In the mind of Jim Schwartz, there are still miles to go until he is satisfied with the Eagles' defense. He wants more consistency. He wants more dominance. There are still wrinkles to be ironed out. So excuse Schwartz if he isn't tossing bouquets when he discusses the State of the Eagles' Defense in the days leading into the preseason opener.
"It's Training Camp and we've got a lot of work to do," Schwartz said. "If you're satisfied now then you're probably on the wrong path."
Schwartz has his ways, no doubt about it. He is a perfectionist and a demanding coordinator of a defense that has been revamped after last year's crash. The Eagles have the mindset of "attack," and they've been fast and physical in camp. Thursday's preseason opener is a chance to test out the players' understanding of the scheme and all of the nuances that come with it.
"I think everybody is kind of getting a good grasp of the defense. It's just knowing the specifics, the ins and outs, and you have to grasp the entire defense to fully understand the little nuances that go with the defense," said cornerback Ron Brooks, who played for Schwartz in Buffalo in 2014. "We're not behind by any means. We're doing really well. Everybody is grasping the defense, grasping the concepts and the little things are working out for us."
While the Eagles are a work in progress with the goal of being ready to peak on September 11 when Cleveland comes to town to open the regular season, there are certain things that seem fairly apparent. There is a lot of talent along the defensive line, headed by tackle Fletcher Cox but certainly not restricted to him. The Eagles could be loaded up front if the ends provide the pop off the edge in the Wide 9 alignment. Brandon Graham looks explosive with an array of pass-rushing moves. Connor Barwin's length is difficult to defeat off the ball. Vinny Curry has his opportunity to play the most snaps of his career on the end and inside in the nickel package and become a sack threat every time he's on the field.
Inside, Cox is joined by Bennie Logan and Beau Allen and Taylor Hart and Mike Martin, who has been a ball of energy since he signed with the Eagles in the spring.
The Eagles are playing downhill and that's just the way it's going to be. The sense the veterans have is that a dominating performance up front sets up the coverage on the back end.
"I feel like our front can be really, really dominant and we have great DBs right now. It's really fun right now," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "This is an old-school, solid camp. People are fired up. We're getting physical out there. Jim keeps it real with us and we're striving to get better every day.
"It's a lot different as far as what I've done in the past. I've had to learn a lot and I have to keep learning and keep working at it. So while we have a sense of where we are, it's still early. We're getting ready to see how it works against a different team. That's going to be refreshing."
There is an undeniable enthusiasm and camaraderie within the defense, something that Schwartz encourages. The Eagles want to be something special on defense. They want to have a swagger and some attitude and, for sure, a lot of toughness.
"Being in a game situation is going to be fun. Guys are starting to get into that mentality," Brooks said. "I think we've come a long way with our chemistry and the way we're getting along on the field and off the field. The guys are getting the feel for what this defense can be. When we're all on the same page, it clicks and you see how guys fly to the football and dictate to the offense. We want to do that on every single snap."
So it's a work in progress, and that's not a bad thing. It's the second week of August with September 11 just around the corner. Every coach of every unit in the NFL is in the same situation – teaching the schemes, evaluating personnel and not feeling all that satisfied at this time of the year.
Schwartz has the whole defense in his hands and while he's not even close to seeing all he demands, he measures the progress appreciatively.
"I know the guys are working very hard at this and I love the attitude they have," he said. "We have a lot of work to put in. It's a day-by-day thing, so you don't go overboard making any decisions now. We just have to keep pushing and improving and then we'll see where we're at on September 11."