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Off-season workouts are only in their infancy, but it appears Doug Pederson’s vision for the Eagles is quickly coming to fruition, for better or for worse.
At the league meetings in March, Pederson talked about how he hired Jim Schwartz to be not just the defensive coordinator but the trusted “head coach of the defense.” The former Lions head coach showed that old habits die hard this week when he drew upon his experience and gave some unsolicited advice for dealing with a rookie first-round quarterback, as Philadelphia is with No. 2 pick Carson Wentz.
“Don’t judge him on somebody else, and then also don’t predetermine the results of the race," said Schwartz, who had coached No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford with Detroit in 2009. “Just let them go play. Don’t put pressure on him.
“I can’t speak for Carson. We have enough worries on defense right now. I think when we drafted Stafford, we just let him play. Was he our best quarterback? Was he ready? Unfortunately, he got hurt both his first and second year by holding the ball too long. I think he had the command and he would have been ready to play had it not been for those injuries.”
Schwartz’s approach is in direct contrast to that of his boss. Pederson has repeatedly said that Sam Bradford is the team’s starter, Chase Daniels (who was with Pederson in Kansas City) is the backup and Wentz is being brought along.
“My plan is to keep developing Carson,” Pederson said last week. “Again: Sam, Chase, Carson. Carson has a lot to learn, not only from just the playbook, but just how to be a professional quarterback, how to handle the media, how to handle Philadelphia, his teammates, get to know his teammates. There’s a lot involved, and that’s the beauty of having two veteran guys in front of Carson Wentz. That’s the plan. Keep developing Carson and keep developing Chase and get Sam ready to go for opening day.”
So yeah, Schwartz didn’t bat 1.000 in his first press conference with the Eagles that focused on on-field matters, but it was minor miscue. Pederson hasn’t waited seven years to get a chance to be a head coach only to be thrown off course by what Schwartz said. As a former NFL quarterback, Pederson knows exactly what he’s doing at the position, and nothing’s going to alter his path.
But comments like those are what you get with Schwartz, who will turn 50 next week. He’s a high-energy guy who wears his heart on his sleeve in every setting. That’s how he endears himself to his players, and it’s been a key to his successful stints directing defenses in Tennessee (2001–08), Detroit (2009–13, as head coach) and Buffalo (2014). Schwartz prefers a simplified 4–3 scheme with little blitzing. He relies on putting his players in positions to succeed and tapping into what makes them tick so that they play with passion. This was a man who was carried off the field in Buddy Ryan-like fashion by his Bills players (at his request) after beating the Lions, after all.
“[He’s] the type of coach you love playing for,” said Eagles cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who played for Schwartz in Buffalo. “If a coach is being straight with you and not showing you no kind of shade, you want to give a guy like that your all.”
Schwartz likes the hand that he’s been dealt with the Eagles. Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith will be putting a hand on the ground and rushing wide from the outside, with Fletcher Cox and especially Bennie Logan freed up more to pressure the quarterback from the interior than they were in the old scheme.
“It's not just a change of position from a nose to a defensive tackle [for Logan], it’s really a change of philosophy from an at-the-line two-gap philosophy to an attack, get off the ball, and one-gap penetrate philosophy,” Schwartz said. “So those guys have had some ups and some downs. You don’t want to read too much into it now. They don’t have pads on. I mean, you can get excited about defensive linemen. You can get down on defensive linemen. But when we get those full-pad practices at training camp and we start getting into preseason games, I think we’ll really have a good grasp of how far those guys have come and what they’re good at and what they’re not. But they’re on the right track.
“[Cox] certainly had an impressive year last year. We think that scheme-wise and technique-wise what we do is going to fit him very well.”
At linebacker, the Eagles brought in another former Bill, Nigel Bradham, to play on the strong side. Mychal Kendricks will be freed up to use his speed to make plays on the weak side, and Jordan Hicks will be the important man in the middle.
The Eagles still have some things to sort out at cornerback, but they’ve been buoyed by the safety duo of veteran Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, Jr., a free agent from the Rams.
“That was money well spent,” said Schwartz, again not hiding his emotions very well. “I’m sort of violating my rule with judging too much into this time of year. Both of those guys are veteran players and you can see that right away. They’re both multi-dimensional. They communicate very well. They can cover a lot of ground. They can blitz, they can play man, they can play zone. I’d be very surprised as the year went on if they’re not one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. They’ve been very impressive so far.”
So has Schwartz in the early going. He’ll be even better when he stays in his lane as the head coach of the defense, instead of swerving into Pederson’s lane. But it’s the off-season for everybody, especially for a coach who would probably like to get another chance to run his own team again, sooner rather than later.