Getting Newcomers on Same Page Was Huge for Eagles' Loaded D-line

Brandon Graham was here back in 2011, so he knows that simply signing big-name Pro Bowl veterans isn't enough to make a difference.

He's also seen enough this summer to know this isn't a repeat of the dreaded Dream Team of seven summers ago.

In 2011, it was Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. This year it's Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata.

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"You know how it is on paper when you bring in good players," Graham said this week. "Sometimes some people expect for it to show up on Sunday but they don't put the work in.

"It's tough sometimes. You got guys that come in and they've been veteran players and they're established and sometimes it's hard to get them going. But that's not the case with these guys.

"Haloti's out there terrorizing the middle. You got Michael Bennett who just wants to go out there and get sacks and have fun doing it. You've got a lot of smart players and I'm just happy because everybody knows how to work."

You never know how it'll go with older veterans.

Bennett turns 33 in November, but he's been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons and has 48 sacks since 2012.

Ngata turned 34 in January and is a five-time Pro Bowler, though it's been five years since his last one.

It would have been easy for the Eagles to stand pat with the same defensive line as last year.

The Eagles won a Super Bowl, and the defense ranked 4th in the NFL in yards allowed, 2nd in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed, 3rd in third-down percentage and 4th in points allowed.

But one thing Howie Roseman understands is that every team – even championship teams – has to constantly upgrade across the board.

Stay the same and you'll fall behind.

You don't stay on top by keeping the same roster. So Vinny Curry and Beau Allen are gone, and Bennett and Ngata take their place. 

And look for a significantly expanded role also for Derek Barnett. Last year's first-round pick had 5.0 sacks last year playing just 28 snaps a game. That figure will go up.

"It is exciting," Graham said. "At the end of the day, you want to make sure you know you've got good players but you want to make sure you all work together, too."

The Eagles open their Super Bowl defense against the Falcons Thursday night at the Linc, and other than a few snaps here and there in the preseason it will be our first chance to see this new-look defensive line.

Jim Schwartz loves to rotate guys, so expect Graham, Bennett, Barnett and Long to take turns attacking the quarterback from the outside, and Cox, Ngata and Destiny Vaeao inside. We'll also see Graham and Barnett lining up inside on occasion.

Good luck stopping this group.

"When I came in last year, the guys who were already here made it easy for me," Long said. "They showed the new guys how things are done here and we kind of just do the same thing. Haloti and Michael, those guys are hard workers, they've been around a long time, they know how to do their jobs.

"We're a good team so people want to be here, and when you're somewhere where you know you have an opportunity to win, you're going to do what you need to do."

With all their talent, the Eagles only ranked 15th in the NFL in sacks last year with 38.

The club record is 62 in 1989, and the Eagles haven't had more than 50 since 2002, when they led the NFL with 56. That group was led by Hugh Douglas (12 ½), Ndukwe Kalu (8.0), Darwin Walker (7 ½) and Brandon Whiting (6.0).

This year?

Less than 50 would be surprising.

"I think we can be better," Cox said. "Having guys coming in like Haloti and Michael, just getting them on the same page to the way we do things around here, has been huge.

"They're vets, and they catch on pretty quick and when you get guys like that on the same page you just keep stacking the chips."

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