Welcome to CoachSpeak, which runs each Monday here. We sit down with an assistant coach for a question-and-answer session. Today: assistant head coach/defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro ...
Q. Many fans, media, etc. measure a defensive lineman's success by numbers and stats. How do you define your defensive linemen's success?
Azzinaro: "We do pretty much the same thing, but the most important number is wins and losses. When we watch the players and review their performance, we want to see how they respond to blocks. We want to see how they respond to the ballcarrier. So as much as the so-called "two-gap system" is defined by eating up blockers, we don't look at it that way. We define guys by how they strike their man, how do they respond to the ballcarrier and do they get to the ball."
Q. Let's discuss some of the players and their growth since last year. We begin with Fletcher Cox. How far has he come since you started working with him?
Azzinaro: "From a global standpoint, from a scheme standpoint, there are some differences but good players can respond to any scheme. So the things that we're asking him to do are fundamental to any defensive lineman. How do you hit a blocker? How do you respond to a ballcarrier? How do you run to the ball?
"I think it's natural for young players, and you hope for players as their careers get going that they improve, and for Fletcher, just like for Bennie (Logan) and just like for Cedric (Thornton) and hopefully Beau (Allen) as he goes along in the scheme and for Vinny (Curry) and all of those guys, as they get more comfortable with the words that we use to define things, that they become better. Certainly that's happened with Fletcher. Fletcher Cox is a good football player."
Q. Cedric Thornton, what does he give you day in and day out?
Azzinaro: "Cedric is a good football player. He has a good work ethic. He knows how to respond to blockers. He plays with a violent edge to him and, just like Fletcher, he loves to play."
Q. Bennie Logan at the nose. First of all, what do you ask of that position and what are the attributes you look for at that position and why does Bennie fit so well?
Azzinaro: "He's a tough guy, first of all. He's looking at the game from both sides and he gets blocked from both the left and the right sides. You need really tough character in there. He's certainly got a lot of great integrity and pride. He's got really long arms."
Q. Your defensive line group seems to have a lot of chemistry and camaraderie, and they never talk about their individual gain. How proud of that are you?
Azzinaro: "I certainly take pride in the way they represent the organization, but I think that's what Chip (Kelly) brings to us. He makes the guys understand that it's a 'we' game. I think everybody likes to win football games. When you break it down, you kind of define what we can do to contribute to the victory, I think it makes it easier for everybody. There is no question what the mission is. Those guys understand."
Q. Vinny Curry came to the Eagles acclaimed out of college as a pass rusher and has had to work his way into the rotation and earn your trust. What has he done to earn that trust?
Azzinaro: "I've always trusted him. It's been a matter with Vinny of him understanding how many roles he needed to play for us. On first down, he's going to play a certain role. On second down, he's going to play a different role and then on third down what his role would be. His versatility has really helped us."
Q. Beau Allen has played a role as a rookie. What do you see from him?
Azzinaro: "Tremendous work ethic, same types of things that Bennie brings – a toughness about you, a physicality about you. He started a ton of games at Wisconsin so we look for that resiliency, that durability and he shows that on the practice field. He's a really good, big athlete, someone who weighs 340 pounds and bounces around like he does."
Q. When you look at Seattle and the physical nature of their running game with Marshawn Lynch, what kind of challenge does that present for your group?
Azzinaro: "It's another challenge. I think the really cool thing about this league is that every week is a physical challenge. That's what we're in for. That's what we've signed up for and I think we appreciate that."