The aggressive one-gap defense Jim Schwartz brought to Philadelphia seems to really fit the styles of several players like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.
Certainly not Beau Allen and Taylor Hart.
In fact, the two backup defensive linemen, fighting for spots on the 53-man roster, are considered to be scheme misfits by many. Just don’t include the defensive coordinator among them.
“Don't sell those guys short,” Schwartz said after Thursday’s practice, over a week into training camp (see Day 10 observations). “Just because that's what they were asked to do doesn't mean [that’s] the only thing [they’re capable of doing].
“Taylor has been very slippery out here. He's got great size. He might not be really stout, but he's slippery. He can get on an edge. He's won his fair share of pass rush.
“And Beau's just a load in there. He's hard to move. And when he can get that, I'll just conservatively say, 300-plus [pounds] going north-south, he's hard to stymie. We don't want him at the line reading. We want him attacking and driving people back, and he can do that.”
It’s not hard to figure out why many folks don’t think Allen or Hart can transition into this new defense. At his size, Allen is a prototypical nose guard and with his length, Hart is a prototypical 3-4 end.
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The change in scheme could possibly spell the end for both Allen and Hart, who were taken in the seventh and fifth rounds, respectively, in the 2014 draft. But here they are, trying to stick as 4-3 defensive tackles on a team that already ousted Brandon Bair, another scheme misfit, in the spring.
Despite all the naysayers, Allen thinks he can “absolutely” be a fit in Schwartz’s system.
“I don’t really buy into that too much,” Allen said of his critics. “I know what I’m capable of doing and I feel like a lot of that is just based on the fact that I weigh 330 pounds and things like that. I’m not one of those guys who pays too much attention to all that. I know what I can do. I want to show the coaching staff and my teammates and everyone on Sunday, I guess.”
Allen, who was Bennie Logan’s backup at nose tackle last season, said he weighed around 335-340 pounds in 2015. He’s already slimmed down some and is aiming to play at 325-330 this year.
“Just gotta move the belly around a little bit. I know I look good,” Allen said with a smile as he patted his bare midriff. “I don’t really buy too much into all that. But I know I can play in this scheme and I’m excited to play in this scheme.”
While Allen perhaps fits better as a 3-4 nose, Hart is definitely a 3-4 end. At 6-6, 281 pounds, playing in a two-gap system is all he’s ever really known. That’s all he’s done at the NFL level and that’s all he did in college at Oregon. The last time he played an aggressive style defense, he recalled, might have been in high school.
Here’s what Chip Kelly said just after the Eagles drafted Hart in 2014: “He's a true 3-4 defensive end two-gapper, and that's what we're looking for.”
That’s not what the Eagles are looking for anymore. In fact, they’re kind of looking for the opposite now.
“You always have to try to get out of your comfort zone,” Hart said. “So it’ll make me a better football player. That’s why I was excited to get started. As long as I put my mind to it, I can transition to any defense.”
In the defense Billy Davis ran under Kelly, the three defensive linemen were responsible for two gaps, which meant — to put it simply — they were waiting and reacting.
Now, the four defensive linemen are supposed to shoot through one gap and get up field. It’s way more aggressive.
“It’s just a different mindset,” Allen said. “I don’t want to get too much into the scheme and the technical aspects, but it’s really just get up field. You don’t need to make it any more complicated than it is.”
Now we’ll see if the two linemen are up to the task.