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D Line Gets Its Needed Makeover

"He's intense. Really intense," said defensive end Darryl Tapp, laughing. "But he's passionate about getting the most out of his players, to make us better than we were the day before."

Washburn does it in a drill-sergeant way by challenging his players to give everything they have on every snap of the football or they are going to face his wrath. The result is a colorful assortment of phrases and pet names he gives his guys.

"All of that," says Tapp, "is just icing on the cake."

Again, more laughing. What is no joke is the commitment the Eagles have made to the defensive line and to giving Washburn all of the tools he needs to make this group great. Washburn has largely built his coaching legacy by turning journeymen players into Pro Bowl performers. Jason Babin is a prime example, a player who was a former first-round draft pick who never found his niche in the league.

Until he played for Washburn last season in Tennessee.

"The thing that I'd like to stress about him the most is that everyone sees he's rough, young, in your face. Honestly, the thing I like the most is he doesn't have a filter," said Babin. "You guys are out there and you see how it is. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it's truth. At the same time, you do what you're supposed to. You bust your butt, go as hard as you can to the best of your ability and make plays, he's going to hug you up like you're his lost son. You get both aspects and a lot of time you don't see that about him."

The Eagles obviously felt the defensive line was a liability after last season's 10-6 performance. The defense had its moments, but its historically poor performance in the red zone proved to be the major downfall in the NFC East-winning campaign.

So the team did something about it. Washburn was hired after his contract expired in Tennessee. His Wide-9 scheme, which spreads the four down linemen out and effectively takes away the edge game offenses have -- pitch plays, bootlegs, end arounds -- allows linemen to be aggressive from the snap of the ball and to get up the field, rather than to read run or pass first before taking steps up the field.

Then Babin came along as one of the key pieces in free agency, followed by tackle Cullen Jenkins, who proves the dynamic pass-rushing ability and the nastiness to complement the rest of the group up front.

"It is a huge advantage being in a scheme that is tailored to the things that you offer," said Tapp. "You saw that last year with Jason in Tennessee. He was kind of a journeyman, then he goes to Tennessee under Coach Washburn and you see that it is a match made in heaven and he had an explosive year. It's all about getting in that right situation, with the right coaching and the right teaching and somebody can flourish."

Tapp acknowledges that when Washburn goes off on a rant in practice the intent is to light a fire, and it works. Washburn appeals to the pride his players have, and he wants to find out how much they want to play the game his way, the right way.

Instantly in practice, the players understood that they would be asked to do things they have never done. The tempo of the work is far beyond what returning Eagles have experienced. The technique is different, of course. And Washburn's relentless style is unforgiving.

While it might seem coarse to those who don't understand his intent, Washburn's way resonates with his linemen.

"He wants you to play hard every down. He's a big-time motivator, similar to (former Eagles defensive line coach) Tommy Brasher," said end Trent Cole. "I love playing for a guy like that, because he gives you the extra push you need in this game.

"It's pretty much attack and maul them. You beat the man in front of you every time, on every play. You come out of your stance and you can play freely and think less. The best players play that way. If you prepare the right way and you believe in what he is teaching you, the results speak for themselves."

And Washburn's vocabulary?

"You have to get used to it," said Cole, "but you have to know what he wants. He wants the same thing we want. If you don't want to get after it, you don't play for him."

The Eagles now have a deep and talented group up front. They have Cole and Babin headlining an end rotation that includes Tapp, Juqua Parker and a bunch of youngsters vying for a roster spot and playing time. At tackle, Jenkins is going to come right in and play a major role along with Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon and fourth tackle Trevor Laws. Rookie Cedric Thornton and Victor Abiamiri, a swing end/tackle, are in the mix as well.

Having Washburn on board was one of the drawing points for Jenkins, who had plenty of suitors for his services.

"I actually just learned about Coach Wash last season when we watched a little bit of tape of what the Tennessee D-linemen were doing," said Jenkins. "You sit there and you watch it and you say in your head, 'Man, I'd love to be able to do that.' It's weird because now I'm here and I'm going to be a part of it. I'm pretty excited about it and anxious to get up in the meeting with him and learn more."

It's about to get heated up front for the Eagles' overhauled defense. Washburn has some shiny new toys with which to work. And he's going to work them. Every minute of every day until a player understands that if you follow Washburn's Way, you find out just how good you can be.

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