Eagles Sack Leader Hypes Up Young ‘Hungry Dog’ Defensive Ends

Genard Avery

Getty Eagles DE Genard Avery recorded a sack in Week 9 versus the Bears and looks to be a key player moving forward.

Jason Kelce gave the Eagles a motto when he declared: “Hungry dogs run faster.” Now one of his teammates has dusted off that canine proverb.

Brandon Graham was trying to find the right words to describe the young guys on the defensive line, then it flickered on like a thousand-watt light bulb. Channeling his inner Kelce, the team’s sack leader from 2019 told reporters that the Eagles have a “bunch of hungry dogs” at defensive end. He specifically called out Genard Avery and Joe Ostman, two bubble edge rushers looking to crack the final 53-man roster.

“I think that boy is fast off that rock,” Graham said of Avery. “He’s somebody whose confidence is boosted especially with him coming in last year having to learn on the fly. I feel like he’s coming into his own right now. Once we get on the pads you can kind of see who is going to separate themselves.”

Those pads get strapped on next week (Aug. 17) when practices go live. Avery came over in a trade from Cleveland last year and was used sparingly (eight games, 33 defensive snaps) as he got up to speed.

Meanwhile, Ostman tore his ACL last preseason and was carted off the field on Aug. 6 at an open practice. The 25-year-old was having an eye-opening training camp before the injury. Now he’s back, healthier and hungrier than ever.

“Him [Avery] and Joe Ostman out there running fast and looking good,” Graham said. “Our group is hungry to prove themselves because we got a bunch of like Jason Kelce says, we got a bunch of hungry dogs and I really do believe this group, with some of the situations that have happened to these guys, that they want to go out there and prove the hunger and prove their worth.”

Graham had nothing but good things to say about Shareef Miller, too. Last year’s fourth-round pick out of Penn State couldn’t get on the field in 2019. He has since promised “10 sacks” this season while putting a huge chip on his broad shoulders.

“He’s in the best shape that I’ve seen him in since he’s been here,” Graham said of Miller. “I’m excited for him in Year 2. I’m just trying to give him as much information as I can, as much as I can put on my heart to tell him, and I feel like he’s really grasping everything.”

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Get Ready to ‘Eat Them Words’ on Derek Barnett

Graham also put on his cheerleader’s cap for Derek Barnett, the fourth-year defensive end whom the Eagles exercised their fifth-year option on. His praise echoed what All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox revealed about Barnett last week. He’s beyond motivated to prove his doubters wrong in 2020.

“He’s going to try and make everybody eat them words and let them know that he’s valuable,” Graham told reporters. “He’s going to be a great addition to this year of having him back and having him healthy, and I’m just excited for him because he really does have that edge … watch out for DB.”

Cox mentioned that he has been in close contact with Barnett throughout the offseason, in a pseudo-mentor type of role, and stated “he’s worked his butt off.” The 24-year-old has been labeled a bust by some due to a constant string of bad luck.

Barnett missed two games last season with an ankle sprain after a season-ending shoulder injury limited him to just six games in 2018. Graham can relate to that having endured his own injury struggles (ankle sprain, torn ACL) early in his career.

“We talk about that all the time,” Graham said of injuries. “You can only control what you can. Stay away from the social media because everybody is going to say what they are going to say but when you making plays, you can make them eat those words. I feel like that’s where he is right now.”

Matt Burke Getting Most Out of Defensive Line

The other wild card in this bizarre Eagles season has been adjusting to new position coaches. The organization made several new hires and restructured their staff, including the in-house promotion of Matt Burke to defensive line coach. The 44-year-old is young and energetic and determined to build trust with his guys.

“I love how Matt Burke definitely just wants to come in and learn, just to see how we feel,” Graham said. “He asks questions like what are our goals? What are our personal and team goals as a D-line? And we’re always telling stories about old school days and he talked about his time in Tennessee and what he’s seen from guys that were great.”

Burke has been around the Eagles’ building for a few years after joining the team as a defensive special assistant in 2019. He got his first NFL coaching job when Jim Schwartz brought him to Tennessee in 2004 and has more than 17 years of experience. Burke also has a solid group of teachers around him, in Jeremiah Washburn (senior defensive assistant) and Nate Ollie (assistant defensive line coach).

“Him [Burke] and Wash both together, Jeremiah and him, and Nate … we got a good group of coaches that really care about us and really want to see us thrive,” Graham said. “This year, Matt just wants to learn from us and build the trust and so far so good.”

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