A mixture of unrelenting effort and composure makes rookie defensive end Derek Barnett a sleeper to turn heads on Sunday.
Since the spring, Barnett has looked every bit of a first-round pick when eyeballing his on-field performance. In the preseason opener against the Packers, Barnett set the tone beating defenders off the edge on multiple occasions coming away with two sacks and two quarterback hurries. In the following game against the Bills, Barnett wrestled his way for yet another sack and two more quarterback hurries. Impressive indeed. However, his execution and development up to this point have been everything the coaching staff expected.
"I think a lot was made with him being a bit of a one-trick pony. He was an edge, speed rush guy in college. And he had such the ability to do that that I think he got labeled a guy that's all he could do," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "I think we saw more in him than that. He's played tough against the run. He's been instinctive."
There's good reason to believe Barnett's preseason play will carry over now that the games matter.
"I think preseason was four good games. I could get my feet wet, get a good feel for the game, but now it's go time," Barnett stated. "So I think I just have to come in, play fast, and make sure I do my assignment."
And his assignment won't be an easy one.
A 6-5, 320-pound tackle named Trent Williams awaits Barnett and the Eagles' front line Sunday. It's no coincidence that last season Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked only 23 times, which was fewest of any quarterback not named Eli Manning who played in all 16 regular-season games. The Eagles' defensive line downed Cousins twice last year but Williams won't make the task any easier.
"I'm very excited to go against a good player like that. But like I said (I'm) just focusing on my technique and what we're doing on defensive scheme-wise," Barnett offered. "If we do that, everything else will fall into place and we'll be fine."
As chance would have it, Barnett's already had some experience going up against Hall of Fame-caliber tackles.
"(He) went against J.P. (tackle Jason Peters) all the time in Training Camp. That's some baptism by fire, too," Schwartz noted. "We threw him out there a bunch."
Barnett will backup first-time starter Vinny Curry. This year, the Eagles intend to keep the pass rush crisp. That responsibility that will likely fall on the shoulders of key subs like veterans Chris Long, Beau Allen, and the young Barnett. And as head coach Doug Pederson indicated Wednesday, Barnett will have a substantial role against Washington.
"He's definitely going to be in the rotation. As you know, we rotate a lot of defensive linemen. Eight of those guys are usually rolling in and out of there," Pederson said. "He'll have a big impact, and a big part of this game."
The bright spotlight and raucous crowd won't be too much for Barnett. He trusts his training, the countless time he's worked on his technique, and the instruction from his coaches to keep him poised but relentlessly aggressive on Sunday.
"I'm not nervous. I try to rely on my training but I think before a game I get a little anxious. Every ballplayer gets a little anxious when you're getting ready to play. But nerves?" Barnett paused. "I wouldn't say I'm nervous at all. Just go out and execute."