The Eagles led the NFL with 50 sacks last year. Then they spent the offseason trying to make their defensive line even better.
Take last year's NFL-best group and add rookie Fletcher Cox, a first-round tackle from Mississippi State, second-round pick Vinny Curry, an end from Marshall, and then add yet another tackle, Antonio Dixon, who missed most of last year with an injury, and you may have Philadelphia's deepest and most talented line since the days of Reggie White and Clyde Simmons.
“You can't have too many good players,” line coach Jim Washburn said. “If somebody said, ‘Hey, we want to add another good one,’ I'd say, ‘Bring him on.’ You just never know what's going to happen in this league.
“It's a good situation to have, I tell you that, because I've been on the other side of that situation before.”
So, too, were the Eagles. In 2010, a year before Eagles coach Andy Reid lured Washburn to Philadelphia from Tennessee, the Eagles recorded 12 sacks in their first three games, then managed just 29 in their last 14. They finished in the middle of the pack overall with 39.
Washburn arrived with the goal of turning the defensive line into a feared unit once again. And even without an offseason -- without a real opportunity to teach his linemen his unique “Wide 9” scheme -- the Eagles still recorded their most sacks since the Super Bowl season of 2004 and tied the Vikings for most in the NFL.
Now, with Curry joining Pro Bowl pick Jason Babin and perennial double-digit sack producer Trent Cole, along with rejuvenated former first-round pick Brandon Graham, veteran Darryl Tapp and former CFL star Phillip Hunt, the Eagles are legitimately six deep at defensive end.
And with Cox and Dixon joining Pro Bowl alternate Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Derek Landri and promising Cedric Thornton, they're legitimately six deep at defensive tackle as well.
“It's a blessing for us young guys,” Curry said. “That's the coolest part of being here is that everybody's good, everybody's top-notch. It's good for the young guys because it helps bring us up to speed. We're all going to push each other and make sure we work hard every day.”
The Eagles now have four former first-round picks on the defensive line and two second-round choices.
“Couple times in Tennessee, we had (great depth),” Washburn said. “But I don't think as a whole, ends and tackles, that I've ever had a group as deep as this.”
Keep in mind, the 50 sacks last year -- 46 of them from the line -- came without an offseason or minicamps, and without Washburn even meeting most of his players until a month before the season began.
Now, with a normal schedule and rotation, just how productive can it be this year?
“My personal opinion, and this is not the company line or anything else, I think we'll all be a lot better,” Washburn said. “Now, whether that equates to sacks and stuff, I don't know. But I can't imagine us not being a lot better than we were. I don't just say that stuff.
“We're so much farther ahead, it's ridiculous. I didn't even know who they were (last year), and they didn't even know who I was this time last year.”
Washburn's system was so different from what the Eagles ran under former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and former defensive line coach Rory Segrest that the linemen never became comfortable with what Washburn was teaching them until late in the season, when the Eagles won their last four games to salvage a .500 season after a porous 4-8 start.
“They didn't know exactly what I wanted,” Washburn said. “They had been readers. Now we're attacking. You can talk about it all you want, but until you get out there and do it, it's hard to see. They were just learning on the run, like everyone else out there.”