Michael Bennett has been an Eagle for less than a week, but the 32-year-old defensive end already is very impressed with the aggressive way the Birds are attacking their chance to become only the third team in the salary-cap era to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
“The first thing I talked to Howie [Roseman] about [after they traded for him], the first thing he said to me was, ‘I want to go back,’ ’’ Bennett said. “When you hear somebody say something like that, you feel it. I felt it through the phone.
“They’re not complacent. They’re pushing forward. Finding our weaknesses and making them better.’’
With the draft still five weeks away, there aren’t a lot of concerns about the Eagles’ offense.
As long as Carson Wentz, who posted a video of himself throwing inside the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex practice bubble Monday, makes a successful comeback from his December knee injury – and all indications are he’ll be ready to go when the season starts – the Eagles once again should be a 30-point-a-game scoring machine.
Defense is where they have a few questions.
Salary-cap constraints – and a desire to bulk up their 2019 draft arsenal with compensatory picks – led to the departures last week of valuable slot corner Patrick Robinson, defensive tackle Beau Allen and defensive end Vinny Curry. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has a $7.6 million cap number this year, also could soon be leaving if the Eagles can find a buyer.
On the flip side, the Eagles acquired Bennett and 23-year-old cornerback Daryl Worley in trades with Seattle and Carolina, signed soon-to-be-26-year-old linebacker Corey Nelson and 34-year-old defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and managed to hang on to linebacker Nigel Bradham.
Have the early moves made them better? Hard to say.
The addition of Bennett, who had 8 ½ sacks last season and has 48 over the last six years, should be a slight upgrade over Curry, who lacks Bennett’s finishing skills. That is assuming Bennett still has some gas left in his tank.
Bennett played 578 pass-rush snaps with the Seahawks last season, despite battling plantar fasciitis. He won’t come close to that with the Eagles, where defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz regularly rotates his linemen. And that’s fine with Bennett.
“I’m comfortable with playing less snaps,’’ he said. “It’s not about September or October or November. It’s about January and February.
“To be able to keep guys fresh so that they can rush the quarterback as savage as they can’’ is fine with him.
Robinson had an outstanding season last year. His play in the slot was a big reason for the Eagles’ defensive success — they finished fourth in points allowed (18.4 per game), fourth in yards allowed (306.5 per game), third in third-down defense (32.2 percent), fourth in interceptions (19) and ninth in opponent passer rating (79.5).
The likely in-house slot replacement would appear to be Jalen Mills. Mills, who started 15 games on the outside last season, played slot corner both as a rookie and in college at LSU.
The move inside would make room on the outside for 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones, who missed most of last season recovering from a ruptured Achilles.
Worley, a Penn Charter product, would not appear to be an option in the slot.
“Most of my time in Carolina, I played on the outside,’’ he said Monday. “I didn’t play much nickel. Not because I couldn’t or anything. That’s just the way things were schemed up during my time there.’’
The Eagles’ fifth corner, Rasul Douglas, also is an unlikely slot option.
It’s still possible the Eagles could draft a cornerback next month who can play inside, or sign another veteran later on. They also can drop safety Malcolm Jenkins down in the slot, which is something they did frequently last season against bigger receivers.
But Jenkins was able to drop down because the Eagles had a very capable third safety in Corey Graham. Graham, a free agent, is expected to retire. The Eagles are expected to take a safety in the draft at some point.
Darby, acquired from Buffalo in a late-summer trade, was supposed to be a shutdown corner. But he injured an ankle in Week 1, missed eight games, and was up and down after his return.
Jones was projected to be a top-15 pick in last year’s draft before he suffered the Achilles injury in his pro day workout.
While the Eagles’ secondary played well overall last season, they struggled at times in the playoffs. The Eagles wouldn’t have made it out of the divisional round if the Falcons’ Julio Jones had managed to catch Matt Ryan’s pass over Mills in the end zone.
And there was the matter of the 505 yards and three touchdowns that Tom Brady threw for in Super Bowl LII. The Eagles gave up 10 passes of 20-plus yards to the Patriots after allowing 39 in the entire regular-season. Yes, it was Brady, but still.
The defensive line is the engine that makes Jim Schwartz’s defense go. It made some game-changing plays last season, including two in the playoffs – Chris Long’s pressure on Case Keenum in the NFC championship game against the Vikings that caused the momentum-shifting interception which Robinson returned for a touchdown, and, of course, the critical strip-sack by Brandon Graham on Brady late in the Super Bowl.
But the Eagles tied for 15th in the league in sacks with 38. They had just 14 in their last nine games, including their three playoff wins.
But adding Bennett to the rotation and lining him up inside and outside – like Schwartz did last year with Graham – should make the Eagles’ pass rush even more formidable.
“I think we can have one of the greatest defensive lines to ever play the game,’’ he said.
That’s probably a little, uh, overly optimistic. But Bennett should make the front four better.