Derek Barnett

Eagles D-line coach: Too early to talk about Derek Barnett as starter

Eagles D-line coach: Too early to talk about Derek Barnett as starter

Two preseason games into his NFL career, Eagles rookie Derek Barnett is off to a pretty good start. 

He has three sacks in two games and has shown flashes of why the Eagles think they might have something special in the 14th overall pick out of Tennessee. 

It's just too early to talk about him as a starter.

At least that's what Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson said Saturday afternoon. 

"He's a rookie," Wilson said. "He's got a lot of work ahead of him."

Although Wilson doesn't think Barnett is quite ready to start, he has been impressed by many things the rookie has done. He thinks Barnett has the ability to be a three-down player and has been pleasantly surprised about how coachable he is. 

Eventually, Barnett will become a starter. That's always the plan for first-round picks. On Saturday, though, Wilson wouldn't say when he thinks Barnett will be ready. 

How will he know? 

"We'll all know," Wilson said. "The production and the consistency. And that's what you have to have in this league. It can't be flashes. It's got to be every week, when people come into the stadium, they know exactly what they're going to get. When we're at that point, we'll kind of know if he's that guy or not."

For now, Barnett is part of the Eagles' second-team defense along with Chris Long on the other side. Brandon Graham, coming off his best NFL season, and Vinny Curry are the current starters. 

While Graham's spot is seemingly solidified after making the All-Pro second team in 2016, Curry's spot seems less concrete. While Curry signed a huge contract extension before the start of last season, he didn't have a very good 2016. He failed to keep his starting job and came off the bench behind Graham and Connor Barwin. He had just 2 1/2 sacks, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2012. 

While Barnett has looked great early in the preseason, Curry has seemingly been invisible. 

But Wilson claims Curry has looked good. 

"I'm really focusing on guys who are able to do their job consistently," Wilson said. "And it's one of those things, if you're doing your job people don't really pick on you. Vinny's done a great job of being in position to make plays when he has opportunities. Obviously, due to the limited reps that he's had compared to the reps Derek had, those have shown a little bit. I've been pleased with Vinny."

When asked what Barnett needs to work on, Wilson listed three things: alignments, splits and understanding how offenses will attack him. 

Barnett has used this training camp to work on complementary moves to go along with his edge pass-rushing. While his outside moves got him the sack record at Tennessee, he'll need more than that in the pros. He's spent his summer working on inside power and spin moves. 

He's been working on those complementary moves, but there's no question that his outside pass-rush is still his go-to. From the moment the Eagles drafted Barnett, personnel chief Joe Douglas immediately began to tout the young defensive end's bend and ankle flexion. 

Wilson said guys work on their ankle flexion, but said it's a "gift" not everyone has. Basically, Barnett's ability to bend at his ankles keeps his cleats flat on the ground and helps keep his balance as he gets around offensive tackles. 

Wilson explained there are six points of balance when watching a player's bend: the right and left sides of hips, knees and ankles. Barnett has all of that going for him. 

"It's something that I think he found out quite early in his career," Wilson said. "It's something that we have to accentuate."

Because Barnett isn't yet a starter, he'll be coming off the bench as a part of the defensive line rotation. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz rotates his defensive linemen to keep them fresh. That will be a good thing for Barnett, who has really shown off his motor during this preseason. 

He goes hard on every play. 

"[Barnett] enjoys football," Wilson said. "He plays with great effort and that's one of the things at this level that I hope he never loses. He definitely enjoys the sport, he plays wide open all the time. So that's been exciting."

Eagles camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Derek Barnett expects to produce

Eagles camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Derek Barnett expects to produce

Derek Barnett had a pretty good NFL debut in the Eagles' preseason opener. 

Just ask Brett Hundley, whom he sacked twice. Or Joe Callahan, whom he drilled into the grass at Lambeau Field. 

"It felt good to get to the quarterback because we're not able to hit them in practice," Barnett said about the hit below. "It was live. All the D-linemen on the field were just excited because we could touch the quarterback without getting yelled at."

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz specifically mentioned this hit on a screen pass when asked about what Barnett showed in his debut. 

"He's a slippery guy," Schwartz said. "There are some things he can do better. He had a couple sort of wasted rushes where we weren't in sync with our front four. Sort of what you expect from a rookie as you start. But obviously, two sacks on a limited number of reps — that kind of production, you expect from a first-rounder."

Barnett said his first game felt good but he's just concerned on getting better. He is still focused on trying to make his rushes look the same. It's the mantra he's been sticking with for the last few weeks. 

Barnett feels the pressure, too. He agrees with Schwartz that production is expected from him as a first-round pick. 

"I think that's what's expected of me," he said. "It's not a surprise to me. I mean, I feel like as a first-round pick, I have to come in and help early. I feel like I'm trying to do that as much as possible and still continue to grow each and every day. It was the first preseason game but there's still a long way to go. I think it was a good start but I have to keep continuing to build every day and not get satisfied." 

Douglas shines in debut 
While the Eagles acquired Ronald Darby on Friday, one of their rookie cornerbacks really impressed Schwartz in Green Bay on Thursday night. 

Rasul Douglas stood out. 

"Well, first of all, I thought he played very well in the game," Schwartz said. "I don't remember if I said this before, but one of the things that's impressed me about Rasul is, every time we've taken a step up in competition, he's sort of met that challenge, you know, and it might not look the same on a normal practice, but on our first padded practice, he really stood out. First preseason game, I thought he stood out. 

"He's got great length. He can get his hands on balls. He responded quickly to things that happened in the game. Did a couple nice things on special teams, too, and that's important for young corners. So he's on the right track. Like so many players, and I'm sure you guys are tired of hearing this from me, he's just striving for consistency."

Don't drop the ball
While a few rookies stood out on Thursday in Green Bay, it wasn't a great debut for fourth-round running back Donnel Pumphrey. 

He struggled on offense and in the punt return game. But more importantly, he struggled holding on to the football. And on Saturday, the first practice after the game, he fumbled the football again. 

"Well, I just know this, like every coach knows, you can't win games and you can't be on the field — and this is just a general statement — if you can't hold on to the football," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Every player knows that in this game. So we talk about it a lot. We want to make sure we drill it. It's emphasized. Some of it is hard to tell until you get into live action a bunch, that's why Coach (Doug Pederson) has some live practices during training camp. We've had some live practices without putting the ball on the ground too much. So that was probably the most disappointing thing to me, is that we put the ball on the ground four times in that last game. That's unacceptable and we have to improve upon that."

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 1: Derek Barnett up, Chance Warmack down

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 1: Derek Barnett up, Chance Warmack down

It would be easy to look at the performance of the Eagles' offensive line against the Packers on Thursday and declare the unit’s stock is down. Such a strong assertion wouldn’t be entirely fair or accurate, either.

The Eagles managed to run for just 47 yards on 19 attempts – a 2.5-yard average. Green Bay was able to generate consistent pressure on quarterbacks as well, forcing Carson Wentz to work some magic on his one and only series. It was not pretty.

Fortunately, this is an example where the preseason was likely playing tricks. The Packers were blitzing on just about every play, which is unusual for an exhibition game. It also tends to be a very effective strategy against an offense that wasn’t game-planning for its opponent or running schemes specifically tailored to stop those packages.

The exotic looks Green Bay threw at a vanilla Eagles offense missing right guard Brandon Brooks explains a lot. As much as the O-line appeared to struggle, this was still far from a simulation of what a real game would look like.

With that in mind, there were still plenty of other worthwhile takeaways from the preseason opener.

STOCK UP

Derek Barnett
Green Bay’s backups were no match for the 14th overall draft pick in his NFL debut. Barnett was consistently disruptive throughout the game, registering four tackles and 2.0 sacks. He was effective rushing the passer as well as defending the run. The 21-year-old also demonstrated an ability to beat offensive tackles to the inside or outside. On one such move to the interior, Barnett made the blocker look like he was standing still, then finished with a sack.

Clearly, making the jump from the SEC to a game against NFL reserves won’t be an issue for Barnett. It’s time to see what he can do with some snaps versus starting-caliber talent next week.

Jalen Mills
If you were searching for a reason to be optimistic about the Eagles' secondary, Mills offered a beacon of hope. The second-year cornerback had tight coverage throughout, shutting down a wide receiver screen for no gain, stopping a receiver short of the sticks on third down and breaking up a pass. Mills was early on the breakup and could’ve been called for pass interference, but he was in excellent position. Even though Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not play, Mills’ performance was a bright spot.

And after the Eagles obtained third-year cornerback Ronald Darby from the Bills on Friday, suddenly the secondary doesn’t look too bad.

Mack Hollins
While all the talk has been about Nelson Agholor gunning for Jordan Mattews’ job, I’m not so sure it wasn’t Hollins that made the Eagles comfortable trading their starting slot receiver. Everybody saw the fourth-round draft pick stiff-arm two would-be tacklers to the ground on his 38-yard touchdown gallop. Hollins shook another tackle attempt later in the game to convert a third down, part of his four-catch, 64-yard effort.

In fact, Hollins looked like a more explosive Matthews on Friday. The rookie could be headed for a far bigger role than anybody would’ve imagined in April.

Bryce Treggs
Treggs was beginning to stand out at training camp heading into this game, and it carried over in a competitive setting. The second-year wideout led all players with seven receptions for 91 yards, catching all but one pass that came his way. We knew Treggs had speed, and that was on display when he hauled in a 38-yard bomb. Perhaps more impressive is the growth he’s shown on underneath and intermediate routes, demonstrating more versatility than a year ago.

The wide receiver position is crowded, but Treggs is making a strong case that he belongs in the mix.

Carson Wentz
This might seem too obvious, but watching Wentz stand calmly in a collapsing pocket, elude pressure and make multiple perfect throws on the move on third and fourth downs only instills more confidence in the franchise quarterback. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was wreaking havoc in the Eagles' backfield, but the second-year signal caller kept the chains moving, and eventually hit on the big catch-and-run to Hollins.

Wentz didn’t even have his full complement of weapons on Thursday, going 4 for 4 for 56 yards and a score while Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Darren Sproles all sat out. Imagine what the 24-year-old signal caller could do once everybody is on the field.

STOCK DOWN

Chance Warmack
It looked like Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland still has a long way to go with his offseason reclamation project. Warmack often seemed confused about his assignments on Thursday. To be fair, Green Bay blitzed a ton – unusual for preseason – for which the Eagles did not scheme, and we don’t necessarily know who’s supposed to block who on a given play. Yet, there were plenty of occasions when Warmack didn’t block anybody at all, or flat out lost one-on-one battles.

Warmack started at right guard, where he hasn’t practiced a ton with the Eagles. But he wasn’t much better when he moved back to left guard, against the second-team defense no less.

Donnel Pumphrey
It was difficult to evaluate the touches Pumphrey got in his NFL debut. There was no room to run, no chance to make a move on just about every pass that came his way as he finished with 17 yards from scrimmage on nine total touches.

Pumphrey’s lack of production wasn’t really the problem, either. The fifth-round draft pick fumbled on his first carry of the game – though he was ruled down – and appeared to run his route incorrectly on an interception. He also muffed a punt, but was able to recover. Maybe it was simply a case of rookie jitters, but after missing time in training camp with a hamstring injury, Pumphrey needed to show why he deserves to be in the mix at running back. Didn’t happen.

C.J. Smith
Smith endured a particularly rough series in the second quarter. First, he was beaten on a short slant on 3rd-and-4, the exact same type of play the 24-year-old corner scolded himself for not making in practice last week. Two plays later, Smith bit on a double move, giving up a 20-yard touchdown pass to Packers wide receiver Jeff Janis.

To his credit, Smith exhibited a short memory on the following series and broke up a pass, finishing with one tackle and one deflection. Nonetheless, consistency remains an issue. With the Eagles bringing in Darby the next day, this looks like the end of any conversation about Smith competing for a starting job.