John Smallwood | Bunkley a brute force on defense

Posted: September 25, 2007

IT SEEMED LIKE just the typical coach-player back and forth over a contract holdout.

A year ago at training camp, when Eagles coach Andy Reid was asked about rookie defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley catching up after missing 2 weeks of training camp he responded:

"I'd want to think that [he could]. But, the track record of that position and holdouts is not good over the last 9 years. Or, let me say this, the last nine guys that have been drafted at that spot that have held out - it has not been a good thing. Hopefully, he can catch up. You'd think he'd be able to, but we've got to see. History is not on his side."

It didn't seem to be a concern for Bunkley, the Florida State defensive tackle the Eagles selected 14th overall in the 2006 draft.

"I heard some things and some guys called with some stuff, like eight out of 11 people who hold out are unsuccessful in the league or something like that," Bunkley said on Aug. 8, 2006, the day he had his first training camp practice as an Eagle. "But, if you know how to play football, you just got to go out there and do what you do.

"It's just getting the mental part down. So, once you just know that you have to spend extra time studying while other guys are chilling and relaxing, you have to spend your time in the playbook.

"So, there is some catching up to do, and I think I'll be fine."

Bunkley wasn't fine. He had an invisible rookie season, contributing little to the Eagles' effort.

Jump forward to Sunday.

The Eagles are 0-2 and in a "must-win" game against the Detroit Lions.

The team desperately needs something good to happen quickly, something that they and 67,570 edgy Eagle fans at Lincoln Financial Field can rally around.

On the first offensive play of the game, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna drops back to pass. Bunkley blows through the guys trying to block him, engulfs Kitna and drops him for a 7-yard loss.

It's the first sack of Bunkley's career and the first of nine the Birds would register in their 56-21 shellacking of the Lions.

With two sacks, a career-high four tackles and two more quarterback hits, Bunkley's play against Detroit was his breakout game. But the truth is that the he has been a force to deal with in all three of the Eagles games this season.

It's not all about statistics with defensive tackles.

By keeping offensive linemen engaged and forcing teams to account for him, Bunkley is helping free up other Eagle defenders allowing them to do their thing.

The guy who couldn't get on the field as a rookie is now playing like the impact tackle the Eagles thought they were getting when they drafted him.

"I have a year behind my belt," Bunkley said after the Detroit game. "I know what to expect, and I know what the coaches expect of me. I just have to go out there and do it."

Reid is giving Bunkley a bit more credit than simply having a year's experience.

He said his defensive tackle's turnaround came down a simple choice - one that too many players in Bunkley's position do not make.

Bunkley wanted to get better and put the necessary work in to accomplish it.

"It's not an easy thing to do," Reid said of bouncing back from a disappointing rookie season. "But [Bunkley] went about it the right way. A lot times guys that are a little bit in the doghouse their rookie year tank it.

"[Bunkley] actually admitted that he wasn't quite ready and he attacked that issue. I mean, he really attacked it in the offseason. He spent the whole offseason up here working hard and detailing his work, and it's paying off for him now."

The list of highly drafted players who took the money and then didn't produce is long.

Most had plenty of talent but not the dedication and work ethic to make it happen.

During his rookie season, many in Philadelphia feared Bunkley was destined to be added to the list of failed Eagles draft picks like Barry Gardner, Freddie Mitchell, Jerome McDougle, Quinton Caver, Matt Ware, and Bobbie Williams.

A year later, Bunkley looks like he might become the Eagles best interior defensive lineman since Corey Simon or, dare we even whisper Jerome Brown.

Bunkley could've taken either of two paths. To his credit, and the Eagles fortune, he picked the right one. *

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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