Inside the Eagles: Eagles' young linemen get an earful from Washburn

Posted: August 03, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - If you want to know what Jim Washburn thinks of one of his defensive linemen, stand next to him on the sideline during team drills at training camp.

The Eagles don't allow reporters covering the team to write, blog, or tweet what coaches or players say during practices at Lehigh University. But all you need is a VIP invitation to camp to obtain a sideline pass and you, too, can hear an old-school football coach cuss out his defensive linemen.

Since Washburn joined the Eagles a year ago, coach Andy Reid has stocked the front four with loads of talent. Trent Cole and Mike Patterson were here before Washburn's arrival, but Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, and Vinny Curry are more recent acquisitions.

Reid always has emphasized the importance of line play. But a few misfires in the draft coupled with a few free agents who were not their former selves - Washburn once called the Eagles' version of Jevon Kearse the "Artist Formally Known as The Freak" - failed to produce a front four that had continuous firepower.

Washburn was given the ammunition last season, and even more so this offseason, and now he will need it - at least through training camp.

His entire projected starting line is sidelined. Babin (calf), Cole (shoulder), Jenkins (hamstring), and Patterson (brain surgery) are out, although their injuries aren't expected to carry into the regular season - except perhaps for Patterson's.

Their absence, though, should be beneficial to the young linemen, and it should bring out the best in the players on the roster bubble, despite what Babin said Wednesday.

"I know some of the young guys can benefit from me being out there, which is ultimately going to benefit the team," Babin said. "So that's a part I wish I could be out there for. It's upsetting."

Babin has played the media before, so it's difficult to determine whether his comments were said in jest or were absentmindedly egomaniacal. But Darryl Tapp, one of those bubble players, realized that the starters' minor injuries were his and others' gain.

"It's a blessing in disguise," Tapp said.

Cole and Trent are locks to make the team. Brandon Graham, the Eagles' No. 1 pick in 2010, also is assured a spot, although he has the most to prove at defensive end. Curry, drafted in the second round this year, also is guaranteed to make the 53-man roster.

That leaves Tapp and Phillip Hunt, a former Canadian Football League player who made the team last year against tall odds. The Eagles typically carry only five ends. They could keep six and retain both Tapp and Hunt.

"I've seen it happen before where you keep a lot of guys," Jenkins said. "I think back in Green Bay we kept six D tackles. We definitely have the talent to keep six of them."

But if you add in one spot you have to subtract in another.

Washburn doesn't want Hunt or Tapp - or even Graham and Curry - thinking they've got it made. During Wednesday's practice without Cole and Babin, Washburn was his typical vociferous self, and he directed his rants at the ends.

Curry, Washburn said last week, is behind because he is still raw. But the rookie from Marshall outplayed Hunt on Wednesday, using the naked eye and Washburn's play-by-play as guidance.

It may have just been one of those days for Hunt, who rebounded during one-on-one drills against the offensive line. He added weight late last year and again this offseason and said he is 258 pounds. He's a fastball off the edge, a situational pass rusher, but he recorded two sacks down the stretch last December.

Tapp is entering his seventh season. Injuries slowed him last season, he said, but now he is taking Cole's reps, and Hunt is on the second team.

"Eye in the sky never lies," Tapp said.

Though the film never lies, there is more to making a team than just outperforming your competition. Tapp is slated to earn about $2 million more than Hunt this season. If the decision comes down to one or the other and it's a toss-up, who do you think goes?

In the last camp, defensive tackle Derek Landri was clearly ahead of undrafted rookie Cedric Thornton. And yet when the Eagles cut the roster to 53, Thornton was on it and Landri wasn't. Landri was a vested veteran, and the Eagles didn't want to pay him a full year's guaranteed salary.

Thornton eventually was dropped to the practice squad and Landri was re-signed in October after Antonio Dixon suffered a torn triceps. Landri had a productive final 12 games and earned a ticket back to the Eagles. With Patterson on the shelf, he is starting.

Thornton, meanwhile, has looked quicker off the ball than Dixon, who came into camp last season out of shape and heard it from Washburn.

"It was disgusting how out of shape he was," Washburn said last week.

That remark was on the record.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.


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