For Jim Schwartz, Change is Constant But the Goal is Static
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Jim Schwartz has seen a thing or two in a coaching career that has spanned over two decades in the NFL but the one constant in professional football, according to the highly-regarded defensive coordinator, is change.
So while others outside the NovaCare Complex may wring their hands over the lost production of proven defensive linemen like Michael Bennett or Chris Long and a playmaking middle linebacker in Jordan Hicks, Schwartz sees it as business as usual.
"There is a challenge every year trying to replace certain production, so it's nothing new," Schwartz said Tuesday during his first media briefing since late last season. "We'll miss those guys. ... That's just life in the NFL. You'll have some roster turnover and you have to deal with it."
Up front Bennett and Long combined for 15 1/2 of the Eagles’ 44 sacks last season, over one-third of the sack production, but the age of those two players, as well as the dynamic Schwartz desires, had Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas dipping into free agency to get Malik Jackson, an interior option known for his pass-rushing skills.
In the past with Philadelphia Schwartz had kicked players like Bennett and Brandon Graham inside to create a better nickel push but having two stout interior players was the way he went in previous stops with Tennessee, Detroit, and Buffalo.
"Last couple years here we've used three defensive ends in most of our rush packages," Schwartz acknowledged before pivoting. "When I was in Buffalo, we had Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Marcelle was a double-digit sacker. We didn't take those guys off the field. We rushed out of two defensive tackles, two defensive ends. Same thing when I was in Detroit with [Ndamukong] Suh and [Nick] Fairley. Even going back to Tennessee with a guy like [Albert] Haynesworth.
"How it'll work out I don't know right now, but it is beneficial to have another guy inside that can be an impact pass rusher, and we think that Malik is that guy."
Also "new" to the rotation at DE is a healthy Derek Barnett, the returning Vinny Curry and fourth-round pick Shareef Miller. Inside Schwartz is also excited to perhaps have a healthy Tim Jernigan back in the mix and went out of his way to mention draft-day trade pickup Hassan Ridgeway.
"We're excited about the new guys that have come in, some experienced players," Schwartz said. "I would even start and [DE] Vinny Curry, getting him back. He really looks like he hasn't missed a beat from where he was when he last played a game for us, which was in Minnesota [Super Bowl LII].
"Then adding a guy like [DT] Malik [Jackson] inside, he has a little bit of inside-outside flexibility. He's a really good inside pass rusher, has really good length, really a good complement to Fletch [DT Fletcher Cox] inside. Getting Timmy [DT Tim Jernigan] back on the road to being more healthy, I mean, that's another -- we really haven't seen Timmy at his best since the Minnesota game or the game in Minnesota a couple years ago."
The path forward in replacing Hicks is a bit murkier and could be a piecemeal approach with two new additions: Zach Brown, who hasn't practiced yet due to an undisclosed injury, and L.J. Fort complementing each other, Brown as the two-run run stuffer and Fort in coverage.
"Zach Brown has some flexibility," Schwartz assessed. "Played a lot of good football. Exciting to get him. ... [Fort] is he's a good all-around player. Been a good special teams players. Plays the run well. Fits into the pass game well. Even though he hasn't started a lot in the NFL he has a lot of experience just being on the practice field and seeing a lot of different situations over the course of the time he spent on different practice squads and as a backup player. It's really been beneficial for him."
So while the change is real for everyone in the NFL the goal remains static.
"It'll probably be not a quick transition, but that's our job over the course of OTAs and training camp, to get our production back where we need it," Schwartz said.
OTA PRACTICE NOTES
-Safety Malcolm Jenkins continued to be a no-show Tuesday at the voluntary OTAs. Schwartz, though, brushed it aside.
“It’s not anything unusual when you look around the NFL," the DC said. “I know this. When the chips are down, we’ll be able to count on Malcolm Jenkins."
Others missing were veteran offensive tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson as well as receiver Alshon Jeffery and the rehabbing players.
-Miles Sanders was watching practice in a baseball cap but not participating. Zach Brown was here but in a bucket hat. The First-team LBs were L.J. Fort and Kamu Grugier Hill with the former calling the defense. Nate Gerry, who rotated with Fort with the first-team last week, did not take part in team drills Tuesday.
-With no Johnson or Peters for the OL and Brandon Brooks still rehabbing from the Achilles' the starting group from left to right was Andre Dillard, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jordan Mailata for the second-consecutive week. Watching Mailata pull from RT is pretty impressive. He basically eclipsed Sidney Jones on a sweep for a TD. Thankfully for Sidney it was non-contact.
-Avonte Maddox started on the outside today opposite Rasul Douglas with Jones in the slot.
-A couple of big defensive plays were Josh Hawkins undercutting a late Nate Sudfeld pass for an INT and Kamu Grugier-Hill doing the same to Clayton Thorson who was trying to find J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
-The offensive highlights were the 6-foot-6 Carlton Agudosi coming down with a Thorson prayer down the field by high-pointing over Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox, as well as perhaps the two fastest players on the field dueling when DeSean Jackson beat Maddox on a long seam pass from Carson Wentz down the middle.
-An interesting note on special teams was Blake Countess being the first-team personal protector for punter Cam Johnston. A plethora of a players were returning punts, including Jackson and Penn State rookie DeAndre Thompkins. Others taking reps were Boston Scott, Avonte Maddox, Greg Ward, and Donnel Pumphrey.
-During 7-on-7 red-zone work, we saw a fade from Carson Wentz to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside worked to perfection. That could be special down the road. Wentz, by the way, looked very sharp today and really had the fastball working. He may have been jazzed up by Louis Riddick's MVP prediction and the feel between Wentz and Zach Ertz remains spectacular.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen