When the Eagles hired defensive line coach Jim Washburn in 2011, they did so looking to bring a fearsome pass rush to Philadelphia. And while Washburn's signature Wide-9 technique did deliver some big moments in his first season with the Eagles, things have not been the same this season. As a result, the Eagles announced Monday that defensive line coach Jim Washburn had been relieved of his duties with the team.
The Eagles' defense finished last season with 50 sacks, tied for the league lead. Defensive end Jason Babin, who re-joined the Eagles after succeeding in the Wide-9 with Washburn in Tennessee in 2010, led the team with 18 sacks. But through 13 games this season, the Eagles are tied for 27th in the league with 20 sacks. Before Babin was released last week, he had accumulated only 5.5 in 11 games.
For second-year pro Cedric Thornton, the news hit close to home. The defensive tackle out of Southern Arkansas went undrafted in April 2011 and spent the lockout pondering his NFL future. But once the lockout ended, Washburn was the first to call Thornton with an invitation to Training Camp. One year later, Thornton is a solid contributor to the Eagles' defensive line with 35 tackles and a sack.
"My initial reaction is (that I am) kind of confused, because I'm a youngin' in this business world," he said Monday. "Just hearing this news, I'm kind of confused. I feel like muddy water right now. I think it'll clear up soon."
The move also resonated with Brandon Graham, the former first-round pick who reclaimed the starting job after Babin was released. Graham had an impressive game Sunday night, recording four tackles and 1.5 sacks. Graham said Monday's move wasn't entirely surprising to him, given the way the defensive line had been performing.
"We kind of knew something was going to happen after the season we've been having," Graham said. "It's part of the business. It sucks that (Washburn) had to leave but I know Coach (Andy) Reid is going to put us in the right position to help us win. If that's what he felt he needed to do, I'm all for it."
Now it will be up to players like Graham and Thornton to step up. The Eagles' defensive line certainly has the pedigree – defensive end Trent Cole been named to an All-Pro team and has two Pro Bowl nods, while four players were selected in either the first or second round. When he looks around the line, Graham sees the young guys itching to make plays.
"I just see the passion and hunger," Graham said. "They've been held back for a long time now and they're ready to get out there and get after somebody, especially Vinny Curry. I know he's out there ready to go. Everybody is hungry right now. I'm hoping with this new coach everything works out just like they want it to and we start adding more sacks."
Replacing Washburn will be Tommy Brasher, who served as the Eagles' defensive line coach in 1985 and from 1999-2005. The focus now will be getting the players focused not only for a game in Tampa Bay on Sunday, but for a strong finish to the season.
"I'm hoping we can get this done these last four weeks," Graham said. "I hope we can get on a four-game winning streak like we did the year before and just go into next year and get the right pieces of this puzzle we're trying to make."
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