Vinny Curry is entering his sixth NFL season at age 29 and is in the second year of a five-year, $46.25-million contract. Yet he’s never started any of his 68 regular-season games.
That should change on Sunday, when Curry is slated to play right defensive end on the first defensive snap when the Eagles play the Washington Redskins.
Curry is confident that it’ll be worth the wait. And if the summer was any indication, the coaching staff believes the same.
“I think Vinny Curry … had an outstanding training camp,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He was very good against the run and pass. He was as productive as I’ve seen him. He was not on the ground as much as he’s been. … The proof is in the course of the season.”
Curry has teased Eagles fans with his pass-rushing potential before, but he’s never been able to turn it into a starting role. He pointed to a knee brace in his locker, an allusion to an injury that held him back from taking the leap last season expected after signing the contract. Brandon Graham usurped Curry during training camp, and Curry remained a reserve behind Connor Barwin despite his contract.
In five NFL seasons, Curry has never taken more than the 435 snaps he took last season. That was 43 percent of the defensive snaps, making him a rotational defensive end who slid inside to defensive tackle on passing downs. The Eagles didn’t pay Curry to be a rotational defensive end. By releasing Barwin, a starting spot opened for Curry to take. But by drafting Derek Barnett and signing veteran Chris Long, there’s also significant competition for playing time.
A healthy Curry is a major asset to the Eagles defensive line. He has demonstrated pass-rush ability – Curry had nine sacks while playing 32 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014 – but he hasn’t been a consistent player. It will help knowing he’ll start the game.
“I think Vinny is playing some of his best ball,” Long said. “The ability he’s had has never been an issue. He’s always been disruptive, and in my eyes, if his production wasn’t there one or two years, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t playing good football.”
When asked what he needs to see from Curry this season, Schwartz noted “consistent play.” Schwartz thought Curry’s pressure numbers were high last year even though he finished with only 2.5 sacks. Curry was credited with 10 quarterback hurries, which was 11 fewer than 2015. He was on the ground too often for Schwartz’s liking, and the remedy is to finish the rush. Schwartz thought if Curry could take one more step, it would help. Curry has cited the knee injury as what inhibited him last season.
In the second preseason game, Curry had a sack and a forced fumble – production that the Eagles hope is a sign of what’s to come. But it’ll be a challenge on Sunday when he rushes against Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. Barwin, who played right defensive end last season, did not have any sacks with Williams blocking him.
Curry won’t see Williams the whole game, which is the caveat to Curry starting. Schwartz would like to rotate his defensive ends. It was not an even split last season – Brandon Graham and Barwin took more than 70 percent of the snaps – but the additions of Long and Barnett could compel Schwartz to make it closer to 50/50.
“I think we’ve always been at our best when we’ve been close to 50/50,” Schwartz said. “That being said, over the course of the season, you also have to reward production. But here’s the way I sort of approach it, is particularly early in the season, rotation can help you get to later in the season. … My experience has been if you get two guys that can stay fresh, you can have more production than one guy that’s out there the whole time.”
Still, Curry should get the first defensive snap. He’s in a better place this season than he was one year ago, and he’s had the type of summer that can propel him to a productive season. But Curry also admitted that no one will remember August if he doesn’t produce in the coming months.
“It’s been well noticed within our team and our coaching staff, the strides he’s taken,” Schwartz said. “But, again, none of that matters right now.”