Already ‘in the Conversation' to Start, Derek Barnett Has Great Opportunity Thursday

Last week, Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson said it was still too early to talk about Derek Barnett as a starter. 

Well, how about now? 

Or now? 

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Or now? 

It's a question that's going to come up plenty during the 14th overall pick's rookie season and for good reason. Barnett seems to be a talented player. Through the first two preseason games of his career, he already has three sacks and looks like he can become a complete three-down player. 

This week, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked if Barnett has played himself into a position to compete for a starting gig. 

"There's other parts of it - it's not just all about rushing the passer, but he's certainly on the rise," Schwartz said. "And we're really, really pleased with where he is right now and also where he's going. Yeah, we'll let it play out. We've still got a little bit of time, but he's certainly put himself in that conversation."

That conversation might get a kick in the backside Thursday night at the Linc. The Eagles will very likely be without Brandon Graham, who is nursing an elbow injury. During the two days without Graham, Chris Long and Barnett split the first-team reps in his spot. And when Vinny Curry left early Tuesday with cramps, both worked with the starters. 

There's a good chance Barnett might start Thursday night against the Dolphins. But even if he doesn't, he's going to play a lot and have a chance to prove he should be a starter. 

So far, it hasn't seemed like the pressure has been too much for the first-round pick. 

"Nah, man," said Fletcher Cox, who was a first-round pick in 2012. "You just have to go out and be yourself. You know it's your rookie year in the league, but you're not a rookie to football. That's the main thing. That's what Derek is taking that and using. He's taking the coaching from the vets and guys and it's all turning out good for him."

Schwartz tried to make the argument that the designation of starting defensive end doesn't mean as much in his defense because of the rotation along the line. And there's some truth to his argument, but the starters played a heckuva lot more than the second-stringers in 2016. 

Graham played 764 snaps (75 percent) in 2016 and Connor Barwin played 713 (70 percent). Meanwhile, the second-stringers, Curry and Marcus Smith, played 435 and 218 snaps, respectively. 

Now, that's all subject to change based on merit. If Barnett doesn't earn a starting gig coming into the season, he can still earn playing time. There's a reason Curry played that many more snaps than Smith a year ago. But there was also a reason he didn't play nearly as many as Barwin or Graham. Perhaps, we'll see even more rotating this season, depending on how well the top four guys perform. 

So far, Barnett has been performing very well and it's no surprise plenty of fans are already clamoring for him to take over Curry's spot at right defensive end. In addition to his three sacks, Barnett has gotten even more pressure and has shown some ability against the run. The guys at PFF seem to love him.

Is he ready to start now? 

How about now? 

"He's a great kid," Cox said. "He's got a really great football IQ. And that's really great for a kid like that. And it helps him out a lot actually on the field. Secondly, Derek just goes out and plays. He just does what he's supposed to do and gets better every day at everything he does. It helps him and it carries over to the game." 

Or now?

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