Ask any Eagles fan or NFL expert and they’ll tell you that Fletcher Cox is the team’s most important player. And most well-compensated.
But despite a Pro Bowl nod last season, his production seemed to trail off after getting three sacks in his first three games with a total of just 6.5 — a year after collecting 9.5 in 2015.
“Last year when [Fletcher Cox] had such a good start, that first month, teams adjusted,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “They started taking him away, and we didn’t win enough one on ones away from him because that other tackle got the one on ones. Well, that happened in OTAs, and Timmy [Jernigan]’s able to get good pressure.”
The Eagles subtly have upgraded their pass rush, and the supporting cast, in theory, will make things easier for Cox.
Jernigan was a sly and underappreciated offseason acquisition in a trade that was essentially a swap of mid-round draft picks. He replaces Bennie Logan up the middle and at 24 still has his best football ahead of him. He had five sacks with the Ravens last season.
“I don’t know if it flew under the radar, but it was an important acquisition for us,” Schwartz said or Jernigan. “I think that will affect our pass-rush as much as bringing a first-round draft pick or veteran player into the mix.
“It’s not just drafting a guy like Derek [Barnett] or bringing a guy like Chris [Long] in. I think Jernigan is really going to be a big addition for us. He was hard to handle inside.”
The core of pass rushers affords the Birds the ability to be creative and thing outside the box when they try and get to the opposing team’s passer, something 26-year-old Cox is excited about as the new season approaches.
“We’ve done a few different things to not only free me up but to free guys like Vinny [Curry] up and Chris Long, who is a great rusher,” Cox said a few weeks ago during OTAs.
Add Brandon Graham, Marcus Smith and Beau Allen to that mix and the Eagles have a very deep pool of pass rushers to play with, affording Doug Pederson and Schwartz the ability to rotate the line often.
“The thing here is we rotate so many guys up front that you don’t have to conserve your energy,” Schwartz said Tuesday in a press conference with the media after training camp practice concluded. “You can play wide open, and you guys get tired of my baseball analogies, but I always compare it to guys coming out of the bullpen. You can throw a lot different if you’re only throwing one inning than you can if you’re a starter and you’re out there for 100 pitches. I think that’s something that can [be beneficial].”