Training Camp begins this week. The players report on Wednesday and the first practice is on Thursday. Each day, we've analyzed the top storylines leading up to Training Camp. At No. 4, it's a look at which young defensive end(s) can crack the rotation.
Dave Spadaro: New defensive line coach Phillip Daniels wants the Eagles to bring it, and bring it in a physical and relentless way, up front this season. He loves the picture at defensive tackle with Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Tim Jernigan leading the way. How about at defensive end? The Eagles know what they've got with Brandon Graham, and they're confident that Derek Barnett is going to be at full health and ready to be a dominating player in his third season. Vinny Curry returns as a third end who can rush the passer and set the edge against the running game.
After that? A lot depends on the kids.
Second-year man Josh Sweat needs to step up and show that he can stay healthy and deliver off the edge. Daeshon Hall showed some promise in his limited time with the Eagles and he has put in the work in the offseason, and the Eagles want to see Hall operate as a pass rusher. Joe Ostman spent last season on the practice squad, added 10 pounds of brawn, and impressed in the spring with his burst off the edge.
The Eagles used a fourth-round draft pick on Shareef Miller, and they liked what they saw from him in college and in the spring. He's got a nice get-off, and he's going to have to show consistency and great effort rushing the quarterback.
When the Eagles traded Michael Bennett to New England and saw Chris Long retire, they knew they were losing a lot of experience and a ton of production. Retaining Graham was huge and bringing Curry back was a solid move. Barnett is a player who gives great effort and who has shown he can be a highly productive player. But the Eagles need more than three ends, and that's where the youth movement comes into play.
Daniels is excited about the group, but he's going to learn a whole lot more when the pads go on. It's "go" time for the defensive end group.
Fran Duffy: One aspect of the youth movement at defensive end, that I feel gets a bit underplayed, is the addition of Malik Jackson. Not only is he a veteran who can help tutor the young defensive linemen, but his presence as an interior disruptor opposite Fletcher Cox will likely reduce the amount of snaps we see from the Eagles' defense with three defensive ends on the field.
Remember, one of the key packages for the Eagles over the last couple of seasons featured the use of Brandon Graham sliding inside to defensive tackle as players like Chris Long and Derek Barnett took the field to fly off the edge. See Graham's strip-sack of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. With Jackson in the fold, that package may not be as prevalent, which would mean that the young defensive ends will get to compete while still staying fresh.
Chris McPherson: Fran's point about the improved interior pass rush is significant here. The Eagles relied on a three-man rotation down the stretch last season with Graham, Bennett, and Long. No other defensive end played in the Wild Card win over Chicago. Hall was on defense for seven snaps in the Saints game. Right now, the Eagles have Graham, Barnett, and Curry forming the top three in 2019.
Focusing on Training Camp and the preseason, the battle for the fourth end is the one to watch. Depth along the line is important because the Eagles rely on a four-man rush more than any other team in football (80.5 percent of the time in 2018, according to Football Outsiders). There's Miller, who defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says has the length and athleticism to be an ideal fit in this scheme. There's Ostman, who gave the offensive linemen fits in practice on the scout team last season. Ostman is the try-hard underdog who will do everything to push for a roster spot. Sweat is so intriguing because of his background. He's got the physical talent as a former five-star recruit out of high school. An ankle injury robbed him of the latter half of his rookie season. Sweat returned and started to put it all together in the spring.
It's exciting to think that Barnett, Miller, and Sweat are all just 22 years old. If each of them can show signs in Training Camp that they are ready to take the next step, Schwartz's vision of sending waves of pass rushers will be that much more effective in 2019.