WHEN DEFENSIVE tackle Cedric Thornton arrived at the NovaCare Complex on Monday afternoon around 1 o'clock for a light workout, he had no idea that his line coach, Jim Washburn, was axed earlier in the day.
In fact, Thornton thought he had a 3 o'clock meeting with Washburn - not his successor, Tommy Brasher.
"I'm really just kind of confused," Thornton said. "I'll miss coach 'Wash' to bits."
Defensive end Brandon Graham had an idea something might have been up last week.
"I probably saw it coming after the season, he was talking about little stuff that he might not be here," Graham said. "He said, 'Let's play the hardest 5 weeks that we can and whatever happens, happens. After [Jason] Babin left, anything can happen.' "
Turns out, Babin's surprising release last week precipitated Washburn's dismissal. According to Andy Reid, the removal of both Washburn and his inseparable pupil represent the Eagles turning the page as their season has turned to mush.
Much in the same way as naming Nick Foles as the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season, moving Babin and Washburn was about turning the keys of the line over to players like Graham, Vinny Curry and even Thornton.
Gone is the wide-nine, paving the way for a more traditional (and perhaps successful) route to the quarterback.
"[Brasher] is a coach that I've had here for a number of years who understands exactly what I'm about and what I'm trying to get done with a young defensive line," Reid said. "Obviously, his experience will benefit [defensive coordinator] Todd [Bowles] and the other young coaches that we have."
Graham said he met briefly with Brasher on Monday morning and he made it clear that the wide-nine was deep-sixed. Reid never acknowledged that the Eagles would abolish it completely, but did say, "It just won't be as prominent."
"I know we won't be in nine techniques," Graham said. "It sucks that coach Washburn really has to go, because I was just starting to get his scheme."
The 24-year-old Graham needed nearly two full seasons of studying the wide-nine to be able to break through in his first start of the season on Sunday night in Dallas. He collected 1 1/2 sacks, six tackles and four quarterback hits. That's too long for any professional player to pick up.
Reid said Brasher will "blend things" and noted that he is "very flexible, which is very important." He also noted that Bowles, who entered into a situation this season with an already established defensive scheme without much choice or say in the matter, would have some influence in the process of selecting the new strategy.
The biggest thing about a more traditional approach for defensive linemen is less thinking and more reacting. It will likely be an easy-to-pick-up setup, something that can be taught, implemented and executed in time to see some sort of results in the last 4 weeks of the season. The remaining audition is to see which players can return, not which scheme makes which replaceable coach a hero.
Graham isn't worried about making a change with just four games left. In fact, it could be the best thing that's happened to him in the last 2 years. He went through two head coaches and three coordinators at Michigan.
"It's not going to be that bad," Graham said. "My rookie year, I've still got a lot in my memory bank with stuff that I can do. Just being at Michigan, I played read-attack."
Similarly, Thornton is well-versed in change. He switched to defensive tackle before becoming a loyal Washburn disciple.
"It shouldn't be too hard [to switch]," Thornton said. "When I came to the NFL, I wasn't really a defensive tackle. I converted last year. It didn't take me too long. I just tried to do what coach Washburn taught me, to use my hands and to read and react. I think it should be pretty easy."
Yes, the public goal somehow remains for the Eagles to win games - even though it would hurt their draft positioning. It should involve getting Graham, Curry, Thornton, Phillip Hunt and the injured Fletcher Cox on the field more often.
Graham had his best game as an Eagle against Dallas, yet he only set a career high in snaps for one game (31) by one. Curry (19 snaps) actually saw a reduction in snap percentage. Cox left with another bruised tailbone. And Hunt saw just eight reps.
The average age of Graham, Curry, Cox, Hunt and Thornton - a realistic future front four of the defensive line - is just 23.8 years old. Hunt is the oldest at 26. It's about time we attempt to pinpoint their potential.