Second-year defensive end Josh Sweat held court in the Eagles' locker room on Friday, surrounded by reporters just inside the entrance, and as he talked about an offseason during which he added 22 pounds of muscle, Pro Bowl offensive tackle Lane Johnson walked past, on his way out of the room.
Johnson isn't one to toss around compliments lightly. You have to earn them with him. He's going to bury you in a practice rep if you aren't prepared, so when Johnson hurried past and spoke out to everyone and nobody in particular, "I'm just going to say this right now, this guy (Sweat) is in for big things this year," it was noted. Loudly. Confidently. Promisingly.
Sweat is one of a handful of young defensive ends the Eagles are counting on to step up in 2019. A fourth-round draft pick in 2018, Sweat saw limited action in the veteran-laden end rotation and then suffered an ankle injury that ended his season. Following a college career at Florida State held back just a bit as Sweat recovered from a devastating high school knee injury, the rookie-season trip to Injured Reserve was not necessarily a positive development.
But Sweat treated it as such. He revamped his diet. He got busy in the weight room, stacking on the muscle. As the pads go on this weekend and moving forward in this 2019 Training Camp, Sweat is a Player to Watch. The Eagles have noticed already.
It's a huge difference between being a rookie, trying to learn, and trying to adapt. It's not just what happens on the field. Off the field, he was battling some injuries. To come back the second year, have it all under your belt, the experience of getting a little bit of playing time, you say the game slows down. That's a real common cliché.
"I think you just become so much more comfortable, and you can see somebody's ability. He did a really nice job through all of our OTAs (Organized Team Activities)," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "But how he contributes this year will be dependent on how he practices in Training Camp, and what he looks like in preseason games.
"But we're excited about him. He's long. He can play with some power. He has speed. He's around the passer when he rushes because he's so long. There are a lot of good things with him. He just needs to have a good camp, and I think he's focused on being able to do that."
Sweat needs to do more than line up on the edge and rush the quarterback to gain playing time in a strong end group. He needs great technique and he needs to set the edge against the run to get on the field and contribute.
Schwartz likes what he sees from Sweat in that phase of the game, too.
"He's strong as can be. He played two-gap at Florida State. I mean, you look at him, he looks like a 400-meter sprinter. He was legs wide, squared up, doing those kinds of things," Schwartz said. "He has some of the strongest hands of all our defensive linemen, which then you start putting him into situations where he can use his speed a little bit more. It's a bonus that a lot of other guys don't have. He's very strong. We feel strongly about him stopping the run."
It all sounds promising. Now it's a matter of going out and doing it on a consistent basis, every day. The work is just beginning for Sweat.
"I've worked hard on my technique and I think I'm much better there," he said. "It's coming along. I feel a lot different from last year to now. I've watched a lot of film, studied a lot. It helped a lot. I know I need to earn it. I want to play. I want to be out there and to do that I have to earn my playing time.
"Coming out of my rookie year I know I needed to get stronger, and I needed to gain some weight. I think I've put the work into it. You can't stay the same in this league. You have to get better and you have to know where to put your hands and do it the right way every time.
"My expectation is that I want to play. I want to show them what I can do and then I can take off."
That's the hope. When you look at this Eagles depth chart and you try to pinpoint "concern" areas, it's natural to wonder about depth at defensive end. The Eagles feel good about Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Vinny Curry as a right-now top three on a depth chart that doesn't officially exist. After that? It's up to players like Sweat and Daeshon Hall and Joe Ostman and fourth-round draft pick Shareef Miller to step up and win the confidence of Schwartz and line coach Phillip Daniels.
As the pads go on for Saturday and the intensity of Training Camp is turned up, we're going to find out just how much all of that hard work means for Sweat and his game.
The wait has to be over for Sweat. His year of development resulted in a taste of the game life in the NFL and then some big-time gains in the weight room.
Now, he's a veteran. The Eagles need him to play.
"That's what I'm aiming for," he said. "I'm ready to get it going. I'm ready to play. When I'm out there, I know I have to make plays. This is my time."