Barwin helping Cole, Graham with switch to OLB

Barwin helping Cole, Graham with switch to OLB

August 5, 2013, 7:00 pm
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Connor Barwin has been helping Trent Cole (left) and Brandon Graham (right) with the switch to 3-4. (AP)

Former Houston Texans standout Mario Williams was off to a blinding start in 2011.

Just five games into the season, the former No. 1 overall pick racked up a quintet of sacks and forced a fumble, but he didn't do it in the same role that propelled him to 48 quarterback takedowns in the previous five campaigns.

After starting 77 games at defensive end for Houston, the star revolutionized his game in the 2011 offseason when newly appointed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips established a 3-4 defense.

Connor Barwin was a member of that Texans defense, and he saw Williams make the switch to his position: outside linebacker.

"He was open to the transition. He was excited about it. Unfortunately, he got hurt that year (tearing his pectoral muscle)," Barwin said Monday after Eagles practice at Lincoln Financial Field. "He was off to a great start."

The same transformation Williams underwent two years ago is almost identical to what a pair of Barwin's new teammates, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, are now undergoing.

New head coach Chip Kelly brought in defensive coordinator Billy Davis after being hired and planted the seeds of a 3-4 scheme.

With that change came a new reality for Cole and Graham -- two former benefactors of the old wide-nine set now had to move to outside linebacker. Of the 11 years of NFL experience between them, all of it has been spent at defensive end.

But for experience in the 3-4, Barwin -- who signed a six-year deal with the Eagles in the offseason -- is here to help.

"Connor's been a very big help. He's been in our situation and has played the position before. ... When we need to know some terminology we can ask him or the coaches," Cole said. "There's always someone to go to."

Graham agreed with his teammate, saying Barwin has been a positive presence for them throughout the conversion.

However, Barwin hasn't been a coach on the field per se. Graham said he and Cole make mistakes in practice and leave them be until further examination in the film room.

Graham also credited his offseason workouts with former Michigan Wolverines teammate LaMarr Woodley as aiding in his switch.

Woodley, who plays in a 3-4 scheme with the Steelers, worked with Graham on some of the mental aspects of playing linebacker, like the decision to stay in coverage or commit to a scrambling quarterback when a play breaks down.

"It helped me from a mental standpoint," Graham said. "You know it's going to come, but you just got to keep working at it."

Cole expressed enthusiasm about his change of direction, but he too said that it takes a bit of work.

The 30-year-old veteran said he's seen his range of motion improve standing up as an outside backer as opposed to having his hand in the dirt -- an new aspect of his game he thinks could make it easier to wreak havoc on quarterbacks.

"What I've got from playing outside linebacker is that I'm lighter on my feet, which has helped me tremendously in my pass rush game," Cole said. "I feel like I can change directions better than what I used to. It's awesome having that kind of feeling."

And with the Eagles' first preseason game coming up Friday against the Patriots, Cole and Graham will have the opportunity to preview their newly acquired comfort at linebacker.

Graham said he's itching to showcase what he's learned so far.

But, have he and Cole fully made the transition?

Barwin thinks they are well on their way.

"They've made the transition," Barwin said. "They understand the differences [between end and linebacker] and what it takes to have success [in the 3-4]."