It was just a snippet of what is to be, but Friday's Training Camp session at the NovaCare Complex that included the first tackling-to-the-ground reps of this summer – and, oh, was that great to see! – provided a look at just what this Eagles' defense can be: Fast, swarming, versatile, and one that comes at offenses in wave after wave after wave.
"We're just getting started," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said the other day. "Getting to know the guys, how we're all going to be together. It's an exciting time. We have a lot of work to do still, but I think everyone here feels we have a chance to be good together."
"Good together" sounds like peanut butter and jelly. What the Eagles have, potentially, is a defense that is going to get after an offense at all three levels with speed to start. It takes only a few seconds to see what's happening here. The Eagles, a good-but-not-great defense in 2019 overcame a rash of injuries to the line to limit the points and create some takeaways and do a good job against the run, but the breakdowns in the deep passing game were concerning.
So, the Eagles did something about it. They traded for cornerback Darius Slay and moved Jalen Mills from cornerback to safety. They brought in Nickell Robey-Coleman to play in the slot. They added Will Parks to be a jack-of-all-trades player in the new definition of NFL safety. They added K'Von Wallace in the draft, along with young, fast linebacker Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley. They loaded up along the defensive line by signing Javon Hargrave in free agency and welcoming back Jackson from a foot injury. They selected end Casey Toohill in the seventh round of the spring draft.
They added speed. They added punch. They added power.
"I think we do get a sense of what we can be," tackle Fletcher Cox said. "I think the sky is the limit. We can be really good. We have to come together, but I see it already."
Everyone who was at the Training Camp practice on Friday saw it, too. In the final session of the day, a two-minute offense drill, the pass rushed swarmed the offense. End Joe Ostman made an inside move to register a quarterback "sack" (quarterbacks wear red jerseys, which means no touching). Then it was Cox and then it was Jackson and then it was Toohill twice, off the edge untouched.
It was just one segment, just one practice, and, yes, the offensive line still needs to come together. You very often see the defense ahead of the offense early in Training Camp and, even, early in the regular season. But it was a statement by the defense of what is on the way in 2020 – if everything falls into place.
"It's been smooth," Mills said of his transition from cornerback to safety. "Communication, that's the big thing. We all have to be on the same page."
The defense did its share of hootin' and hollerin' after safety Rodney McLeod failed to hold on to a pick-six interception on a Carson Wentz pass to the right side of the defensive formation, and then the D came back and dominated the final 20 minutes of practice.
It was a sampler of what Jim Schwartz rolls out in the regular season. And, yes, it's only August and the Eagles have been on the field for all of three weeks, so maybe this is premature, but when you see a sequence like the one that unfolded on Friday, you just go with it. You let your mind wander. It's OK to dream, right?
The Eagles, we can say this with conviction, anyway, emphasized speed in the offseason and they stressed versatility, and on the very first drills in Training Camp when the defense could play all out, it dominated. Even without Hargrave, still out with the upper-body injury, and end Derek Barnett, sidelined with a lower-body injury, the Eagles brought the heat in waves. That's the idea. That's the blueprint – give quarterbacks a dizzying array of looks in coverage and overwhelm offensive lines with a deep and talented pass rush. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket.
On Friday, we saw a glimpse of what hopefully is to come for a defense that has everyone excited to see just how high the ceiling goes.