Rich Hofmann: Eagles' line is all that matters to Jim Washburn

Eagles line coach Jim Washburn is expecting better things. CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Eagles line coach Jim Washburn is expecting better things. CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: June 01, 2012

JIM WASHBURN WAS telling a story the other day, a story about himself, laced with equal parts down-home, self-deprecation and what-the-hell. It is what the Eagles’ defensive line coach does.

It was a story from back in 1999, when Washburn was interviewing for a defensive line coach job with Jeff Fisher, then the coach of the Tennessee Titans.

"It was me and him and Gregg Williams – ooh, I shouldn’t have said that," Washburn said, smiling. Williams, of course, is the man who was banished by the NFL for running a bounty program in New Orleans. Back then, Williams was the Titans’ defensive coordinator.

Washburn figured that Williams’ name isn’t meant for polite NFL society at this point. So then he made sure to say it again.

"Me and him and Gregg Williams in Mobile, interviewing for a job," Washburn said. "I was coaching at the University of Houston. Jeff goes, ‘You want to be the head coach someday, right?’ I said, ‘Oh, no.’ He said, ‘You want to be the coordinator, right?’ I said, ‘No, I already did that and I was terrible.’

“He said, ‘Oh, I got it. You want to be the best defensive line coach in the league, don’t you?’ I said, ‘Nah, I’m not really interested in that.’ He said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘I just want to coach the best defensive line in the league. It’s not about me. I could care less. I just want to coach guys.’

“That’s the reason I came here," he said. "Because I knew this: they’re going to give you tools here. Some places, they don’t. Some places, they don’t have the contingency plan. If somebody gets hurt, they don’t have a way to plug somebody in. Here, they’re going to get you players ... That’s all a life-timer like me, a position coach, can ask, is to have the tools. They’re going to do that."

He has an overstocked cupboard this year, Jim Washburn does. In his second season on the Eagles’ staff, with the additions of draft choices Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry, it is hard to imagine that, barring an injury, the Eagles aren’t going to have to let go of a good player or two from among Washburn’s group.

He calls Cox and Curry "sudden" and "quick" and "twitched-up dudes." He says Brandon Graham, a year removed from knee surgery, looks like a different player. When he talks about his bunch, led by Trent Cole, he lays it on pretty thick, and he realizes what he sounds like, and so he prefaces many of his comments with, "This is not the company line, or anything else ..."

Still, he keeps going.

"... but I think we’re going to be a lot better," he said. "Whether it equates to sacks and all of that stuff, I don’t know. But I can’t imagine us not being a whole lot better than we were. I don’t just say that stuff. We’re so much farther ahead, it’s ridiculous. I didn’t even know who they were and they didn’t know who I was at this time last year."

His Wide-9 defensive front, with the end lined up over the outside shoulder of the tight end, became the target of fans who could not believe how bad the Eagles were at stopping the run and holding leads at the beginning of last season. Washburn said he did not hear or read the criticism, on purpose. He said, "I don’t need anybody to tell me what a dumb-ass I am. I already know."

It came together better, later. He says the formation is not the issue. The Giants, he said, used the Wide-9 on 32 of their 61 defensive plays in the NFC Championship Game.

The Eagles ended up tied for the NFL lead in sacks (along with Minnesota) with 50. As for its work against the run, Washburn said it can improve. A lot of people pointed to Jason Babin, often the lonely end, as a run liability. Washburn said that’s too simplistic.

"I know that Jason Babin is not a great run player," he said. "But in this thing we’re doing, if he does it the right way, he can be adequate – or more than adequate.

“We could put a 300-pounder out there and he would be a whole lot better [against the run)] But this is 54 percent pass on first down in the NFL. So if you get some big stud out there that can play the run, crush the run, but can’t rush the passer, then you’ve conceded 54 percent of the time.

“[Babin] can be a whole lot better as a run player, but he wasn’t terrible. That’s the truth."

Washburn says the goal is to hit the quarterback every pass play, and he says that his team’s performance tends to be more about what they do than what the opponent does, and that when he shows different formations and such – like when he has a player standing up and not in a stance – it tends partly to be about making the other teams waste time in practice on inconsequential stuff, and partly keeping his own guys interested. That last part, he says, is a big part of the job.

"A lot," he said. "Like a whole bunch. My wife taught second grade for 30 years and I’ve taught these guys for 30 years."

Same thing?

"Sort of," he said. "... You’ve got to make it interesting. If you sit in there and humdrum it, it’s not very much fun."

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com, read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich, or follow @theidlerich on Twitter. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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