Part Seven of an online-only series
Here is a look at the Eagles pass rushers.
Projected first team:
Connor Barwin (6-foot-4, 260 pounds), age 26, 5th season
Trent Cole (6-3, 270), 30, 9th
I'm a bit surprised the Eagles don't have more outside pass rushers on the roster or that they didn't go out and get more outside linebackers with experience playing in a 3-4. Coach Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman were limited to some degree because they can't move former defensive ends Cole and Brandon Graham. But Barwin was essentially the only notable addition, and if you believe Roseman, the only reason he's here was because the Eagles were able to get the free agent relatively cheap.
Barwin's sack numbers dipped dramatically from 2011 to 2012. He had 11 1/2 sacks two seasons ago but only three last year. The Eagles claimed that Barwin was asked to drop into coverage more, but the disparity was, in truth, only marginal. Barwin dropped on 101 of 1,137 snaps in 2012 as opposed to 88 of 1,117 snaps in 2011. I think Barwin's explanation for the dip in production makes more sense. He said that Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was doing more to free up explosive defensive end J.J. Watt, and that meant that Barwin had to take on more blockers.
Take it for what it is worth, but Pro Football Focus rated Barwin as Houston's least effective defender last year. The Eagles are going to have to lean on him, however. I imagine he'll often play three downs. He looked like the only outside linebacker who was comfortable dropping back during the two practices I've watched this spring.
Cole is a fish out of water. If it weren't for his contract - an extension that was one of Roseman's major goofs of 2012 - he would be gone. He won't be asked to drop very much, but he has to balance his mental approach and handle chores, like setting the edge, that were never a responsibility before. For eight seasons, it was go, go, go after the quarterback. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
Brandon Graham (6-2, 268), 25, 4th
Phillip Hunt (6-1, 254), 27, 3d
Graham was the Eagles' best pass rusher last season, but for most of the season he was behind Cole and Jason Babin. Graham recorded five sacks and two forced fumbles in the final nine games of the season. He seemed to be finally delivering upon the expectations of being a first round draft pick. But the scheme switch and the new coach - Kelly doesn't prefer short, squatty pass rushers - don't favor Graham. He played outside linebacker at Michigan but was primarily a pass rusher. He'll have plenty of opportunities to get after the quarterback in Bill Davis' hybrid scheme, though, and could still flourish. I don't see how Hunt fits in. He did very little last season and faces the same obstacles as Cole and Graham.
Chris McCoy (6-3, 261), 26, 1st; Everette Brown (6-1, 263), 25, 4th.