Schwartz Gushes over Tulloch
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - You don’t have to be well-versed in 1970s R&B to understand that Jim Schwartz has been “Reunited” with one of his own and for the veteran defensive coordinator, “it feels so good.”
Dated Peaches & Herb references aside Schwartz couldn’t help gushing about 5-foot-11, 245-pound veteran middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who also toiled for the coach in previous stops in Tennessee and Detroit.
“He's a very experienced player. He's played at a high level of production. Plays with a lot of spirit. He's heavy in the run game, which is a nice way of saying he’s short,” Schwartz joked before practice Tuesday. “He has natural leverage. He's really powerful. He understands blocking schemes. He has a good understanding of the defense.”
Despite all that effusiveness, though, Schwartz wasn’t about to crown his “Back-to-the-Future” addition.
"We'll see (where he fits in)," Schwartz answered when asked about the veteran defender’s role. “We're a merit-based defense. We don't go in with a whole lot of preconceived notions. He's not here to replace anybody. He's here to add to our group and as coaches, our job is to find out what guys do the best and what guys bring to the party.”
Second-year player Jordan Hicks remains the Eagles' starting middle linebacker for now and he’s a key part of the plan moving forward no matter what happens.
However, Tulloch, who officially signed his one-year deal with $1.75 million guaranteed Tuesday, is not your traditional NFL backup linebacker, a player who typically has to help on a number of special-teams units, something head coach Doug Pederson admitted on Monday.
“Linebackers and tight ends in general play the bulk of the special teams so it’s something we have to consider,” Pederson said when asked about Tulloch’s ultimate role with the team.
The plan could be making Tulloch a two-down LB in the middle with Hicks shifting over the weak-side and keeping the communication tool in his helmet as the team’s only true three-down ‘backer who would play in both nickel and dime defenses as well as the base. That in turn, would leave Mychal Kendricks to compete with another Schwartz favorite, Nigel Bradham, on the strong side.
The key to implementing that moving forward is seeing what Tulloch has left physically after tearing his ACL in 2014 and also undergoing offseason ankle injury.
The Eagles just went through a swift physical decline with another savvy, veteran LB in DeMeco Ryans last season so going slow here and not upsetting the apple cart until they see what Tulloch has left in the tank is probably a prudent plan.
"I did have a conversation (with Tulloch) and he said he had been training twice a day," Schwartz said. "He knows. He's been through 11 years or maybe 12 for him.”
Schwartz then offered a story that explains his fondness for Tulloch.
“I know when I was with him in Detroit, we tried to give him the vet day off in training camp,” Schwartz began. “We told the trainers; 'Hey, Tully will be down today,' and he came in my office mad as a hornet. He was ready to practice. I was like 'hey, look. You're starting to get up (in age) a little bit ... Let's be smart about this.
“'He was like; ‘You're ruining my streak. I've never missed a practice. Never missed a game.' I think he said he never missed a game going back to high school, N.C. State, high school, he had never missed a practice in the NFL. Guys like that, they know how to get themselves ready.”
The headstrong Schwartz admitted he’s not big on compromise with his players but Tulloch ended up winning that argument to continue his streak.
"He's not coming in here with his eyes shut not knowing what he's getting into,” Schwartz said.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen