COMMENTARY | You would think a team with 3-13 talent could use the services of their second-round draft pick immediately. Perhaps the Andy Reid-led 2012 Philadelphia Eagles had delusions that they were better than the story their final record told.
Vinny Curry was one of two 2012 second-round picks for the Eagles. The 2011 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year out of Marshall University came in with the reputation of being a vicious pass rusher. He chalked up 26 sacks, 49 tackles for a loss and 10 forced fumbles in his collegiate career.
The Eagles tied for the league lead in sacks in 2011 with 50. During that season they had a selfish and sack-thirsty Jason Babin at defensive end in defensive line coach Jim Washburn's Wide 9 defense. So with the crux of that defensive front returning in 2012, it's understandable to believe the Eagles' misunderstanding of the talent level of their pass rush. Add in that the Eagles selected defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round and Curry's inactivity through the first 10 games of the 2012 is conceivable, if only strictly from a numbers standpoint.
But the Eagles 2012 defense was deplorable. That's the best word I could come up with while keeping a modicum of decorum. Much of their problems existed in their secondary, where their corners were overrated salary cap eaters and their safeties possessed borderline Arena League talent. Last season's defense allowed 27.8 points per game, good for 29th in the league. They got to the quarterback just 30 times.
It took 11 games for Curry to dress and see the field. On a defense that obviously struggled, their second-round pick was left to watch. In limited action the last six games Curry picked up nine tackles and showed flashes while the hourglass mercifully ran out of sand on a forgettable campaign.
Enter new head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis. The Eagles, who have long run a 4-3 defense, would now employ the 3-4. That move changed the nature of Curry's defensive end position. In the 3-4, the defensive end acts more like a tackle with gap responsibility. Curry, at 6'3", 279 pounds, is too big to move to the pass rushing outside linebacker position in the 3-4. He's probably a little too small, or under weight, for the gap protecting defensive end position. But what seems to be overlooked in Curry is a brute strength that accompanies his quickness and ferocity in the pass rush.
Never mind that Curry was the most electric Eagles' defender in the pre-season, no matter the level of the competition. Curry was left inactive again the first two regular season games against Washington's team (oh who are we kidding it's the Redskins) and the San Diego Chargers. Against Washington, you would have thought the Eagles would have opted for more quickness upfront with Robert Griffin III behind center. They opted to stay big to stop Alfred Morris and the Washington running game. That worked out.
Against San Diego, who didn't come with much of a running game, you would think the Eagles would have opted to have their best pass rushers dressed to disrupt the rhythm of pocket passer Phillip Rivers. They stayed big and Rivers emasculated their defense.
It's not as if the Eagles' other options at defensive end come with much pedigree. Clifton Geathers has three total tackles, but his 340 pounds of girth make him a viable run clogging option. On the other hand, rookie Damion Square, who dressed ahead of Curry the first two games, was non-existent. If you look at the Eagles' stat sheet, you'll see five offensive players and a kicker with more tackles than Square, who has zero.
In just 12 snaps in Curry's first game action of 2013, the 25-year old had a sack, a hurry and forced a holding call. He was generally disruptive and gave the Eagles' defense a spark in the second half.
The Eagles' defense is still close to deplorable, but there are subtle signs of positives that fans can file away as they enjoy watching the frenetic offense of Chip Kelly. While the safeties are still sticking with the Arena League theme, cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher have shown signs of productivity. Second-year corner and nickelback Brandon Boykin has proven to be an asset with a bright future. Trent Cole has adjusted nicely to the outside linebacker position. Mychal Kendricks looks like the real deal. Cedric Thornton has been a pleasant surprise at the starting defensive end position. Connor Barwin has been a solid free agent signing with big play ability. There are things to grow on even though we know it's going to get ugly at times.
Vinny Curry needs to be afforded the opportunity to add to that list.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer from Blue Bell, PA. Pete has occasionally covered the Eagles for the Yahoo! Contributor Network over the last four years and has followed the team since the days of the Polish Rifle. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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