JIM WASHBURN, the Eagles' new defensive line coach, had his leg broken in a sideline collision early last season when he worked for the Tennessee Titans. The experience has not appeared to back him off an inch.
Late in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 13-6 exhibition win over the Baltimore Ravens - a time and a place that pretty much defined meaninglessness - there Washburn was, still right in the middle of things, getting himself run over again on the sideline. This time, it was by Ravens receiver Justin Harper, as he was being ridden out of bounds. It was a clean shot at high speed.
Down went Washburn.
Up popped Washburn.
The man who has spiced training camp with a coaching style that can be loud, profane and sarcastic - all within the same adjective - picked up his paperwork, put on his hat and signaled in the next bit of intelligence to his fourth-string players.
The mad scientist was back at work.
It will be an ongoing story this season, the business of the Eagles' charismatic, new line coach and the havoc he seeks to hatch. We got our first hint last night, with all manner of men asked to do the first-team marauding, and largely succeeding. How it ultimately turns out will be one of the truly decisive elements in determining success or failure for the team this season.
First impression: six sacks.
"What we learned in practice, [we] learned to be aggressive and attack," said defensive end Trent Cole. "That's our defense, like Juan [Castillo, the Eagles' new defensive coordinator] and our new defensive line coach Wash, he wants us to get off and attack every play. No matter what, it's all out."
Cole faded, along with the Eagles' pass rush, toward the end of the 2010 season, and not for the first time in his career. Mostly, it was because he simply played too many snaps. To be fair to Sean McDermott, the previous defensive coordinator, he wanted to rotate personnel more than he did - but injuries left him with fewer people capable of making a play.
Anyway, if this first little hunk of a preseason game was any indication, all kinds of people will be spelling the defensive line starters in 2011. Last night against the Ravens, Derek Landri got in there early, and Darryl Tapp got in there early, and so did Anthony Hargrove. It wasn't quite the hockey-line changes the late Jim Johnson sent out there a few years ago for a game or two, but rotation seemed to be a big part of the plan.
"It's a tough deal [for the offense] if you can make it work, which we have a chance to do," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
Both Reid and Castillo said Washburn liked the idea of rotating and had done it in the past. But Castillo was honest. He said, "It's just a matter of getting eight guys that are good enough to rotate."
The first defense, with all of its personnel ins and outs, played two series against the Ravens and got a sack, by Cole, on a rush that was all about physical persistence. When he is paired with Jason Babin on the other end, and with Cullen Jenkins as one of the tackles, the Eagles' pass rush will be at its most potent this season.
Jenkins is the pass-rushing defensive tackle the Eagles have lacked for years. Babin, on his second tour of duty with the Eagles, is a Washburn disciple from their time together in Tennessee, a player whose quickness and agility stand out. Together with Cole and his physical explosiveness, the group has a chance to be potent.
But Reid has forever talked about the importance of rotating along the line and "throwing fastballs" at opposing offenses. And to see Tapp get two sacks against Baltimore's second team, and Landri get one later, and Phillip Hunt get a big pressure in the third quarter that led to an interception, and to see the sacks and pressure continue late into the fourth quarter, was to catch the first glimpse of what Washburn is trying to concoct.
The result was meaningless because of the circumstances, and that is true enough, yet the details were still instructive. Mayhem is not built in a day, but you have to start somewhere.
The Eagles started with six sacks.