The Eagles are asking 9th-year big-contract veteran Trent Cole to learn a new position… to transition from a hand-in-the-dirt pass-rush specialist to an outside linebacker with pass coverage responsibilities. Brandon Graham is being asked to do the same. At the NFL level, this is no easy assignment.
Graham was even asked to cover wide receiver Jason Avant downfield during last Monday's practice. You can imagine how that one ended, with Avant celebrating in the end zone.
It's all part of the Eagles' evaluation process, which DC Bill Davis admitted will continue deep into training camp. It will kick into high gear once the team starts tackling and hitting. Still, he's seen enough since the start of the offseason workout program to express confidence that Graham and Cole will transition just fine into their new roles.
"I've seen seven weeks of them standing up and going in the 3-4 and they can do either one," said Davis, after weeks of the organization taking a wait-and-see approach with the conversion. "At first it looked unnatural to them because it was. Now they have done it for a couple weeks and I'm impressed."
Graham is primarily playing the 'Jack' position in Davis' defense, sharing time with offseason acquisition Connor Barwin. Cole is in the 'Predator' spot where his main role will be rushing the passer.
None of the three are locked into a specific position though. Some days, the Eagles are flipping everyone (linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties) in order to assess what they can do on the other side of the formation and in a slightly different role. They also want to familiarize them with every intricacy of their position. It's all part of their drawn-out evaluation period.
Graham may be slightly better suited for the system than Cole. He played as a 3-4 outside linebacker some of his time at Michigan. He was asked to drop in coverage 30-40 percent of the plays. Never in man coverage though.
That's the biggest difference between then and now. The Eagles are asking their linebackers to cover 1-on-1 rather than just guard an area in a zone defense.
In order for Graham to be successful in this role, he knows it's imperative he drops weight to become quicker and faster so that he can run with tight ends. He's currently at 269 pounds. He wants to get to 255 pounds by the start of training camp.
That's a significant drop. Graham hasn't been at 255 since his freshman year at Michigan. But he knows it's going to take drastic measures to resurrect a career that seemed to finally get back on track late last season. The fourth-year pro had four sacks in his six starts to finish the campaign, yet once again must start over in order to re-prove himself, something he's done just about every year in a new system at Michigan and with the Eagles. Graham's had seven defensive coordinators in the past eight years.
"I'm one step away from being written off," Graham said. "I'm definitely feeling that pressure. At the same time I'm going to take care of what I can and that is to work hard."
Hard work is something Cole knows well. He built himself into an NFL defensive end. He was a running back in high school, showed up at Cincinnati and played nose tackle. It wasn't until midway through college he found a home at end. Now, nine years into his professional career, he's being asked to switch positions.
There are more than a few doubters. Cole, 30, hasn't played linebacker since early in high school, and he's never been known as a speed demon. The Eagles aren't concerned about that part of the equation. They see more than enough physical ability.
"Is he athletic enough to do it? Absolutely," outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern said. "Has he done it recently? No. But he's gotten much better in the last couple weeks for sure."
"I treat it [like I'm a rookie]," said Cole, who is coming off the worst season of his career. "I have to learn. I've been in the league nine years and I have to get my mind mentally ready to start back over again. I need to wipe the slate clean and learn everything back over again, just take everything in."
Thanks to Jordan Raanan for supplying those interview quotes from Cole…
Hope you're having a good start to a long Memorial Day weekend…. Special thoughts go out to all of you who are remembering relatives or dear friends who died too young while fighting for their countries or protecting the freedoms of others.