Eagles rookie Derek Barnett continues to impress | Les Bowen
The defensive end from Tennessee is making a good impression with both hard work and talent
SOMEHOW, DEREK Barnett keeps his balance. He's turning the corner past an offensive tackle, Barnett bent to his left like a short-track speedskater whipping through a turn, his head and left shoulder almost brushing the ground.
"He can turn a corner and be this high off the ground; you guys will notice that when you see him out there," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, as part of a lengthy, enthusiastic appraisal of the rookie defensive end, who was drafted 14th overall in April.
"I've worked on it a lot, especially in college. It takes a lot of reps and a lot of stretching," Barnett said this week. "I think it helps me play against guys who are a lot taller than me, that are waist-benders. I'm only 6-3, I'm not the tallest d-end; I think my height already helps me, from the leverage standpoint."
Schwartz noted that Barnett "played right away" as a true freshman at Tennessee, was productive game-in and game-out.
"He's really tough. He's got a great center of balance," Schwartz said. "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 pass - played right (side) and played left. All those things led us to draft him.
"How much he can contribute, how quickly he can be ready is up to him and coaches. It's our job to get him ready to be out there. But we're really excited about him."
Barnett was the first true freshman to start on the Tennessee defensive line, and he set the school record for tackles for a loss and sacks by a freshman. An ESPN.com story told of a phone conversation with his mom soon after he started college, in which Christine Barnett told him she worked too hard and couldn't arrange to go to road games; besides, she didn't know whether he'd be playing much.
"I'm gonna be playing," Derek told her. And he was, en route to breaking Reggie White's Tennessee record of 32 sacks.
"I think I came in ready to go because I was coachable. I picked up on what they wanted me to do, and I gave great effort," Barnett said this week. "If you're coachable, that goes a long way."
Barnett is making a similar impression with Schwartz, as the Eagles work through OTAs. Schwartz noted the mural-sized photo of White in the NovaCare auditorium, and observed that anytime a player "can break any record that that guy has, that's going to get your attention pretty quick."
"He's also been giving great effort in practice. We've pointed out his effort a couple times - chasing the ball and those kinds of things," Schwartz said. "For a rookie to do that kind of stuff has been pretty impressive so far."
Barnett wrote in a Players Tribune piece just before the draft that he was proud of not being a one-year wonder type of player, that he "produced consistently every single year."
Barnett said this week he views each workout as an opportunity "to get better at something . . . I'm making a lot of mistakes, but I'm learning a lot."
Barnett said defensive line coach Chris Wilson - probably the most vocal Eagles position coach in OTAs, a man unafraid to deliver a pungent critique - "is very critical of me. I'm glad I've got a coach like that, because he's only going to make me get better."
We really don't know whether any of this will add up to anything when it comes time to put on pads and actually earn playing time. But it's interesting to compare what Barnett is saying and what is being said about him to the situation the last time the Eagles drafted an edge rusher in the first round, 2014, when they took Marcus Smith 26th overall, from Louisville.
Smith was touted as a long-range project from the start, so nobody was that surprised he was running with the third team in OTAs. But no one praised much of anything except his affability. Smith, who had bounced around in college from quarterback to linebacker to edge rusher, knew little about technique or leverage. Three years later, he's absent from OTAs, apparently because Barnett's addition made it clear to him he has little future here.
Right now, Barnett and third-round corner Rasul Douglas are roommates at the hotel where the Eagles stash rookies. They are the two draftees likely to have the biggest impact this season.
"We talk ball," Barnett said. "I like to get around guys like that."
What do they do when they aren't talking about football?
"Rest," Barnett said. "As much rest as we can get, because we know when we come in here, it's work. It's fun, though. I don't look at it as work."
Attendance picked up at Wednesday's OTA session, a source said, with LeGarrette Blount, Tim Jernigan, Alex McCalister and Vinny Curry all taking the field.