With Derek Barnett out, Eagles rookie Josh Sweat’s chance has come
The one player whose role will be most affected by Barnett's absence is Josh Sweat, the Eagles' 2018 fourth-round pick whose rookie season is no longer about development.
Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, and Chris Long already played big roles in the Eagles defense before Derek Barnett underwent surgery for a season-ending shoulder injury on Tuesday. They'll play more going forward, but it's not as though they're suddenly players to know.
The one player whose role will be most affected by Barnett's absence is Josh Sweat, the fourth-round pick whose rookie season is no longer about development. He has played only 15 defensive snaps all season, but now he must contribute.
"I'm ready to go," Sweat said Wednesday. "I've been ready to go for the longest [time]. I thought I'd be playing a lot sooner. It hasn't worked out like that. I've always been ready. … I always practice hard. I always run to the ball. I'm ready."
Coach Doug Pederson confirmed Barnett's injury during a Wednesday news conference, noting the defensive end hurt his shoulder earlier in the season and played until he couldn't go anymore. Pederson didn't want to give away the Eagles' plan for replacing Barnett, who had 2.5 sacks in six games, but Sweat was the first name he mentioned.
"We're still OK," Pederson said. "Obviously, Josh Sweat gets more reps and … becomes in the mix. It's a great opportunity for the guys that are healthy."
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The Eagles played without Barnett in their 23-21 home loss to Minnesota in Week 5. Graham took 84 percent of the defensive snaps in that game; Bennett, 79 percent; Long, 47 percent; and Sweat, 13 percent. Those numbers were skewed a bit because Bennett and Graham can help at defensive tackle, where the Eagles were undermanned.
The Eagles will likely get Haloti Ngata back for Sunday's game against Jacksonville in London after missing three games, so there will be more help at defensive tackle. But the Eagles will still need defensive ends to pitch in on the interior on passing downs.
Graham leads the defensive ends with 65 percent of the snaps this season, while Bennett and Long have both played 53 percent of the snaps. Their playing time would figure to increase, because it won't likely be an even split with Sweat. But it doesn't sound as though they will monopolize the snaps, because Sweat will be in the mix. All three veterans are 30 or older, so it will help the rotation if the coaches can trust Sweat.
"I'm cool with it going up," Graham said of his playing time. "We're going to make sure our rotation is good, like always. With Josh getting in, I don't think we're going to have to play as many. I just think we have to keep up to speed and make sure he's doing everything to be prepared, like he's been. It's up to him."
Sweat, a former top recruit at Florida State, has tantalizing physical attributes. He's 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds – a rare size-speed combination. He wasn't used as an edge rusher in college as much as he wanted, and he was thrilled to get the chance to play in the Eagles' attack-style defense.
Graham gushed about Sweat's explosiveness and "bend," which is the ability to get low while coming around the end against a blocker.
"Does a great job," Pederson said. "I think he's explosive off the ball; he's long; has been around the passer; can be disruptive. This will be a great opportunity for him."
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson said that Sweat learns well and can process the defense.
"For a lot of young guys, it takes time to really understand," Wilson said. "But our vets have done a good job with him, bringing him in, and they see he can add to us."
Sweat now has the opportunity to show he belongs.