m going to tell him to [expletive] himself,’ ” Babin said Washburn told him. “ ‘Then he can fire me.’ ”