Eagles Pass-Rusher Out to Prove He Was ‘Worth That Pick’

Derek Barnett

Getty Eagles DE Derek Barnett recovered the game-sealing fumble in Super Bowl LII for Philadelphia.

The Eagles used a very high pick to draft Derek Barnett in 2017. He was the 14th overall selection, the third defensive end off the board.

Barnett’s three-year body of work gets an incomplete grade. He’s had A-plus moments, like recovering Brandon Graham’s strip-sack fumble in the Super Bowl, and several D-minus ones due to nagging rotator cuff and ankle injuries.

But Philadelphia banked on Barnett’s big-play potential when the team exercised his fifth-year contract option in April. He’ll make $2.2 million in 2020 and $10 million in 2021, per Spotrac. The future is bright for the kid who broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. Of course, the expectations are bigger than ever.

Barnett knows it and intends to prove it on the field. The 23-year-old has been working out with former Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn at his farm in Santa Fe, Tennessee. Washburn recently spoke to NJ Advance Media and shared Barnett’s mindset heading into training camp.

“He wants to prove that he was worth that pick,” Washburn told Mike Kaye. “I believe he will. He’s just got to stay healthy.”

The injury concerns are real. Barnett has missed 13 regular-season games in three years, plus the defensive end has dealt with a few unsavory fines for unnecessary roughness penalties. He’s working to put that all behind him and increase his sack production even more after recording a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2019. Barnett will be the starter at right defensive end, with 23-year-old Josh Sweat pushing him for snaps.

“I feel like (this season) the Eagles, without a shadow of a doubt, will have the best (defensive line) production that they’ve had in a while,” Washburn told NJ Advance Media.

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New Defensive Line Coach in Philadelphia

Barnett will have a new position coach in Philly, too. Matt Burke was promoted from defensive special assistant to the Eagles’ new run game coordinator/defensive line coach. He takes over for Phillip Daniels who was fired.

Burke, who has 17 years of NFL coaching experience, was dubbed the “most interesting run game coordinator/defensive line coach in the world” on the Eagles’ official website. The 44-year-old has a reputation as an international man of mystery having traveled to 40 different countries, including Uganda where he hiked with gorillas. He has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“Part of my job is to relate to those guys and I think that it’s the same when I travel,” Burke told the Palm Beach Post in 2017. “I get to meet a vast array of cultures and people. Every now and then I’ll try to manipulate it into a motivational talk or something, or some sort of metaphor for climbing mountains.”

Now it’ll be up to Burke to unleash Barnett, Graham, Sweat and the Eagles’ other dominant pass-rushers on the NFL. Philadelphia ranked 14th in sacks in 2019 with 43 but 14.5 of those sacks came from guys no longer on the roster, including five from departed free agent Vinny Curry. The team did add the ultimate insurance policy when they made former Steeler Javon Hargrave the highest-paid nose tackle in football.

Burke’s path to the NFL started almost two decades ago when then-Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called to offer him a job as a quality control assistant. Burke had been coaching up the defensive backs at Harvard at the time. When fate showed up, Burke jumped.

“You can never manufacture that break,” Burke told Vaughn Johnson. “I could never have set up a situation where Jim Schwartz called Harvard and I was there, but my philosophy until this day is I’m going to work hard and do a really good job and try to be the best coach I can in the position I’m in.”

Now he’s in Philadelphia working under Schwartz. The two hope to make sweet music together again, this time in the form of quarterback hits and pressures — and sacks, tons and tons of sacks.

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