Eagles D-line Coach: Too Early to Talk About Derek Barnett as Starter

Two preseason games into his NFL career, Eagles rookie Derek Barnett is off to a pretty good start. 

He has three sacks in two games and has shown flashes of why the Eagles think they might have something special in the 14th overall pick out of Tennessee. 

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It's just too early to talk about him as a starter.

At least that's what Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson said Saturday afternoon. 

"He's a rookie," Wilson said. "He's got a lot of work ahead of him."

Although Wilson doesn't think Barnett is quite ready to start, he has been impressed by many things the rookie has done. He thinks Barnett has the ability to be a three-down player and has been pleasantly surprised about how coachable he is. 

Eventually, Barnett will become a starter. That's always the plan for first-round picks. On Saturday, though, Wilson wouldn't say when he thinks Barnett will be ready. 

How will he know? 

"We'll all know," Wilson said. "The production and the consistency. And that's what you have to have in this league. It can't be flashes. It's got to be every week, when people come into the stadium, they know exactly what they're going to get. When we're at that point, we'll kind of know if he's that guy or not."

For now, Barnett is part of the Eagles' second-team defense along with Chris Long on the other side. Brandon Graham, coming off his best NFL season, and Vinny Curry are the current starters. 

While Graham's spot is seemingly solidified after making the All-Pro second team in 2016, Curry's spot seems less concrete. While Curry signed a huge contract extension before the start of last season, he didn't have a very good 2016. He failed to keep his starting job and came off the bench behind Graham and Connor Barwin. He had just 2 1/2 sacks, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2012. 

While Barnett has looked great early in the preseason, Curry has seemingly been invisible. 

But Wilson claims Curry has looked good. 

"I'm really focusing on guys who are able to do their job consistently," Wilson said. "And it's one of those things, if you're doing your job people don't really pick on you. Vinny's done a great job of being in position to make plays when he has opportunities. Obviously, due to the limited reps that he's had compared to the reps Derek had, those have shown a little bit. I've been pleased with Vinny."

When asked what Barnett needs to work on, Wilson listed three things: alignments, splits and understanding how offenses will attack him. 

Barnett has used this training camp to work on complementary moves to go along with his edge pass-rushing. While his outside moves got him the sack record at Tennessee, he'll need more than that in the pros. He's spent his summer working on inside power and spin moves. 

He's been working on those complementary moves, but there's no question that his outside pass-rush is still his go-to. From the moment the Eagles drafted Barnett, personnel chief Joe Douglas immediately began to tout the young defensive end's bend and ankle flexion. 

Wilson said guys work on their ankle flexion, but said it's a "gift" not everyone has. Basically, Barnett's ability to bend at his ankles keeps his cleats flat on the ground and helps keep his balance as he gets around offensive tackles. 

Wilson explained there are six points of balance when watching a player's bend: the right and left sides of hips, knees and ankles. Barnett has all of that going for him. 

"It's something that I think he found out quite early in his career," Wilson said. "It's something that we have to accentuate."

Because Barnett isn't yet a starter, he'll be coming off the bench as a part of the defensive line rotation. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz rotates his defensive linemen to keep them fresh. That will be a good thing for Barnett, who has really shown off his motor during this preseason. 

He goes hard on every play. 

"[Barnett] enjoys football," Wilson said. "He plays with great effort and that's one of the things at this level that I hope he never loses. He definitely enjoys the sport, he plays wide open all the time. So that's been exciting."

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