Connor Barwin might have been a second-round selection of the Houston Texans in the 2009 NFL Draft, but he knew he was far from being a finished product.
Barwin was not stout enough to hold up against the run on an every-down basis. As a 240-pound rookie defensive end, Barwin was an effective nickel pass rusher notching 4.5 sacks.
Barwin dedicated himself to the weight room, although that wouldn't show up in his second season. He dislocated his ankle in the 2010 season opener and landed on the Injured Reserve list. In 2011, the Texans hired Wade Phillips to overhaul one of the league's worst defenses. Barwin, now up to 264 pounds, transitioned from a hands-down defensive end to a stand-up outside linebacker. Over the past two years, Barwin had 14.5 sacks for the Texans, who won back-to-back AFC South division titles and boasted one of the NFL's most vaunted defensive units. Barwin signed a six-year deal with the Eagles in March. Unlike when he arrived in Houston, Barwin arrives in Philadelphia as a much more complete player.
"It's a lot better than when I came to Houston as a rookie. Everything's different. I'm a different player than I was as a rookie. I'm a lot smarter than I was five years ago. I'm a lot better football player than I was five years ago," Barwin said.
And it is Barwin's ability to play the run which is where he feels he has improved the most.
"Without a doubt, it's been my ability to play the run. My rookie year I was 240. That was 20 pounds ago. I was a nickel rusher," he said. "Every year, I gradually put on weight and ever since my second year I've been able to play the run a lot better than my rookie year."
Barwin experienced a successful scheme transition in Houston and is now part of what hopes to be another fruitful one in Philadelphia. The Eagles will employ a hybrid scheme using both even and odd fronts. Barwin gives the Eagles someone who has experience playing in a two-point stance as well as a versatile piece who can put his hand down also.
"I'm excited. I don't know exactly how it's going to turn out, but I'm very excited about this defense," Barwin said. "I'm very excited about my role and what (defensive coordinator) Billy (Davis) has me doing right now. There's a lot of movement. There's a lot of versatility in what I do and I think it's going to free me up a lot.
"I'll be doing a little bit of everything which is good. It keeps the offense on their toes. They don't know where I'll be coming from because I'll be doing different things all of the time."
Barwin's positive outlook is shared by his new teammates who are adjusting to the scheme change. Davis' open-minded approach to employing a flexible defense which will maximize the talent of the personnel has everyone believing they can make an impact.
"That gives guys a lot of potential to make plays because you confuse the offense," Barwin said. "That was exciting for me when I was in Houston we first did it and that's why I think everybody's excited here because of the potential to confuse the offense and make plays."
Houston enjoyed a productive Barwin from the time he was drafted. Now in his prime, the Eagles hope to reap the benefits of Barwin's playmaking ability.
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