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A Look at the Eagles New DL Coach Jim Washburn

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The Eagles made a great move in signing DL coach Jim Washburn. Which players will it help? Will it hurt anyone? Could Albert Haynesworth be a target if he's cut?

The Eagles hired defensive line coach Jim Washburn away from the Tennessee Titans this week. Positional coaches aren't going to make or break a team, but they can have a big impact on how well a particular unit plays. Washburn is considered one of the best DL coaches in the NFL, if not the best. Bringing him on board is a major coup for the Eagles.

Some people will want to bring up the fact that Bobby April was hired just like this last year. That move was followed by a lot of hype. April's special teams units didn't fare as well as expected. There is a difference in the two situations. April inherited good specialists, but didn't have the core players he needed. There was no Ike Reese to the leader and star of the coverage units. There were a lot of rookies involved. Special teams got better as the rookies learned and the arrival of Colt Anderson made a big difference as well.

Washburn steps into a much different situation. He has a star pass rusher in Trent Cole. Antonio Dixon showed big time potential this season. Washburn has former 1st round picks in Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, and Brandon Graham. Trevor Laws and Victor Abiamiri were 2nd round picks. Washburn has solid veterans in Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp. And I'm curious to see what Daniel Te'o-Nesheim can do under Washburn's tutelage.

There is no lack of defensive line talent in Philadelphia. Washburn isn't coming here to turn water into wine. He simply needs to turn grapes into wine. The players have the potential to be quite good. Something just hasn't been clicking. It isn't for lack of trying. In the last few years the Eagles experimented with a rotation. They also began using ends on the inside in obvious passing situations. The Eagles used a pure 1-gap system under former line coach Tommy Brasher. Pete Jenkins replaced him and had the defensive tackles playing a 2-gap system. Rory Segrest replaced Jenkins, but kept his system. Segrest just didn't have the experience or expertise to be the developer of talent that the Eagles needed.

The results aren't nearly as bad as some people make them out to be. The Eagles have played the run well since 2007. They have had at least 37 sacks each year since 2006. The line play has been pretty solid. The problem is that it hasn't been good enough. The goal is to have an over-powering line that can control crucial situations in a game. The last time we saw anything like that was the Super Bowl season of 2004. There were hints of it in 2006, but Jevon Kearse got hurt and the line wasn't able to maintain a terrific start.

Enter Washburn. He's here to take an okay situation and make it a strength of the team. We don't yet know who the new defensive coordinator is or what the exact system will be. The hiring of Washburn tells us that the team will stick with the 4-3. Washburn will also bring some new ideas to the line and the way they play. He used the "wide nine" look in Tennessee and we will see some of that. Depending on the new system, it could be part of the base defense.

The wide nine is so named because the ends play the nine technique. That is when the ends line up way outside. It gives them a better rush angle to the quarterback. The downside is that the wide alignment creates gaps where teams can run easier. Washburn and the new coordinator will have to decide how much of the wide nine they want to play and how to scheme to stop the run behind it. Most times it calls for the strong safety to spend a lot of time in the box.

Of the current ends, Graham is the one who is best suited for the wide nine. He has excellent speed and could thrive in that system. It is a real shame that he has the knee injury to overcome. 2011 will be a tough season for him. Cole is a naturally gifted pass rusher that should thrive in just about any system. I'm not so sure about Tapp and Parker. Let's look at the build of the players who thrived under Washburn:

Jason Babin - 6'3, 260
Derrick Morgan - 6'3, 278 (only a rookie, but was taken in 1st round)
Kyle Vanden Bosch - 6'4, 278
Jevon Kearse - 6'4, 265
Antwan Odom - 6'5, 275

Parker is 6'2 and Tapp is just a tad shorter. That isn't to say they can't play for Washburn, but his system is better when it has guys that are 6'3 and 6'4. I realize that Graham and Cole are on the short side as well. Graham is a gifted athlete. He was one of the fastest ends at the Combine last year. Cole, as I mentioned earlier, is just a gifted rusher. Tapp and Parker are good effort players, but they may lack the burst to take advantage of the wide rush angle.

Defensive tackle is a bit more cloudy at this point. We need to see what the new coordinator wants to do. My guess is that Washburn will use a 1-gap system where the tackles now are expected to penetrate. This is great news for Laws. I think it is great news for Bunkley and Dixon. The one guy who might be in trouble is Mike Patterson. Let's take a look at the best defensive tackles Washburn had with the Titans:

Albert Haynesworth - 6'5, 330
Jason Jones - 6'5, 275
Tony Brown - 6'1, 295 (some lists have him at 6'3, but he's not)
Sen'Derrick Marks - 6'2, 294 (not a star, but recent high pick)
Randy Starks - 6'3, 305
Rien Long - 6'6, 305

There is only one massive body, Haynesworth. Remember that he was a high pick and considered a player with special potential. Tennessee doesn't see a need for huge guys since they let their DTs get upfield. The Titans have even played some guys in the 275-285 pound range at DT. The Titans had several defensive tackles notch 7 or more tackles-for-loss in a single season during the last five years. A couple of guys got double figures. The Eagles do not have one tackle who had that many TFLs in a season during the same span. Bunkley had 6 back in 2007 to come closest. Eagles tackles are likely in for a major change, one that they'll like.

Laws has the upfield burst and athleticism to be very good in the new system. He could challenge for a starting role. Dixon is quick for a big guy. He showed the ability to get penetration and be disruptive at times this year. I'm really excited to see how he develops under Washburn. Bunkley might be the most interesting of the group. People now think of him as a power player, but Bunkley was very athletic at Florida State. He had an amazing 25 TFLs as a senior. If he will take to Washburn's coaching, Bunkley could look like a whole other player in the new system.

You can't talk about the Eagles, Washburn, and defensive tackles without mentioning Albert Haynesworth. I'm going to cover his situation quickly since it really deserves an article of its own. If he's cut by the Skins, the Eagles absolutely should have interest. For my money, Haynesworth was the best defensive player in the NFL in 2007 and 2008. He thrived in the Titans system and while playing for Washburn. Haynesworth had his struggles in Washington, but they weren't due to a lack of talent. He didn't like the coaches or schemes and that reflected in his play. You would sign him in Philly to step back into the role he played in Tennessee.

Obviously there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. First, money. I would not break the bank for Haynesworth. He's had consecutive disappointing seasons. There is no guarantee he'll ever fully get back to where he was. He did show his talent in 2010. Put on the Bears-Skins game. Haynesworth was awesome. He was dominant. That might be the best game by a DT all year long. And that is why you have to roll the dice on him. Like it or not, Haynesworth has dominant potential. When he's on, the whole defense is substantially better. It would be a high risk, high reward move, but you have to take chances when you are trying to get a team from the Wildcard round to the Super Bowl.

The other crucial factor in all of this is that the Skins may now hold onto Haynesworth as long as they can. Mike Shanahan knows that Washburn is now here in Philly. Shanahan doesn't want to cut Haynesworth loose and have him go up I-95 and then dominate for his division rivals. That would be utterly humiliating for Shanahan. This waiting game is likely to drag on for a while.

The Eagles pulled off a major coup in landing Washburn. They got a great DL coach. Washburn got a nice contract and job stability. Both sides won. Now we have to hope that the CBA situation gets resolved in a timely fashion so that Washburn gets enough time to work with his new pupils and get them ready for his system.