Eagles Coach Talks About ‘Challenging’ Competition at Edge Rusher

Matt Burke

Getty Former Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke is now a special assistant for the Eagles.

The Eagles may have passed on four-time Pro Bowler Everson Griffen, but the franchise remains committed to filling up the defensive ends room.

Philadelphia inked eight-year veteran Vinny Curry to a one-year deal, a retread with 27 career sacks in midnight green. Defensive line coach Matt Burke told reporters he’s “excited” to get Curry back in the fold while providing progress reports on up-and-coming pass rushers Shareef Miller, Genard Avery and Derek Barnett.

The Eagles made it a point to acquire three-down defensive ends who can set edges in the run game and attack the quarterback. They are carrying eight edge rushers (counting Daeshon Hall) and love the competition at the position.

“Honestly, we can’t have enough. Give me them all, right? So I think competition is really good for the room,” Burke told reporters on Thursday. “The more the merrier in terms of competition. I think none of them are backing down from the challenge of ‘Hey, I’m going to go earn a spot.’ I think as much as there is competition, there is playing time to be had and spots to be earned.”

Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett have assured spots as the starting edge rushers, with Curry and Josh Sweat rotating in there. The main camp battles will be between Avery, Miller and Joe Ostman. Then, there are the defensive tackles: Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave and Hassan Ridgeway. It’s a dynamic group, arguably the best in the NFL.

“In the evaluation of all these guys, we ask: what’s their level of capability of fitting into some of the schemes and things we’re asking them to do … whatever that answer is, then our job as coaches is to take the skillsets of your players and to maximize them and get the best out of them. And put them in positions to be successful. If you look across our D-line room, everybody looks different.”

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Burke Taking Command of D-Line Room

Burke is entering his first year in charge of the defensive line after serving as a defensive special assistant in 2019. He was brought in mainly to provide a “new set of eyes” on the Eagles’ defense while sharing some of his 17 years of experience in the coaching ranks.

“My contract was up [this offseason] and wasn’t sure what was going on with a lot of things,” Burke said. “Jim [Schwartz] and Doug [Pederson], in that window right after the season ended, just approached me with what their thoughts were on handling this and what their vision was for me in this job and it kind of sounded like something I was excited to do so I jumped on the opportunity.”

The Eagles made a point to go out and sign versatile ends and tackles, guys that can move all over the defensive line and create matchup problems. Burke is drooling over the potential oozing from his line, especially among the defensive tackles. That group has 160 combined sacks and their versatility could alter the gameplan on a weekly basis, maybe on a snap-to-snap basis.

“I think the versatility is going to allow us to move guys around week-to-week and create different matchups and get the right bodies on the field,” Burke said. “So it might look different week-to-week, or even within the games as we’re making adjustments but the more pieces we have and the more pass rushers we have at all spots, I just think it allows us hopefully as I said to create matchups and to create situations that are favorable for us on defense.”

Schwartz to Burke: ‘Don’t Wear Ties’ to Interviews

The story about how Burke ended up in the NFL doesn’t follow the normal path. He basically received a “cold call” in 2004 from Schwartz who was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee at the time. Burke, a 26-year-old assistant coach at Harvard, had a knack for dissecting film and it piqued Schwartz’s interest. He invited him to Nashville to interview for a quality control job, with one caveat: don’t wear a tie.

“Now I’m a young kid, so I call him the day before I’m flying down to Tennessee, and I’m suiting up and I’m ready to go and Jim says, ‘Don’t wear a tie, do not wear a tie,'” Burke recalled on Thursday. “You know, Jeff Fisher was the head coach and he was a pretty laid back dude — and so I wore just like slacks and a button-up and I put a tie in my bag just in case, so I had it.”

Burke aced the interview and left town with the job, including a compliment from Schwartz who praised him for following directions.

“Jeff offered me the job before I left and Jim was driving me back to the airport,” Burke said, “and I said actually I had a tie in my bag just to hedge my bets a little bit and Jim said, ‘Well that’s smart … good job.'”

The two men spent 10 years working together as Burke climbed the coaching ladder in the NFL. He coached the linebackers in Cincinnati (2014-15) and eventually got the defensive coordinator gig in Miami (2017-18), then reunited with Schwartz in Philly after the Dolphins fired him. Burke and Schwartz just seem to feed off each other’s energy.

“I think for him, just to put a new set of eyes on it and take some of my experiences from those situations [in Cincinnati and Miami],” Burke said of why Schwartz hired him in Philly. “Then coming back together, the two of us, being able to look, obviously having coached a similar scheme, but now having some tweaks having my experiences outside of being with him.”

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