Changes in the defensive plan have resulted in a high-stakes gamble with two blue-chip prospects left over from Andy Reid's 2012 draft…
Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks are being asked to not only change the way they line up and play the game, but also to alter their physiques.
A year ago Kendricks was an outside linebacker in a 4-3, first on the strong side and finally on the weak side where he belonged all along. The former Pac-12 standout at Cal finished his rookie year with 88 tackles, third on the team, with eight tackles for a loss, second on the team.
This year he will move inside in the 3-4 look, at 5-11, 239. Some say he's too short for the position, but he does possess other attributes, such as quickness and instinct for getting to the ball. And I'm reminded that a guy named Ray Lewis once played the position at almost the exact height and weight as Kendricks'. Even so, Mychal is being asked to not so much add weight but to bulk up his upper body muscle mass.
“I think Mychal is an athletic, real physical linebacker,’’ Kelly said last week. “But I think his biggest attribute is his athleticism. He’s a three-down linebacker, he doesn’t have to come off the field on third down. He excels in pass coverage, but he’s physical enough to play on first and second down. He’s one of the more athletic linebackers in this league, so I’m really excited about his future and what he can do. He can do everything we’ve asked him to do.’’
Vinny Curry was an ideal fit as a future 4-3 end. But moving Curry to a 3-man front role at defensive end is a different ball game. Adding weight and playing up front is what the Eagles have asked of Curry, and he’s bulked up to 280 pounds from 260. Will that take away his biggest asset, which was speed off the edge? He says it won’t, that he’s as fast as he was 20 pounds lighter, but the jury is still out.
Jordan Raanan of the South Jersey Times did a nice interview with Curry about the sitation last Friday. Curry of course is a SOuth Jersey favorite having played his high school ball at Neptune.
Raanan stood next to Curry and described the added bulk on Vinny Curry's frame as "discernible. His chest is all swollen. His arms stretch a few inches wider than last year. He looks more solid and put together than his rookie season, when he played at 260 pounds."
"I can still run like I'm 250 pounds," Curry said. "Honestly you realize you're gaining weight because you look different, but you're getting cut up and putting muscle. I've been training with it all offseason, so it's nothing."
So much has changed since last April. Curry looks more like Trent Cole while Cole and Brandon Graham, who are making the switch to outside linebacker, are trying to look like the old Curry. It's an experiment that may or may not work. That's what the Eagles are still trying to determine. There are doubts about all three in their current roles.
As for Curry, he was drafted for his ability to attack the quarterback off the edge. He's now being asked to play more of a 5-technique, which means he's working more inside and needs to shed off blockers rather than run around them. It doesn't seem to cater to his strengths.
The second-year defensive lineman has taken the change in stride. He just wants to play, which he didn't do much of in his rookie season. Curry was inactive for 10 of the 16 games. He expects much more from himself this season.
"I know how I felt last year being inactive for 10 games," Curry said. "I told myself there would be no excuse, no room for any error. If I'm inactive this year, it's going to be on me."
Here's a few detailed observations by Raanan of Curry at workouts last Friday:
10:49 am – "I spot Curry in his No. 75 jersey. He's working the sleds with the rest of the linemen. Assistant defensive line coach Erik Chinander is watching over them closely as the players are working on getting off blocks. This could be the biggest challenge for Curry in his new role. He looks good so far shedding the imaginary offensive linemen. "
10:51 am – "The bossman makes his way over the defensive linemen group. Chip Kelly talks with Chinander for a few minutes. The opposing dummies seem to be taking harder hits with Kelly in the area. "
11:10 am – "They're into team drills. Right now the Eagles are working on special teams; kickoff return and kickoff coverage. Curry is doing both. He's the only defensive linemen on either team. Curry's lined up next to Casey Matthews on both units. It's not hard to see that he is the biggest man on the field at this time. It says a lot about his ability to move that the Eagles have the 280-pound Curry sprinting 50 yards downfield to try and cover kicks. He looks to be running pretty well too. "
11:22 am – "Curry and the linemen are working against upside-down garbage cans. On one play Curry takes on the yellow can. The next he encounters the fiery gray can. The yellow can seems more intimidating and into the drills. A fierce competitor no doubt … for a garbage can. The defensive linemen are running at about 20 percent in this drill. It's definitely not intended to be run at full speed. It seems to be for mental reps. "
11:28 am – "They're into 11-on-11 team drills. Curry waits his turn with the second team.
11:30 am – "Curry's on the field working alongside Antonio Dixon at the nose tackle spot and rookie Bennie Logan is the other defensive end. The offensive and defensive linemen work against each other with their hands, but their not hitting each other. The Eagles call a running play to the right side and Curry tracks it down and makes the would-be tackle for a short gain. Of course, there is no hitting so he runs right past running back Chris Polk as the whistle blows to simulate the end of the play. "
11:32 am – "Four reps and he's off the field. "
11:35 am – "Curry's back on the field for another four plays. It's hard to see what is going on with the interior lines. There's too many players on the field blocking the media's view. I can see the backsides of a bunch of players in obscure numbers who have no chance to make the team. "
11:38 am – "The Eagles are working on field goal blocks. Curry is on that team too. He's jumping with the rest of the block team. Looks like a 22-inch vertical to me. Not bad in a helmet. "
11:48 am – "Finally the defensive linemen jog off to the side field and start working on their pass rushing skills against a bag. Curry dominates the bag. So does 340-pound Clifton Geathers. At 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds, Geathers is a huge man. He dwarfs Curry. It makes me realize that Curry is the smallest man in the first two groups of defensive linemen. By a wide margin, too. That may not bode well for him."
11:57 am – "They're back to working on team defense and nickel calls. They seem singularly intent on lining up correctly and knowing their responsibilities on the play. Curry's job appears to be raising his hand before the snap. It means something, but I have no idea what. "
It's going to be a lot of fun watching what ultimately becomes of the transitional roles of Curry and Kendricks. Perhaps the consolation for the players themselves is, even if they end up not fitting into the new defensive vision Kelly and Davis are designing, some other team in the NFL will want them—and would pick them up in a heartbeat if either were released.