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Building A Defense, Piece By Piece


The reaction inside the walls of the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday after the news came that the Eagles acquired defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan in exchange for a 25-spot flip-flop of third-round draft picks with Baltimore was that Jernigan was a good fit in what this defense does. He'll help. He'll be another piece of puzzle for coordinator Jim Schwartz to use.

Here is the scouting report on Jernigan, a fourth-year player who was a second-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2014: He plays hard, he has excellent leverage, and strong hands. Jernigan played as a defensive end in Baltimore's 3-4 front and he had success rushing the passer. Baltimore wanted more from Jernigan in terms of consistency (more on that in a moment) and the Ravens weren't likely to sign Jernigan after the 2017 season, when his contract expired.

But as the Eagles construct this defense – and Jernigan joins end Chris Long and cornerback Patrick Robinson as veteran newcomers – Jernigan figures to be a key component. He can rush the quarterback – Jernigan had at least four quarterback sacks in each of his three seasons. He is solidly built and stout. Playing in a four-man front that emphasizes aggressiveness, getting off the ball at the snap, and firing up the field – that's all good for Jernigan.

It's also good for Schwartz, who improved the Eagles' defense in 2016, particularly by taking the ball away (the Eagles ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in takeaways) and with a red zone performance that ranked third best in the league. After leaky performances from 2013-15, the Eagles restored some stability last year. And they went into the offseason with some assets to build around moving forward.

Along with that, the Eagles knew it would be difficult to retain end Connor Barwin (released, then signed with the Rams), tackle Bennie Logan (signed with Kansas City in free agency), and cornerback Nolan Carroll (signed with Dallas in free agency). None of them had particularly standout performances in 2016. Barwin looked out of place in a 4-3 front. Logan battled some injuries and didn't offer as much production as the Eagles needed. Carroll was a capable corner and a standup guy, but he wasn't a shutdown player.

The Eagles replaced those three starters with Long (to replace Barwin), Jernigan (to replace Logan), and Robinson (to replace Carroll), all veterans who know the game and know the NFL and who all have a lot of incentive to play their best football in 2017.

"The more guys you add heading into the draft means it takes less pressure off of you to get those guys in the draft," Schwartz said on Tuesday night at a Chalk Talk event at Lincoln Financial Field with some premium ticket members. "Any time you add experienced defensive linemen to the mix, it takes pressure off of rookies. This is a tough business for rookies to come in and be successful early in their careers.

"To be able to get some experience in advance of the draft – and this doesn't mean we won't address those positions in the draft – is important to us. Our defense saw Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox and those linemen make a lot of big plays last year. To be at our best, our line has to be outstanding and disruptive in the other team's backfield.

"We're still early in the process. I can't predict what the draft is going to bring, but I'm glad we added some experienced players who have had success in this league."


  are at the top of the list – and they're going to have some tough decisions to make down the line.

At the moment, though, the focus is on building a great defense for 2017. Jernigan joins Cox and the underrated Beau Allen and rising second-year player Destiny Vaeao, Justin Hamilton, and Aziz Shittu, who was on the practice squad last year and who has a real chance to develop.

Will the Eagles add to the defensive line in the draft? Who knows? But understand this: They aren't going to pass on a defensive lineman they think can help, because, as Howie Roseman said on Tuesday in a statement issued by the team upon the news of the trade, "We believe in building along the lines."

The Eagles did just that on Tuesday with the acquisition of Jernigan. He's got an opportunity, after seeing his reps decrease last season in Baltimore, to have an impact for Schwartz and the defense. He is a piece, as is Long, as is Robinson. There is still a screaming need at cornerback, a strong need at defensive end, a solid need at both linebacker, and in the depth department at safety. The work is still very much ahead.

But why not take a shot with Jernigan, who was taken by Baltimore when Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl, who are now at the top of the Eagles' personnel department under Roseman, were part of the decision-making process with the Ravens? Jernigan has talent. He has experience. The Eagles think he will fit better in this scheme than in the one the Ravens ran.

Here we are, with another move to discuss. It's under the radar just a little bit, but sometimes those kinds of moves pay off in the sweetest way.

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