Pieces of Eagles defense falling into place

Ed Benkin
August 11, 2019 - 4:30 pm
Jul 26, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby (21) runs drills during training camp at Novacare Complex.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It's a jigsaw puzzle that's not quite complete.

The Eagles have set high expectations for the upcoming season and the defense is eager to do its part. The issue is getting all of the top defensive players back on the field.  

Standouts such as Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, Ronald Darby, Nigel Bradham and Rodney McLeod are all slowly making their way back from either season-ending injuries or off-season surgery. All of these key contributors are hoping to be back by the time the regular season gets underway.  

Defensive end Brandon Graham did not get any work in last year's training camp while recovering from an injury, but believes the current group of injured Eagles will get a head start this summer.

"I had to go straight to the first game," said Graham. "That was really my conditioning. The first game and how you start from that week and keep building each week. I think they got a head start already.  There is three weeks until the first game and all you really need is a month."

The conditioning is equally important for the players who are recovering from injuries. 

One player who is making progress is Barnett, who participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time this weekend. Barnett is trying to balance his conditioning with his rehab from a shoulder injury and the third-year player is getting closer to returning to full-time duty.

"I do a lot of conditioning on the side," Barnett said. "I'm just trying to keep up with them as much as possible. It's a little bit different when you're in there 11-on-11. Everyday, I continue to work on the conditioning part and small details like technique things. Everything will come into play."    

Cox is one of the biggest names on the list of players recovering, but the defensive tackle should be ready to go for week one after being slowed by off-season foot surgery. 

One of the newest members of the defensive line is Malik Jackson, and the former Jaguar and Bronco is getting work in with fellow tackle Tim Jernigan as they await the return of their teammate.

Jackson is excited about what the middle of the defensive line will look like when the perennial Pro Bowler returns.

"I can't wait," said Jackson. "Fletch is a monster. Right now, he is getting back and getting healthy and doing his thing. It's up to me to show Coach (Defensive line coach Phillip) Daniels that I can do everything I know I can do. It's up to me and Timmy Jernigan to be out here and be consistent as much as we can. When the big dog comes back, we'll be on the same page." 

The players who are still in recovery mode will likely not play in any of the remaining preseason games. Meanwhile, many of the top defensive players who sat out Thursday's preseason opener may see some action in next Thursday's game in Jacksonville.  

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz knows he has to be patient with the players who are still recovering, but also understands the rest of his players need to get live game action under their belts before the start of the regular season. 
 
"You need to tackle," Schwartz said. "That's probably the biggest thing. We've had a couple tackle periods, but not very many. I said this a bunch of times: it's one thing for a guy to be in position, even in a thud period or tag-off, and look good on defense, and say, ‘he made that tackle, he looked good.’ Well, you don't make all those tackles. It is what it is."