Eagles' pass-rushing need may not be addressed

Eagles' pass-rushing need may not be addressed

Gunn gives his Eagles areas of need

May 2, 2014, 12:00 pm
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Connor Barwin was second on the Eagles with five sacks last season. (AP)

You know the Eagles need pass rushers. I know the Eagles need pass rushers. Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly certainly know the Eagles need pass rushers.
 
Only problem is, good ones are really hard to find.
 
Going into the offseason, adding a pass rusher or two was at the top of everybody’s list of Eagles needs. They didn’t sign one in free agency, because they just didn’t feel there was good value there, and there’s a sobering chance they won’t draft one, at least not in the early rounds.
 
Which leaves them … with the same guys as last year?
 
“You’re always looking to add pass rushers,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. “There’s no doubt about it.
 
“But at the same time, you don’t want to sign or draft someone that you don’t think is a good player and that you don’t think is worth the resource that you put out there -- whether it’s a pick or money. Those are hard guys to find.”
 
The top 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebackers in this year’s draft are Khalil Mack from Buffalo and Anthony Barr from UCLA, who are both expected to be long gone by the time the Eagles pick at No. 22.
 
Ryan Shazier of Ohio State and Kyle Van Noy of BYU are potential late first-round picks the Eagles could target, as is Missouri’s Kony Ealy, a 4-3 defensive end who should be able to convert to 3-4 linebacker in the NFL.
 
But Roseman indicated Thursday that there’s a good chance the Eagles will simply stick with what they have: veteran Trent Cole, who goes into his second year as a 3-4 linebacker after nearly a decade playing 4-3 defensive end; Connor Barwin, who once had an 11 1/2-sack season with the Texans; one-time first-round pick Brandon Graham; and whoever else they can scrounge up.
 
“When you look at every draft, we’ll be sitting here saying the pass rushers are going to go early,” Roseman said. “That’s normally what happens. You don’t sit in the third and fourth round and go, ‘Man, I can’t believe that pass rusher is still on the board.’ Because it’s hard to find. Those are guys that every team is looking for [to find] ways to get pressure on the quarterback.
 
“Obviously, we just saw the Seahawks. That was one of their claims of fame in the season, their ability to get pressure and have multiple pass rushers.”
 
The Eagles recorded just 37 sacks last year, 20th in the NFL. More than half (19) came in four games. They had seven games with one or no sacks and five more with three or fewer.
 
So the obvious reaction to that is to stockpile pass rushers. But Roseman said one more year in Billy Davis’s defense could be a smarter solution than just adding new players.
 
Cole had no sacks through eight games a year ago as he transitioned to a new position, but he recorded eight over the last eight games of the season, and during that stretch only four players in the entire NFL -- none of them linebackers -- had more sacks than Cole.
 
“Trent Cole was a 4-3 defensive end who came in his first year and had eight sacks and most of them were in the second half of the season when everyone would say, ‘Well maybe he’s gonna start to wear down,’” Roseman said.
 
“When you look at his production over the last couple of years vs. the better pass-rushers in the NFL, it’s pretty good. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his transition into this defense and the production he had.
 
“And then Brandon Graham has shown he can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4. We’re always gonna be looking for those guys. Obviously we brought in Connor, who we think is a really good fit. And we have some young guys that are here in the offseason that we’re excited to see, that we almost feel like are extra draft picks.”
 
At the top of that list is Travis Long, a 6-foot-4, 250-pounder who the Eagles signed as an undrafted free agent just before training camp. Long had 20½ sacks at Washington State, including 9½ as a senior.
 
“He’s one of the guys that when we came back after the June/July break, and we looked at our list of guys still [available], we said, ‘Man, he’s not on a team,’” Roseman said. “And we had him work out and he did a tremendous job and he’s bulked up this offseason.
 
“We had a chance before the games to watch him every week get better in his drops, he’s shown the ability to rush the passer in the Pac-12.”
 
So would the Eagles move forward with Cole, Barwin, Graham and Long and no new outside linebackers?
 
It’s not that far-fetched.
 
“It’s something we’re going to constantly be looking at,” Roseman said. “But we also think we have some guys in the building who can do the job.”

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