Trent Cole sat on the set of Eagles Live! on Tuesday and said, in so many words, that the addition of defensive line coach Jim Washburn could make all the difference in the world for the Eagles defensive line and that, yes, coaching in the NFL can be the difference between winning and losing. It's an interesting concept to explore further, and it raises the age-old question: Which is more important, coaching or talent?
Both are important, so let's make that clear from the start. A great coach can make an average talent only so productive. A player must have a high level of talent to begin with to become a great performer in this league. But if you understand the premise that every player has talent in the league, it makes sense that "putting players in the right position to make plays," as Andy Reid likes to say, is of utmost importance.
I laugh when some suggest football is not as complicated as some make it out to be. In fact, it is the most complicated game in all of sports as it requires 11 players with a single purpose to work in unison to make a play work. There is a high level of communication and timing that has to happen for a play to work as it is designed. The game is, in truth, much more complicated than it appears to the naked eye on game day. It is, therefore, largely inaccurate to suggest that a particular performed well or otherwise based solely on watching the game.
There is a reason that coaches react so differently after watching multiple replays of the coaching tape of a game. The eye in the sky doesn't lie, and rewinding a play several times and paying attention to all 11 players is the only truly truthful way to grade a particular snap of the football.
Let's go back to the original discussion of talent vs. coaching level. In the case of the Eagles' defensive line, they have invested a tremendous amount in that particular group. Tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley were first-round draft picks. Cole was signed to a long-term contract after proving he was far more talented than the average fifth-round draft pick. Darryl Tapp was originally a second-round draft pick of the Seahawks. Victor Abiamiri was a second-round draft pick here. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a third-round draft pick. Brandon Graham, of course, was the 13th pick in last year's draft. And on and on.
There is talent here. And the Eagles have been pretty good up front. Cole is a Pro Bowl end. Patterson has been a solid, productive, durable player in his career. Juqua Parker is a good player who has had his moments. Bunkley was a strong piece inside until his struggle of 2010, when unsung Antonio Dixon emerged.
But the Eagles haven't been dominant enough up front. They haven't controlled games from September through January. They have had weeks when they are absolutely unstoppable, but then they have had weeks when they haven't been able to generate pressure with the four-man pass rush. Cole thinks that the addition of Washburn will provide the difference the Eagles need. He says the talent is there for greatness, and that Washburn's relentless style, his demand for perfection in technique and his aggressive style will pay off in a big way for the front four.
It remains to be seen what additions the Eagles make to the defensive line. They signed Canadian Football League star Phillip Hunt to bring competition. The draft is said to be one of the deepest ever along the line of scrimmage. The Eagles believe in building from the lines out, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see more here.
This is a good time to test the question of talent and coaching, and which makes the greater difference in the NFL. It is something we will all watch throughout 2011 as the Eagles look to take the next step -- the one to the top -- along the defensive line.
In other items to discuss ...
- Good news on the Winston Justice front. He had a "cleanout" procedure on his left knee on Tuesday and the surgery was a success. There is no expectation that Justice's surgery will impede his 2011 season at all. Now the question is, what do the Eagles do at right tackle this year? Is Justice the guy? Was his knee bothering him during the playoff loss to Green Bay? Do the Eagles need to have a dominating tackle protecting Michael Vick's blind side? Questions, questions.
- While there is some question as to the validity of the reports coming from a closed-to-the-media mediating sessions between the NFL owners and the players' association, there certainly seems to be a lot of positive messages emerging after five days of seven-hours-per-day meetings between the sides. Let's pray that's the truth and that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement comes together in time for free agency in a couple of weeks. Certainly, teams would have to scramble and get their rosters in order, but I know that I look forward to the frenzy of free agency and the strategies of the teams.
- Scratch cornerback Champ Bailey from your wish list. He will stay in Denver after signing a four-year contract. I sure hope Eagles fans are not pinning their hopes on upgrading cornerback via the free-agency market. There might not be much out on the streets when free agency starts.
- I've been asked about Jeremy Shockey and how he might fit in with the Eagles after he was released by the Saints on Tuesday, and he is certainly an intriguing guy. Emotional guy. Good blocker. Creates space in the red zone. Good football player. I'm just not sure the Eagles see him as a fit, mostly because they have Brent Celek in place as the starter, they are very high on Clay Harbor and they want to see if Cornelius Ingram can come all the way back from his knee injury. Plus, I'm not sure what Shockey is looking for. He was due in excess of $4 million this year. He is likely looking for another big payday at age 31.
- And here is the final name Eagles fans are tossing around: Safety O.J. Atogwe, released last week by the Rams. He is a free safety and I just don't see him as an upgrade to Nate Allen. I say Allen is going to be a great player in this league for a long, long time.