Eagles notebook

Eagles notebook: New captains, breaking down the DL rotation and more

In the latest Eagles notebook, the Eagles name a couple new captains, the DL rotation continues and more.

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Nick Sirianni built up the drama a little bit in a team meeting earlier this week.

At the end of the meeting to go over each player’s role for the 2023 season, he announced the captains. He started with the same seven from last year: Jalen Hurts, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Darius Slay and Jake Elliott.

Then he paused.

Finally, he announced the two new captains for 2023: A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith

“Anytime you can give guys good news,” Sirianni said, “guys that are not only tremendous players but tremendous leaders and tremendous people on your team, that’s obviously something that you really enjoy and remember as a coach.”

Slay was emotional last year when he was named a captain for the first time in his NFL career. It means so much because the players vote on this honor and it showed him that they view him as a leader. It also touched Brown and Smith, who are first-time NFL captains this season.

“It means everything to me,” Brown said. “Just to get the recognition from my teammates, my peers. To vote me as a captain, they trust me. And that says a lot. Me being who I am, it’s good enough. It meant a lot to me. And it meant even more that my co-partner (Smith) over there, he got voted as well.”

This is the first time being a captain in Brown’s five-year career. It’s also the first time for Smith in the NFL as he enters Year 3 in the NFL. Smith said he was surprised to hear his name among the new captains. When you think about the Eagles’ captains, you think about the same group as always, Smith explained.

While Smith is a leader, he does it in his own way. 

“More of a lead by example,” Smith said. “I’m not gonna be a guy that’s going to be very vocal about it. I’m just going to keep doing it the right way and hopefully guys see it and do the same thing.”

Rotating on the D-line

The Eagles have had a healthy rotation on their defensive line for many years. Long before Sean Desai took over as defensive coordinator this spring.

That’s not going to change.

“I think that’s something that obviously there is a core defensive philosophy that’s been at the Philadelphia Eagles for almost two decades, and we’re going to continue that,” Desai said.

“We’re going to roll guys and we want to try to play guys and put our best guys in the best situations as much as we can and make sure that we’re fresh throughout the game, especially in critical situations.”

That’s not really news. The Eagles are stacked on their defensive line on the edges and in the middle. They are six deep at edge rusher: Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Nolan Smith, Derek Barnett, Patrick Johnson. And seven deep at defensive tackle: Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, Jalen Carter, Marlon Tuipulotu, Moro Ojomo, Kentavius Street.

While the Eagles didn’t play most of their starters in the preseason, those three games did give the coaches some reps as they went through a rotation during games. The folks responsible for the rotation on Sundays are written down in the Eagles’ game day checklist. A lot of this is planned out.

But while the Eagles will go into every game with a plan for their rotation, things will change. And they have to be ready for those changes.

“Situationally, again those are all things that’s part of our game planning process,” Desai said. “We discuss about how we try to get our guys in different situations at different times of games and all that kind of stuff, and we’ll have a plan for. We have that kind of written up and we plan for it and then we roll with that plan.

“Obviously, the most important thing, is you got to be able to adjust and adapt based on the game flow of that, and teams will try to no-huddle you, try to put you on tilt a little bit and get you off your playbook. We have a good plan for that also, so we feel confident about the way we’ll plan that.”

The NFL’s latest controversy

As football fans tuned in to watch the opening game of the season on Thursday night, they noticed Chiefs right tackle Jawaan Taylor seemingly false start on every play without it getting called. It became one of the biggest talking points of the game.

While Taylor’s were a bit egregious, Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson has been timing the snap count and using it to his advantage for years.

“The tackles might criticize that the defensive ends get-offs might be a little too fast,” Johnson said with a smile on Friday. “I can speak for most tackles. It’s a hundred meter sprint. Gotta get off the line of scrimmage. As long as they’re not calling the flags, good for him. But I know it does piss off the defenses. I’m sure they’ll be looking for that.”

Johnson, 33, came into the NFL in 2013 and by that point, longtime Eagles left tackle Jason Peters was already timing the snap count to his advantage. Johnson learned that from him.

“Guys are sprinting forward and you’ve gotta backpedal,” Johnson said. “If you’re late, it’s not good.”

Behind enemy lines

The Eagles hired Matt Patricia as a senior defensive assistant in April. The next month, the Eagles found out they’d open their 2023 season in New England.

So, yeah, Patricia is a popular guy around the NovaCare Complex this week.

“There are guys picking his brain,” Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “He was over there, he was a part of that organization for a long time. He was their OC last year, coached some O-linemen. So you ask him some questions. But at the end of the day, we gotta go out there and play right? No matter how much information he gives us, the game still has to be played between the lines.”

What makes Patricia’s history with New England so unique is how varied it was. Patricia began with the Patriots in 2004 as an offensive assistant and then an assistant offensive line coach. Then he moved to the defense, coaching a couple different positions before becoming defensive coordinator. After a few years in Detroit as their head coach, Patricia moved into a senior football advisor role working with the offense in 2022.

So Patricia has intimate knowledge of the Patriots’ offensive personnel and how Bill Belichick operates on the defensive side of things.

“You try to turn over every stone you possibly can looking for answers and different things,” Sirianni said.

Desai said he’s leaned on Patricia “heavily” during this week’s prep.

“Just like we’ve relied on a lot of these coaches heavily to kind of come up with their plan,” Desai said. “And Matt’s got a lot of insight, especially in terms of the people there, the actual personal attributes and the guys we’re playing against, because some of those we haven’t seen much off the pre-season tape. But he’s been great. He has been a tremendous resource.”

What’s the Eagles’ identity?

The Eagles are usually very hyper focused on each day. This is a common refrain we hear from them all the time: Be where your feet are.

But now that they’re through training camp, it’s fair to wonder if the Eagles can look back at those weeks and take away things from that chunk of time. This week, Hurts said they can.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Hurts said. “I think there is a moment to reflect on everything and all things . And when you look at training camp, that's a moment where you're building, where you're trying to create identity, to kind of try and set the tone for what you want to do and what you want to be and so it's a ton of opportunity to reflect on that and what I take away from it is we're still a work in progress. We're still a work in progress, we're still learning, we're still growing, we're still evolving and it's a great thing.”

Early in training camp, Hurts talked about the Eagles’ finding their identity for the 2023 season and said the identity of a team changes from year to year. This week, he said finding the identity of this particular team is still a work in progress.

They’ll learn more once they start to play games. But Hurts parroted Sirianni’s emphasis on each player understanding his role.

“I think you know once you get an opportunity to play, you try and get a groove,” Hurts said. “But I think even more, my message is embracing those roles because roles change. Roles change throughout the year. You look at all the years of any team you want to take a look at and it's always different from Day 1 to the final, last day.”

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