By Annie Ross
Don’t look now, but Connor Barwin has gotten a leg up on Brandon Graham in the early training camp battles for starting defensive end.
The first-team starters along the D-line have been Barwin (right defensive end), Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, and Vinny Curry (left defensive end).
Many expected Graham, the Eagles first round pick in 2010, to have the starting edge over Barwin. Barwin has worked with the first team since the beginning of OTAS while Graham has worked with the second team.
Graham has been active for 32 games as a defensive end during his NFL career, while Barwin only has 17 active games at the position. That isn’t a large margin whatsoever, but Graham does have some experience with Jim Schwartz already.
Graham was previously coached by Schwartz during the 2010 Senior Bowl. The pass-rusher thrived under Schwartz’s guidance, finishing the game as Senior Bowl MVP with two sacks and a forced fumble.
Schwartz believes Graham is built perfectly for his scheme. The defensive coordinator feels the pass-rusher was drafted specifically for an attacking role.
“There’s a lot of things that he brings to the table. He’s strong,” Schwartz said. “He’s hard to handle on the edge. Sometimes that lack of height that he has that some people think is a disadvantage he can use to his advantage.”
Graham stands at 6-foot-2 which is widely considered short for a defensive end. Schwartz believes Graham’s height can actually prove to be a strength for Graham.
“I think of some guys in the history of the NFL Dwight Freeney is one, [Elvis] Dumervil too,” Schwartz said. “Those guys that sometimes get you those 6-foot-7 offensive lineman, they have a hard time handling those 6-foot-1, 6-2 type of guys.
“They have a little different leverage, and it gives them a different look. I think Brandon can bring some of that.”
Barwin originally entered the NFL as a defensive end. The Houston Texans selected the pass rusher in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft. Barwin came off the bench during his rookie season, but still managed to be a contributor on the Texans’ defensive line.
He recorded 4.5 sacks as a rookie and posted one fumble recovery. Barwin’s second season in the NFL ended early. The pass-rusher was injured during the team’s first game in 2010, later being put on the injured reserve.
Houston hired Wade Phillips, prior to the 2011 season and installed a 3-4 defensive alignment. Barwin transitioned to outside linebacker in this scheme, where he’s been accustomed to playing, and has made an impact in the NFL ever since.
The Eagles signed Barwin prior to the 2013 season. Barwin has been the team’s sack leader the past three seasons combined. He’s been a noticeable asset to the Eagles’ pass-rush and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Schwartz.
“Connor did a lot of this when he was in Houston early in his career,” Schwartz said. “Connor is a smart player and he’s multi-dimensional. I think it fits the guys really well here.”