OVER THE last three seasons, the Eagles' defense was on the field for a total of 3,411 snaps. That's 71 snaps per game, which - surprise, surprise - was far and away the most in the NFL over that period.

Connor Barwin was on the field for most of them. As an outside linebacker in Billy Davis' two-gap, 3-4 scheme, he played 3,189 of those 3,411 snaps, or 93.5 percent.

And lived to tell about it.

Not only lived to tell about it, but played pretty damn well. Had 21 1/2 sacks the last two years and was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2014.

That said, Barwin and the rest of the Eagles' defensive linemen are really, really looking forward to a reduced workload this season in Jim Schwartz's Wide 9, 4-3 scheme.

Schwartz is from the less-is-more school of defensive-line play: less snaps equals more production. He prefers fresh players to iron men.

The Eagles' new defensive coordinator plans to regularly rotate as many as eight players up front, with no one staying on the field for more than four to six snaps at a time.

"I'm excited about this group," Barwin said, "whatever eight of us end up playing together. I haven't played in a front like this where we're going to rotate like this. That's exciting for me to think about.

"In my career, I've averaged 80-90 percent of the snaps on defense. So I'm kind of excited about this. Play four to six plays, get a breather, go play four to six more plays."

If an eight-man defensive-line rotation sounds vaguely familiar to Eagles fan, it should. The Eagles used one in 2011 and 2012 when Schwartz's pal, Jim Washburn, was the defensive-line coach.

The Eagles had 50 sacks in 2011, which tied for the most in the league that season, including 29 by ends Jason Babin (18) and Trent Cole (11). The next year, with quarterbacks going to more three-step drops against the Wide 9, they tied for 25th with just 30 sacks.

The fresh-legs strategy has worked consistently well for Schwartz. In his 14 seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator and head coach, his defenses have finished in the top 10 in sacks eight times, including in five of his last eight seasons on the job.

Two years ago, when he was the defensive coordinator in Buffalo, the Bills had a league-high 54 sacks. None of his top four pass rushers that year - ends Mario Williams (14 1/2) and Jerry Hughes (10), and tackles Marcel Dareus (10) and Kyle Williams (5 1/2) - played more than 72 percent of the Bills' defensive snaps. Williams played 72.5 percent, Hughes 71.9, Dareus 62.4 and Williams 66.1.

"It's hard to pass rush, it's hard to attack if you're going eight straight snaps," Schwartz said. "You've got to keep fresh guys coming. Then they can be giving maximum effort when they're out there.

"I always go back to my baseball analogy about the bullpen. You can throw a lot harder out of the bullpen than if you throw six or seven innings as a starter."

The key, of course, is having eight linemen who can play and not be liabilities. It appears the Eagles do.

It's currently a three-man battle between Beau Allen, Taylor Hart and Mike Martin for the two tackle spots behind starters Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan.

Barwin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry will man three of the four end spots. Steven Means appears to have moved ahead of 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith for the fourth spot on the outside.

But Schwartz said if he determines he only has three ends or three tackles worth rotating, then he'll do that. But that doesn't appear likely right now.

"It's going to be merit-based," he said. "If we have four ends that merit playing time, we'll rotate four guys. If we have four tackles that merit playing time, we'll rotate four tackles. If we don't, then we'll change those numbers. We haven't really made those decisions yet."

Means, who was signed off of the Houston Texans' practice squad last December, has had a solid training camp and followed that up with an impressive performance in Thursday's 17-9 preseason win over Tampa Bay.

The 6-3, 263-pound Means played 44 snaps against the Bucs, the most by any of the Eagles' defensive players.

He got pressure on the quarterback on several occasions and had a third-quarter sack and forced fumble when he stripped the ball out of the hand of Bucs quarterback Ryan Griffin.

"He's doing a good job in camp," Schwartz said. "Doing a good job setting edges in the run game and he's affected the passer. And he did both of those things Thursday night."

Means originally was a fifth-round pick of the Bucs in 2013. He has played in just 11 games in three seasons, 10 of them in his rookie year. He was inactive for his four games with the Eagles last year.

While Means has been impressing the coaches, Smith, who has played just 196 snaps the last two years, missed a week of camp and the Bucs game with a concussion. He finally returned to practice Saturday.

Barwin said no one who was with the team last December and watched Means in practice is surprised by his impressive play this summer.

"He started beating guys in one-on-one drills as soon as he got here," he said. "You recognized right away what he could do. So I don't think he's surprising anybody besides maybe the coaches that weren't here last year. But anybody who was here last year saw it."

Means was signed by the Eagles last year to be an outside linebacker for Davis' 3-4. But he appears to be a much better fit for Schwartz's 4-3.

"I love it," he said. "God blessed me to be here at the right time. With the transition of coaches, he put me in the best system that fits me."

Means said he's not approaching this as a competition between himself and Smith for that last d-end rotation spot.

"Maybe a couple of years ago I would have looked at it like that," he said. "But this year, I have a different mindset.

"I'm not competing with any specific player on defense. We're all on the same defense. I'm competing against whomever I line up against. If I handle my business out there on the field, I feel like I'll be good.

"I need to capitalize (on my opportunities). I got to the quarterback a couple of times the other night and need to finish. I need to improve my conditioning. I was a little winded out there. I still have a lot to improve on."

@Pdomo

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