Eagles Coach Reveals ‘Toughest Guy’ on Eagles Defensive Line

Derek Barnett

Getty Eagles DE Derek Barnett is one of the toughest guys on the Philly roster.

Derek Barnett wants to make people “eat them words” in his fourth season. And his new coach is feeding that fire.

Matt Burke, in his first year running the Eagles’ defensive line, hasn’t seen Barnett in pads, but he’s already wildly impressed. Barnett arrived at camp in peak physical shape, packing on the perfect mixture of lean muscle and football intelligence. The 24-year-old defensive end is committed to being an elite pass rusher despite all the injuries and criticism hanging over his young career. Barnett is poised for a breakout year, according to Burke and everyone else around him.

“He’s had a great offseason and he’s really locked in on wanting to be an elite player,” Burke told reporters. “So I’m really excited to just get us going on the field here and seeing him develop a little bit.”

This isn’t necessarily a new opinion on Barnett. Brandon Graham has mentioned his renewed commitment to the game. So has Fletcher Cox and former defensive line coach Jim Washburn. The edge rusher from Tennessee wants to prove he was worth the 14th overall pick in 2017, especially since the Eagles passed on two shutdown cornerbacks (Marlon Humphrey, Tre’Davious White) to take him. He’s ready to fight for respect.

“He’s one of the toughest guys on the team,” Burke said. “I think anyone would vouch for that. What we’ve seen from Derek has just been … he’s had really sharp focus this offseason, really hyper-focused on getting everything down right.”

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One of Smartest Guys in Defensive Ends Room

The other thing Burke revealed about Barnett is how intelligent he is in the meeting room. He’s very quiet around the media and keeps a low profile in the locker room. Don’t mistake his silence for complacency.

Barnett has been one of the most vocal players when it comes to breaking down film and asking “sharp, pointed” questions on Zoom calls. It’s something his new coach really appreciates about him.

“He’s always pretty quiet, probably a man of few words but he’s a really intelligent guy,” Burke said. “He’s really great in the room, that’s kind of one thing for me that’s been a revelation. He asks really pointed questions … he doesn’t speak a lot but when he does, it’s a very sharp, pointed question — and I think just seeing him from February up until now, I think he’s very hyper-focused.”

Burke had the chance to work with Barnett in 2019 in his role as defensive special assistant. Now he gets to talk to him every day and chart his progress, along with two other up-and-coming pass rushers: Genard Avery and Shareef Miller. Those two have both reported to camp in phenomenal shape, with their own crosses to bear and chips to unload.

“Shareef has done a good job. I thought he had a very strong offseason,” Burke said. “He sent us more clips of his workouts than [anyone]. He would have guys just take his phone and filming him doing drills or working out and that sort of thing. He was probably the most involved among all the guys in that, of saying, ‘Here’s a clip, what do you think about this?’ He was very interactive of us on staff trying to get better.”

Watch Out for ‘Explosive’ Lower-Body Athlete

Avery is another guy looking to earn a roster spot in a crowded field. Both Miller and Avery will likely be competing for the fifth (and maybe final) edge rusher spot. Throw Joe Ostman and Casey Toohill into that race, too.

The Eagles kept six defensive ends breaking camp in 2019. Then, the team added Avery via a midseason trade with Cleveland. He didn’t have much time to learn the system or carve out a role.

“He’s an explosive player,” Burke said of Avery. “He’s an explosive lower-body athlete, and he’s powerful in a different way than some other guys are powerful.”

The 25-year-old didn’t have much time to learn the system, let alone carve out any kind of role in the rotation. Now he’s getting the chance to make up lost ground.

“I think it was hard for him coming in halfway through the season last year, trying to find that world to fit into,” Burke said. “I think he’s done a really good job this offseason. He’s in really good shape. I’m looking forward to getting him on the field, putting on the pads and seeing how that all translates.”

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