Versatility Remains the Goal for Jim Schwartz
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Don't expect concrete answers from Jim Schwartz in May.
The veteran Eagles defensive coordinator insisted the spring is for figuring out what he has, not penciling in the potential replacements for players like Patrick Robinson, Corey Graham, and Vinny Curry.
"This time of the year, you're certainly open-minded for all positions," Schwartz said on Tuesday when meeting with the media for the first time since Philadelphia won Super Bowl LII.
On paper, the biggest answer Schwartz must find is the replacement for Robinson, who signed a big-money deal in New Orleans after excelling as perhaps the best slot corner in football during his lone season with the Eagles.
Last week, second-year corner Sidney Jones got the first opportunity with the media present and on Tuesday it was former practice-squad player DeVante Bausby.
"You're going to see a lot of different guys in there," Schwartz said when asked about the position by 973espn.com. "You'll see Jalen Mills in there at times. You'll see some other players like D.J. Killings who was here last year. Bausby’s been in there. Sidney was in there. You guys only saw one day [last week]. The next day, I don't know that Sidney was even in there the next day. But, again, it's sort of cross training a lot of different guys."
Versatility is a hallmark of Schwartz's defense, especially on the back end where Malcolm Jenkins proved to be a jack-of-all-trades last season essentially playing five different positions at times: strong safety, free safety, nickel/dime linebacker, slot corner and even outside CB.
The freedom to do that largely stemmed from the presence of Graham, a player Schwartz felt very comfortable with when it comes to understanding assignments. Three-down linebacker Nigel Bradham, a long-time Schwartz favorite dating back to their days together in Buffalo, as a player able to do different things that contributed to the Eagles' success.
"Corey Graham did play a significant part in being able to move Malcolm around," Schwartz admitted. "Corey was another guy that had played corner, played nickel, played a lot of special teams, and had played safety a little bit like Malcolm. So I think the two keys guys in doing a lot of that stuff, well, the three key guys were Malcolm Jenkins, as you mentioned, [LB] Nigel Bradham, and then Corey Graham. I think all of them were able to play a lot of different positions for us and get us over the hump when it came to injuries."
Injuries and the ability to deal with them may be the one constant that binds together all good NFL teams and that's why Schwartz is intent on getting so many of his young defensive backs ready by moving them around in what is essentially the teaching portion of the NFL calendar.
"You're going to have injuries. You've got to be able to deal with them," he said. "... Corners have to be able to play the nickel. A lot of their nickel technique is when the wide receivers are over in the slot formations anyway. So that's part of their learning process is learning those techniques.
"But, again, be able to be multi-dimensional, have a lot of different looks in there. Some guys we’ll keep strictly outside, but we have a significant portion that will cross train. We even have some guys that will cross train safety position and corner. Again, going back, that was a big part of our success down the road was having Malcolm be able to play a lot of those and fill in a lot of different positions. We value versatility, and that's a big part of the training this time of year."
Currently, the Eagles have only $94,224 to work with under the salary cap. That magically changes on June 1 when the team starts benefitting from the recent release of LB Mychal Kendricks, wiggle room that could have Graham back in green in the coming weeks especially if Schwartz decides some of his younger options like former practice-squad safety Tre Sullivan are not ready for an increased role.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on why Johnny Manziel needs the CFL at GetMoreSports.com