Everybody in San Antonio wanted to hug Brett Brown last night

Everybody in San Antonio wanted to hug Brett Brown last night

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Brett Brown has nothing but respect for the San Antonio Spurs and always speaks incredibly highly of the memories and championships from the time he spent there. That respect goes both ways.

Brown returned to San Antonio last night as head coach of a Philadelphia 76ers team that will likely set the NBA's All-Time losing streak record, but Greg Popovich and his players had nothing but praise for their old pal.

“I think he is as tough minded as the environment that exists there in Philly,” Popovich said. “He’s a very focused individual with great competitiveness and unbelievable fiber. He keeps an eye on what’s important. He will always be participatory and creative, but at the same time very consistent in his demands and knowing what wins and loses. He can stick with a program and is loyal as the day is long. He’s a winner in life in a whole lot of ways.”

And after the game the hugs just kept coming as you can watch in the above video.

Watching the two teams was tough knowing that the one you root for is miles away from the crisp ball-moving, shot-making team that beat them handily. But it also gives you a tiny bit of hope that Brett Brown can build that sort of culture in Philadelphia. It probably won't happen over night or even with one lucky bounce of a lottery ball, but the way his old cohorts in San Antonio speak about him, it makes you believe it's possible.

Eagles should have top-10 defense with Derek Barnett, improved cornerback play

Eagles should have top-10 defense with Derek Barnett, improved cornerback play

The scene at the Art Museum was insane. The noise, the energy, the enthusiasm. Electrifying.

When the Cardinals picked Temple's Haason Reddick at No. 13, the reality hit everybody that the Eagles could snag an elite cornerback like Marlon Humphrey, Tre'Davious White or Gareon Conley. They could get a stud tight end like O.J. Howard. They could even grab a projected top-10 pick like linebacker Reuben Foster or defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who both plummeted through the first round.

They were going to get a stud.

The minutes wound down, and then commissioner Roger Goodell walked to the podium and announced the name "Derek Barnett," and ... it wasn't like people booed, but the reaction sure was muted.

It was just like ... "OK then."

I don't know why Eagles fans wouldn't be thrilled with this pick (see debate for/against Barnett at No. 14).

Barnett is not Jerome McDougle, Jon Harris or Marcus Smith. He's not another Eagles first-round defensive end bust.

He's a 20-year-old kid with boundless upside who played at a high level against the best competition in college football, and his speed and relentless effort fits perfectly into defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's scheme.

And he just happens to fill a crucial need on a defense that desperately needs pass rush help.

He's exactly what the Eagles needed.

I think pass rush was just as big a need for this team as cornerback, and this draft is so deep at corner that going defensive end in the first round and corner in the second or third round made perfect sense.

So let's look at what Schwartz has to work with as he enters Year 2.

Up front, he has Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Beau Allen inside and Barnett with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long outside. The Eagles will miss Bennie Logan, but on paper, that's a very good defensive line.

At linebacker, budding star Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham will get the lion's share of the snaps. Mychal Kendricks is still a de facto starter, but I still don't think he'll be here by opening day. And even if he is, he'll play only 15 to 20 snaps per game.

You have two very good safeties in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, and that really leaves cornerback as the one big giant question mark on defense.

But whoever the Eagles run out there — I would guess Jalen Mills and whoever they draft on Friday, with Ron Brooks back in the slot if he's healthy — will be an upgrade over Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin. Anything would be an upgrade over Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin.

When I look at this group, I see a top-10 defense.

And if you think that's crazy, consider this: The Eagles were only three yards per game away from being a top-10 defense last year, in their first year in Schwartz's scheme, with Connor Barwin playing out of position, a terrible set of cornerbacks and huge issues getting to the quarterback.

Consider this: The 2016 Eagles limited opposing QBs to the fifth-lowest completion percentage in the NFL, allowed the fifth-fewest first downs, allowed the eighth-fewest TDs and ranked third in the red zone.

This was a better defense a year ago than people realized.

What was its biggest issue? Allowing big pass plays.

The Eagles allowed a ridiculous 27 pass plays of 30 yards or more, second-worst in the NFL (one fewer than the Raiders).

Big plays killed this team a year ago, and that's a combination of a lack of pass pressure and terrible cornerback play.

Greatly reduce those big plays and this is a playoff defense.

The Eagles have already jettisoned their starting cornerbacks, and Mills and a rookie will be an upgrade. And now they've addressed their pass rush.

How much difference will Barnett make in Year 1? No way to tell yet. But I have to think a rotation of Graham, Barnett, Curry and Long will be more productive than Graham, Barwin, Curry and Marcus Smith.

The Eagles haven't had an elite defense since Jim Johnson's last season, when they ranked fourth in the NFL in points allowed and third in yards allowed.

That team won a couple playoff games, reached the NFC Championship Game, and was one fourth-quarter, fourth-down stop on Tim Hightower away from Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa.

That was 2008. That was nine years ago.

It's no coincidence that the last time the Eagles had an elite defense was the last time they won a playoff game.

It's been a long, sad eight years since. Years filled with coaching changes, a lack of stability at quarterback and defensive play that Eagles fans had to be largely embarrassed by.

How do you go from Brian Dawkins, Trent Cole, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown celebrating playoff wins to Nnamdi Asomugha waving his arms at Kurt Coleman after allowing yet another touchdown bomb just a few short years later?

Sad. This is a city that loves offense but loves defense even more.

I'm not sure this is ready to be an elite defense yet, but drafting Barnett is going to help the Eagles continue becoming a pretty darn good one.

Derek Barnett to the Eagles explained

Derek Barnett to the Eagles explained

“His production is unmatched.”

  • Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett

Player A and Player B play three concurrent seasons at separate, major FBS programs. Player A registers 32.5 sacks, 16.0 of which -- or half -- are against mid-majors. Player B registers 33.0 sacks, 29.0 of which are against SEC opponents, with just 1.0 against mid-majors.

Player A is Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, the No. 1-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Player B is Derek Barnett, the newest member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In the city where Reggie White’s jersey is still a best seller, the Eagles drafted the player who bested his collegiate sack record at the University of Tennessee. What more do you want?

No, Barnett is not the Minister of Defense. Barnett may not possess the upside of Garrett, or even Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas at No. 3 overall, either. Of course, none of White, Garrett or Thomas were options for the Eagles, so it’s sort of a moot point.

Barnett was on the board when the Eagles were on the clock with the 14th pick in 2017, and he was peerless.

His production wasn’t merely unmatched among pass rushers. There wasn’t a prospect available at any position with Barnett’s résumé -- total dominance from his true-freshman season on, in college football’s toughest, most pro-ready conference.

It’s simple, really. Had Barnett returned for his senior season, he had an excellent shot at eclipsing Ravens great Terrell Suggs’ 44 sacks -- the official* FBS record. (Derrick Thomas and Teddiu Bruschi are credited with 52 sacks, before the NCAA kept official statistics.)

There is the matter of Barnett’s unfortunate time in the 40-yard dash, which Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said required no excuses, right before making the excuses.

The lesson of Mike Mamula was only 22 years ago, but fortunately for the franchise’s fans, this front office doesn’t appear intent on making that mistake again. Well, again, after making it again with Marcus Smith in 2014.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about turning a track star into an NFL pass rusher.

Defensive end is clearly a need for the Eagles as well. Brandon Graham has never posted more than 6.5 sacks in a season. Vinny Curry has never even started a game. Chris Long is 32. Smith is a bust. Alex McCalister has yet to play a down. Lots of talent, but no answers.

Honestly, there’s almost nothing to dislike about Barnett. The pick lacks a certain sex appeal, because you can’t draft him on your fantasy football team, and he doesn’t fill the obvious need at glamour position like cornerback.

Barnett just tackled the opposing team’s quarterback roughly once per game on average at Tennessee. Nothing too important.

Whether Barnett can continue to do that at the next level remains to be seen. Yet, while there may be more athletic pass rushers in this draft, the tape will show none are as polished.

Barnett wasn’t the popular pick in this class by any means for Eagles fans -- he wouldn’t have cracked the top five, and I’m not so sure about the top 10. Although, as far as the No. 14 pick is concerned, Barnett doesn’t really have a flaw, either.