The Quiet Man

Posted: May 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , | 31 Comments »

Lost in all the talk of players and coaches in regard to the lockout is the strength/conditioning side of things. Players can go to local gyms or hire a trainer or do whatever to push themselves, but they aren’t getting the direct supervision of Barry Rubin.

The Eagles hired Rubin last year to come in and revitalize the strength/conditioning program. He replaced Mike Wolf, who had done a good job in the past, but wasn’t challenging players the way he needed to. Rubin brought a fresh perspective to the team and the players loved him. Go read or watch player interviews from last spring and you’ll see the name Barry Rubin pop up quite a bit.

Often times we wonder what kind of an impact a strength coach can truly have. These players were gifted athletes in college. What difference can one workout routine make compared to another? Go ask Trevor Laws. He bought into Rubin’s ideas and worked hard last offseason to change his body. Laws needed to get bigger and stronger, but wanted to retain his quickness and athleticism. I’m sure he took a look at Mike Patterson and wondered if that’s what would happen to him. Laws and Patterson were about the same size when drafted. Patterson bulked up for the Eagles 2-gap scheme. He’s now at least 325 pounds. His athleticism is largely gone. Laws knew he needed more bulk and power, but probably didn’t want to go down the same road as Patterson.

Rubin found a way to get Laws up around 300 pounds, with added strength and power, but while letting him also keep his athletic ability. Laws was not a functional run defender in his first two years. He struggled with single blockers, but was absolutely dominated by double teams. People would drive him 10 yards off the ball at times. That changed last season. Laws was able to anchor better against the run. He was better than ever at getting off the ball and into the backfield. He had a career high 4 sacks. He deflected 5 passes and picked off one. Suddenly Laws showed signs of why the Eagles spent a 2nd round pick on him in 2008.

LeSean McCoy tweaked his body under Rubin’s supervision. McCoy was able to be a workhorse runner all year (assuming you consider 15 carries a game a workhorse). He blocked well. He caught passes. The one thing he didn’t do was get hurt and miss time. McCoy looked faster in 2010 than he did in his rookie year, despite being heavier and stronger. Rubin designed a really effective program for McCoy. Shady bought into it and the results speak for themselves.

King Dunlap added bulk to his frame so that he could anchor more effectively. I guess having Richard Seymour push you around for 3 hours will inspire a body change. Dunlap easily had the best year of his young career.

Unfortunately Rubin isn’t able to work with his players right now. I hope there is some secret communication going on. Rubin can design a workout program that the players can do on their own. They don’t need him watching over their shoulders every day. That would be ideal, but it isn’t necessary. Honestly, there is probably more benefit for players to talk to him than assistant coaches. Players who have questions about scheme and the playbook need extensive, complex answers. Often times they need to watch film with the coach to fully understand the point being discussed. Rubin is a guy that can answer a simple question or offer short advice and get some impact from it.

There are plenty of young players who would benefit from working with him. CB Trevard Lindley needs to bulk up, but in the right way. Rookie Center Jason Kelce needs to get bigger and stronger. LB Keenan Clayton must get stronger if he hopes to push for a starting job. LB Jamar Chaney may tweak his build if he’s expecting to play on the outside. DT Mike Patterson might need to re-invent his body to be a better fit for Jim Washburn’s system. And so on.

Obviously the guys rehabbing injuries would also benefit from Rubin working closely with them. Not every trainer in the world is experienced in how to build a program for someone who is recovering from a torn ACL or shoulder injury or whatever.

Barry Rubin quietly had a big impact on the 2010 Eagles. I hope we soon get a resolution or lifting of the lockout so he can get to work on the 2011 Eagles.

The Eagles and DT

Posted: March 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , , , | 26 Comments »
DT Antonio Dixon prepares to punish a RB.

DT Antonio Dixon prepares to punish a RB.

New DL coach Jim Washburn is bringing his “Wide Nine” system to Philly.  We’ve talked about what this means to the ends, but the new system will also impact the DTs.  Let’s go for a quick history lesson before we jump into what will happen in 2011.

The first thing to understand as we delve into this is that the Eagles don’t like to discuss things in detail.  Assistant coaches are normally off limits.  Coordinators talk about big things like star players, injuries, and matchups.  You don’t get them to get into the X’s and O’s of the scheme very often.  That means we have some facts to deal with, but also a lot of guess work.

Run defense was never a schematic priority for Jim Johnson.  He wanted his front seven to focus on the run, but he wasn’t going to sell out by loading the box or by getting huge players who specialized in run D.  He wanted smaller, quicker guys who would play the run, but also could get to the QB.

Jim had his DTs attack up the field.  He liked penetration and disruptive play from his guys up front.  In 2001 the defense had 103 TFLs.  Last season we had 63.  The DTs didn’t make substantially more plays in ’01.  They were more disruptive and created opportunities for others on a regular basis.  You knew the DTs would be in the backfield throughout the game.  This worked well from 2000-2004.

2005 was a throwaway season because of all the injuries and oddities.  That season was the Eagles version of Bizarro World.  At the end of the year DL coach Tommy Brasher retired and was replaced by Pete Jenkins.

2006 didn’t see any real schematic changes.  The defense was terrible, though.  They really struggled to stop people, especially on the ground.  The Eagles finished 26th in yards allowed and 24th in yards per attempt.  The defense was 15th overall in points and yards allowed.  There was a 4-game stretch where the team allowed 764 yards on the ground (TEN, IND, CAR, WAS).  That was a real low point.  The team still won the division, but the defense didn’t show up in the playoffs.  The opponents scored 20 and 27 points and combined for 359 rushing yards.

I think the struggles caused JJ to open his mind about adjusting the scheme.  Pete Jenkins specialized in 2-gap defense.  He now incorporated his ideas into JJ’s scheme.  I’m not sure if the change was total in 2007.  Did we mix in 2-gap to test it or go all the way?  I don’t know.  We certainly did make that change by 2008 and the run defense was outstanding.  We were 4th in rushing yards allowed, 2nd in rushing TDs allowed, and 4th in yards per rushing attempt.  Starting DTs Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson did a fantastic job of controlling the middle of the line.

JJ passed away and Pete Jenkins retired prior to 2009.  The DT play was pretty solid vs the run in the next 2 years, but getting pressure up the middle on pass plays was a major problem.  I don’t know if this was due to personnel, scheme, or coaching.  Rory Segrest had replaced Jenkins and just seemed to be in over his head.

After the conclusion of the 2010 season we saw a lot of change.  Sean McDermott was fired.  The assistants were let go.  Jim Washburn was hired to run the DL and bring his scheme to town.  Juan Castillo was given the job as DC.  So here we are.  Now let’s talk about 2011.

Washburn will have the DTs going back to the attacking style we used to use.  It isn’t exactly the same, but the basic principle is…play on the other side of the line of scrimmage (LOS).  You want defenders getting up the field and disrupting the offense with penetration.  I love the fact we’re going back to this style.  I prefer my DL to attack.  My favorite defenses always played a 1-gap style.

I think most people are on board with the change.  The players will certainly love it.  The question is how the current players fit the scheme and whether we have the guys to make it work.

Mike Patterson is the senior member of the DTs.  He was a terrific 1-gap player at USC and early in his NFL career.  He’s gotten bigger in the NFL, partly due to liking food and partly to fit the 2-gap system.  Mike now is about 6’1, 330.  He has good initial quickness.  He has a good motor.  Mike isn’t a playmaker anymore, though.  He doesn’t have the build or athleticism to thrive in an attacking scheme.  He could lose 15-20 pounds and that might change, but you can’t count on it.  The man has taken a pounding as a starting DT for 6 years.  I don’t know that shedding weight will get him back to his college playing style.

Brodrick Bunkley is next up.  Bunk is a tough player to assess.  He was a train wreck back in ’06 when he held out in the summer and reported fat and out of shape.  That year was a waste.  Bunk then played well in 2007 and ’08.  He didn’t make a ton of plays, but was outstanding as a run defender.  He was solid in 2009.  This past year he wasn’t playing to his old level and then hurt his elbow.  That cost him his starting job.  Bunk never complained, so I do give him credit for that.  He accepted his demotion and played okay after coming back.  Bunk is very powerful, but remains a pretty good athlete.  I think he’s got the size and skill set to fit the new system.  I know some people are down on him, but I’m not ready to give up on Bunk.  He played very well in JJ’s final 2 years.  He had a good DC and DL coach.  Bunk’s play declined with lesser guys coaching him and running the defense.  I don’t think you can ignore that fact.

Antonio Dixon is the man who replaced Bunk in the starting lineup.  Dixon is the biggest DT at 6-3, 322.  He’s not a massive NT type with no movement skills.  Dixon has a quick burst off the ball.  He hustles in pursuit of plays.  He is very powerful and tough to block one-on-one.  He made his share of plays, with 2 sacks and 4 TFLs.  Dixon is a guy that I’m sure Washburn is very intrigued by.  Antonio is just scratching the surface of how good he can be.

Finally we have Trevor Laws.  He looked like a major bust at the end of the 2009 season.  He had 17 solo tackles in 2 years.  He had no sacks.  He was awful as a run defender.  Double teams drove him 5 or more yards off the ball.  The Eagles hired Barry Rubin to be the new strength coach last offseason and that move had a huge impact on Trevor.  He changed his body.  He bulked up to the 295-300 pound range.  While he got bigger and stronger, he was still able to retain his quickness and agility.  Laws responded by playing very well in 2010.  He had 4 sacks, 13 solo tackles, 4 pass deflections, and even picked off a pass.  He was a disruptive force in the Nickel/Dime units.  Laws even became a functional run defender.  Trevor has the quickness and athleticism to be a good fit in the new scheme.  I think he could even vie for a starting spot.

Now let’s talk about the new scheme.  Washburn will have a standard 4-3 DT alignment where one DT lines up in the 3-technique (outside eye of the G) and the other DT lines up between the C and other G.  The 3-technique is considered the Under Tackle (UT) and the other guy is the Nose Tackle (NT).

The UT is supposed to be more of a pass rusher/disruptive type.  The NT is nothing like his counterpart in the 3-4.  The NT is also supposed to get upfield.  He lines up between the G and C and will often draw his share of double teams.  There are a couple of different ways the NT can handle this.  Smaller guys can stay low and try to get under the blockers.  Bigger guys can use their size/power to fight through the blocks.  Either way, the goal is the same…get into the backfield.

I am talking about the base defense in regard to the UT and NT and alignment/assignments.  There are times when the line will be in an under or over shift and the players will line up in different spots.  There are times when the DEs will move in tight.  A lot of times that will be for stunts.  Washburn wants his guys to attack, but does get creative with them so it’s not just a matter of going straight up the field on every snap.

Washburn used a variety of DTs in his time at Tennessee.  Let’s focus on the last 5 years for now.

2010 – Tony Brown , Jason Jones
2009 – Tony Brown , Jovan Haye
2008 – Tony Brown , Albert Haynesworth
2007 – Tony Brown , Albert Haynesworth
2006 – Robaire Smith , Albert Haynesworth

Brown – 6-1, 295 … signed as FA after being cut by a couple of teams
Haye – 6-2, 277 ….. signed as FA after starting in Tampa
Smith – 6-4, 315 …. 6th round pick
Jones – 6-5, 275 …. 2nd round pick
Haynesworth – 6-5, 330 … Top 20 pick

Couple of key backups:

Kevin Vickerson – 6-4, 295
Randy Starks – 6-3, 312

Draft picks in the last 5 years:

2010 … David Howard – 7th round – Brown – 6-3, 304
2009 … Sen’Derrick Marks – 2nd round – Auburn – 6-2, 294
2008 … Jason Jones – 2nd round – EMU – 6-5, 275
2007 … Antonio Johnson – 5th round – Miss State – 6-3, 310
2006 … Jesse Mahelona – 5th round – Tennessee – 6-0, 311

I think you can see that Washburn was open to using a variety of players.  He did have 4 guys 6-4 or above.  We haven’t had a DT that tall as part of the regular rotation in a while.  I hope we change.  Big/tall framed DTs make it tougher for the QB to throw over them.  It is funny that the guy with the most starts for the Titans in the last 5 years is Brown, the smallest DT they’ve had in a long time.  That shows you the system is more about players than just body types.

Heading into 2011 I think Washburn will have a pretty open competition for the starting roles.  I think Patt and Bunk would get the first look based on their experience.  It wouldn’t shock me if Laws and Dixon outplayed them and ended up as the starters.  I think all 4 guys have the potential to start in the system.

I do wonder about Mike Patterson’s future.  He doesn’t appear to be an ideal fit.  You never know what Washburn thinks.  He might have wanted a player with Patt’s size/skill set in Tennessee and it just never worked out.  I doubt that, but you never know.  I think Mike could be trade bait.  There were several teams inquiring about him last offseason.  The Eagles didn’t shop Mike.  Teams called the Eagles.  He was an attractive target because he’s a good player, but also is signed to a good deal.  The Eagles didn’t want to deal him so they didn’t get into any kind of negotiations.  Patt wouldn’t draw a huge bounty.  You’d be looking at a 3rd or 4th round pick.  If the Eagles are interested in using a high pick on a DT, then dealing Mike makes some sense.

I don’t see DT as a position of need so much as one of uncertainty.  It actually could turn out to be a position of strength if Washburn is able to “coach up” the talent we already have in place.  We all know the Eagles draft for the future so they absolutely could go for a DT early, but Laws and Dixon are young guys with bright futures.  At the very least, I want to add one DT in the draft.  Jeff Owens is rehabbing a tough injury and isn’t a great fit for the new system.

There is no right or wrong is discussing the DT situation since it is so much of a mystery to us.  How will the current players take to the new system?  Which players will click with Washburn?  Which players will elevate their game based on contract issues?  I can’t stress enough the importance of fit, as well as buying into a new system.  Back in 1995 we had a pair of good starting WRs in Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams.  They were used to a downfield passing attack.  In comes young Jon Gruden with his WCO and short routes.  That went together like brownies and tartar sauce.  Barnett and Williams were out the door in 1996.  Irving Fryar stepped in as a free agent and put up Pro Bowl numbers.

I don’t think any DT will have such a sense of entitlement that he resists the changes.  If anything, I think the guys will covet the presence of a good positional coach and a chance to attack up the field.  I could see Bunk, Trevor, or Dixon thriving in the new system.  Patt?  He’s a steady Eddie type that will do his best no matter what, but just isn’t going to be a difference maker.

I will talk about some DT targets in the draft in a future post.  My thoughts change as I watch more and more tape.  I’ve got a couple of small school guys left to check out before I write anything.