Philadelphia Eagles News

Matt Burke ready to unleash the defensive line's talent

On the surface, Matt Burke is stepping into a pretty ideal situation as the Eagles' defensive line coach/run game coordinator.

He's got three talented defensive tackles, including perennial All-Pro Fletcher Cox, and he's got a deep defensive end rotation led by fan favorite Brandon Graham.

But outside of those established talents lies a slew of unanswered questions surrounding the Eagles' defensive line. Many of which Burke will be charged with finding the answers to during Training Camp and beyond.

What is the overall trait of the Eagles' defensive line? If it were up to Burke and Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, it would be versatility, and Burke believes he has that with his defensive tackles.

Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Malik Jackson are great at plugging run lanes and rushing the passer. Burke believes there is a lot of talent among Anthony Rush, Hassan Ridgeway, and Raequan Williams, as well. However, there will be a battle among the three of them to see who is in fact the fourth interior rusher in the rotation.

"To have three-plus accomplished guys that have shown they can win in those interior rushes is going to be huge," Burke told reporters Thursday. "I think the versatility is going to allow us to, like I said, move guys around week to week even and create different matchups and put the right bodies on the field."

"It may look different week to week or even within a game in terms of as we're making adjustments that, the more pieces we have and the more pass rushers we have at all spots, I just think it allows us to hopefully create matchups and create situations that are favorable for us on defense," he added.

The edge rusher group looks rather similar with Graham leading the way, but there are question marks surrounding the rest. Such as will Derek Barnett finally have the breakout season everyone is hoping for after posting a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2019.

"He's had a really sharp focus this offseason. Really hyperfocused on getting everything down right," Burke said of Barnett. 

"He's a really intelligent guy. He's really great in the room," Burke added. "That's kind of one thing for me that's been a revelation. He asks really pointed questions. He doesn't speak a lot, but when he does, it's a very sharp-pointed question."

Will former fourth-round pick Shareef Miller see the field more after spending much of his rookie season inactive on gamedays? What we do know is that Burke was impressed with Miller's dedication during the offseason, as the former Penn State Nittany Lion was in constant communication with the coaching staff, displaying how much progress he was making during the virtual workouts.

"He's got some length, he's got some explosive ability for us, which is nice," Burke said of Miller. "Again, I just think it's going to be a matter for him when we start really practicing and putting pads on and how that shows up for him."

What about Genard Avery and the returning Vinny Curry and their roles on defense. There are so many questions surrounding so many players, but in Burke's mind, he's simply happy with all of the pass rush options at his disposal. According to him, a team can't have enough pass rushers. He'd probably welcome more if he could.

"I think there's a lot of depth there and I think it's just going to be, 'Hey, we're all going to get an opportunity,'" Burke explained. "We're looking for guys that can be three-down players. Obviously, we want guys that can rush the passer, but there's also an element of guys that can set edges in the run game and play hard and do all those sorts of things."

"I think competition is really good for the room," he later said.

Figuring the answers to these questions will be tough on its own, but Burke and the rest of the National Football League will have to find them in the ever-evolving times of a pandemic, where things change on a regular basis. Burke believes that he and the defensive line have adapted well so far and knows both will have to continue moving forward.

"For us, the message has been this is going to be the most adaptable year," Burke said. "We have to be able to adapt to everything that's going on. Things are changing minute by minute, day to day."

"Even with our offseason program, I was fortunate that I spent some time with the D-line last year in my role and again, like I mentioned, built some of those relationships and at least had a feel for the personality of guys," he added. "They had been around me a little bit, so I do think that helps just from my perspective."

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