July 27, 2019
With a handful of reporters surrounding Philadelphia Eagles second-year DE Josh Sweat on Friday, starting RT Lane Johnson strolled by and loudly proclaimed, “Gonna be big f****** things from him this year!”
Coming out of Florida State, Sweat was more potential than production, as he had just 14.5 career sacks. Of perhaps greater concern was his health, as he had a devastating high school injury in which he had surgery to repair his ACL, MCL and PCL.
Yet, Sweat was projected by many to be a Day 2 pick, and in the aftermath of the 2018 NFL Draft, a number of experts lauded the Eagles for finding great value in Sweat in the fourth round. After all, even with the production and injury concerns, he was still a 6-foot-5, size-speed freak with 4.52 speed, and other extremely impressive measurables:
Obviously, as you can see in the above spider chart, the only deficient area was his weight. At the time the Eagles drafted Sweat, his projection to 4-3 defensive end was a difficult one, as he would likely have to put on weight to hold up at the point of attack against the run. That would be difficult to do for guy playing in college at a slight 245 pounds.
And so, Sweat made it a priority to bulk up. He says he now weighs around 265 pounds, and is confident that he has not had to sacrifice any of his athleticism to get bigger.
"I was working out at the same time (that I was trying to gain weight), so as I got bigger it was muscle," he explained. "I’m a lot more explosive than I was.
"I did a lot of fast-twitch (workout) stuff, like squats and stuff like that, so I wanted to make sure I could stay explosive."
Indeed, after spring practices, we noted that Sweat's stock was up, as he had shown "an unmistakable burst."
Still, it's unrealistic to assume that Sweat can immediately step in and fill the void left by Chris Long and Michael Bennett, a pair of productive defensive ends who are no longer with the team. As a rookie in 2018, Sweat only played 68 snaps with the regular defense, collecting one tackle and one hit on the quarterback. He sustained a minor ankle injury that Sweat said was healed in two weeks, but he was shut down for the season and placed on IR anyway, likely because of his inability to produce in the chances he received.
Sweat himself even acknowledged his promotion to second-team DE was a result of Long's and Bennett's departures.
"They’re gone," he said. "I got pushed up by default, but whether they were here or not I was coming for them anyway."
In the NFL, it takes players longer at some positions than others to become good players. Running backs, for example, assimilate quickly. Pass rushers typically don't, as defensive line coach Phillip Daniels pointed out in June.
"Any young (pass rusher) coming into this league, the first thing you're going to see is that their technique is not going to be where it needs to be, and they're not going to be a strong as they should be," he said.
Jim Schwartz agreed that there's a big difference between Sweat's rookie year and his second offseason with the team.
"It's a huge difference between being a rookie, trying to learn, and trying to adapt. It's not just the on-the-field. Off the field, he was battling some injuries," Schwartz said. "To come back the second year, have it all under your belt, the experience of getting a little bit of playing time. You say the game slows down. That's a real common cliché.
"I think you just become so much more comfortable, and you can see somebody's ability. He did a really nice job through all of our OTAs. But how he contributes this year will be dependent on how he practices in training camp, and what he looks like in pre-season games.
"But we're excited about him. He's long. He can play with some power. He has speed. He's around the passer when he rushes because he's so long. There are a lot of good things with him. He just needs to have a good camp, and I think he's focused to be able to do that."
And against the run, Jim?
"He's strong as can be," Schwartz said. "He played two-gap at Florida State. I mean, you look at him, he looks like a 400-meter sprinter. He was legs wide, squared up, doing those kind of things. He has some of the strongest hands of all our defensive linemen, which then you start putting him into situations where he can use his speed a little bit more. It's a bonus that a lot of other guys don't have. He's very strong. We feel strongly about him stopping the run."
Throughout the offseason, it was speculated by many (self included) that the Eagles might try to bring in an additional veteran defensive end, given the importance of the position in the Eagles' defense, and Schwartz's desire to maintain a heavy rotation along the D-line.
It seems for now that they are more interested in seeing if Sweat's dedication to getting better off the field will yield more production on it.
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