Nick Fierro
The Allentown Morning Call

How low can Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett go?

"He can turn a corner and be like this high off the ground," raved Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, his right hand held at waist level, during Tuesday's news conference.

How high can Barnett go?

Schwartz eyed the larger-than-life mural of larger-than-life Reggie White on the wall of the NovaCare Complex auditorium.

"Any time you turn around and look at that number 92 back there, any time they can break any record that that guy has, that's going to get your attention pretty quick," Schwartz said. "Played right away as a true freshman at the University of Tennessee, was productive game-in and game-out. He's really tough. He's got a great center of balance. He's not on the ground very much.

"He's got some things to work on, like any rookie. But he was an effective player. I think that against all competition he was consistent from game to game. He's tough as can be. He's good against the run and good against the pass, played right and played left. All those things led us to draft him. How much he can contribute [and] how quickly he can be ready is up to him and coaches. It's our job to get him ready to be out there."

Clearly, Schwartz and Eagles coaches believe the selection of Barnett with the No. 14 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft filled their biggest need. Barnett broke White's career sack record at Tennessee. If he can be just half the player White was in the NFL, he has a chance to go down as an all-time Eagles great.

The Eagles' pass rush fizzled out after a blazing start last season. So, too, did the rest of the team. It was no coincidence. Although there were other factors in play during the midseason collapse that dropped the Eagles from possibly hosting a playoff game to missing the postseason for a third straight year, their failure to get to the quarterback topped the list.

Part of the reason for that, Schwartz hinted Tuesday, was the decline in play of their cornerbacks, who couldn't cover well enough for their rushers to get home. But it was also clear that the Eagles would need to make as many changes to their front four as they would with their corners.

They followed through on both, which brings them to here in the second round of OTAs, with Barnett and fellow newcomer Chris Long coming from the outside, among others. The Eagles also replaced defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who was lost to free agency, with Tim Jernigan, who has proved more adept than Logan at getting to the quarterback.

Barnett is the linchpin, though. No question about it.

Impressing teammates and coaches alike, he understands it and calmly embraces it.

"It's the NFL. I need to improve each and every day I step on the field," Barnett said. "... I'm making a lot of mistakes, but I'm learning a lot. I'm learning when I get to the film, and when I get going the next day, I correct it."

He's slowly shedding some of the techniques he learned in college, replacing them with moves that work better at this level.

"I think what I'm learning is probably the hardest adjustment," Barnett said. "It just takes a lot of reps over and over and over again. I think it's more technique."

Nevertheless, Barnett possesses the most important gift for playing defensive line, particularly end, in Schwartz's Wide 9: Explosion. He made a college career out of beating offensive linemen off the snap. Now he's playing a system in which that's pretty much all that's required.

"He tells us to just go," Barnett said. "And all you've got to do is get a good get-off and go get the quarterback."

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who missed the first OTA sessions the previous week, has seen enough of Barnett since his return to be encouraged.

"To watch the kid these first couple of days here," Cox said, "you see he's got a lot of energy. He's going to be a big help to us."

The sooner the better.


It appears a Warrior has arrived.