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Eagles’ Babin having dream season
Jason Babin is refreshingly honest, a veteran not inclined to spew clichés and hollow answers. Although he’s a former first-round pick, Babin is emboldened to be himself because of the dark days of his career, like when the Seattle Seahawks – a team that finished 4-12 – released him weeks into the 2008 season.
“All the trials and tribulations make me me,” Babin told Yahoo! Sports. “It increases my desire, and my hunger, and that chip on my shoulder. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”
In his seventh NFL season last year, on his fifth team, at the age of 30, Babin ranked sixth in the league with 12 ½ sacks. It was good enough for a spot in the Pro Bowl. Then, flush with several options, Babin headed to Philadelphia for his second stint with the Eagles, only this time, instead of playing for a one-year, $620,000 contract, he signed a five-year, $28 million deal.
Now, with two games remaining, Babin’s exceeded expectations, currently leading the league with 18 sacks and threatening Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22 ½.
Asked if he wants the record, Babin replied, “I think I’d be insane if I said I didn’t want it. But is it what I’m thinking about 24/7? No. That’s not how I go about my business. Whatever happens on Sunday happens. I’m going to play my hardest.”
Heading into the 2011 season, the Eagles were dubbed “The Dream Team,” stocked with high-profile players like quarterback Michael Vick, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive end Trent Cole. But the Eagles staggered to a 1-4 start, and the team’s run defense was the third-worst in the NFL. Players were provided an opportunity to address teammates and coaches.
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When he stepped forward, Babin recounted his NFL story, from 27th overall pick of the Houston Texans in the 2004 draft to being traded to the Seattle Seahawks, where he was caught in the middle of a front office tug-of-war.
“That was tough. It was really tough,” Babin said. “I felt like I gave them more than ample material. You got a guy like [coach] Mike Holmgren, who said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Then the general manager [Tim Ruskell] who traded for me, and I’m caught in a pissing match.”
When he got home, he’d regularly sit in his truck for five or 10 minutes just to “detox,” he said, before entering his home to see his wife and two sons.
“Then I could leave it all there, then I could be a dad, and a husband,” he said, “and just be me.”
His belief in himself didn’t waver, and he made a promise to himself. “No matter what, I’m going to be who I am, and I’m going to work and go about my life, and the way I think a professional should be,” he recalled. “And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”
With nary a sack in four games in 2007 and 2008 in Seattle, Babin was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008 and posted two sacks in seven games. He signed the modest, one-year contract with the Eagles in 2009, and he earned 2 ½ sacks in 12 games.
Then, he finally connected with a coach he believed in and who, perhaps more importantly, believed in him.
When he signed with the Tennessee Titans, defensive line coach Jim Washburn told him that he’d give snaps to the best players, regardless of where they were drafted or how much they were paid.
“ ‘If Jeff Fisher tells me who to play, I’m going to tell him to [expletive] himself,’ ” Babin said Washburn told him. “ ‘Then he can fire me.’ ”
“You don’t find that in position coaches.”
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In addition, Washburn wanted Babin to focus on his strength, exploding up the field and pressuring and sacking the quarterback. In Houston, Babin was asked to drop back into coverage, which was challenging for him so early in his career.
“I give a lot of credit to coach Washburn,” Babin said. “What I’ve always had is be explosive, always gritty, and go until the whistle, and maybe a little more. But what he’s been able to do is coach up my pass rushing ability.
“He coaches each player differently. He truly gets the best out of each player.”
Babin treated Washburn on the Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii.
In Philadelphia, despite a disappointing season, Babin has been one of the team’s most consistent players.
“When you hear his story, you can say anything is possible if you are willing to out-work people,” Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said. “It was a powerful story that helped everyone in the room.”
Naturally, Babin returned to Philadelphia, in part, because the Eagles recruited Washburn and wanted him to install the “Wide Nine” defense, in which the defensive ends line up in the nine technique, usually outside of the tight end. The scheme typically generates more pressure on the quarterback but leaves the defense more susceptible to rushing yards because of the large gaps at the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a good player; I knew that coming into this game,” said New York Jets offensive tackle Wayne Hunter, after Babin had three sacks in a 45-19 Eagles win. “They know how to use him, putting him in the backfield, putting him at defensive end, mixing him up.”
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, opposing teams are averaging 6.5 yards when running in Babin’s direction. Castillo defended Babin, saying his defensive end has a more difficult job than other players at his position.
“When he’s on the tight end, that’s even harder to play the run. But he does a good job with it,” Castillo said. “But the most important thing is, he takes pride in it.”
Castillo said the defensive linemen spend at least 30 minutes at the start of every practice working on run-stopping drills.
“Jason is one of the most unselfish individuals there is,” Castillo said.
For his part, Babin has learned to temper his emotions about criticism that he’s one-dimensional. “Initially, I was upset, and mad. And I wanted to go on the defensive about it,” he said. “ ‘Just watch the tape. Show me where I’m not. There’s no proof.’ Then I realized that the people who are saying this are obviously not educated or hating. You can’t teach a monkey to fly an airplane. I have to let bygones be bygones.
“Besides, Washburn wouldn’t accept a player who didn’t try to defend the run. If I didn’t play the run, he’d have my ass sitting on the sideline. No one who knows him would say that.
“I think a lot of people say, ‘Who is this guy?’ Why all of a sudden is he good?’
“For me, it’s really easy. The only thing I’m afraid of is failure. I’m going to do whatever it takes not to fail. I think about it every day. ‘What is DeMarcus Ware doing today? What is Jared Allen doing? Three sets, or four sets?’ “
He admitted that’s “kind of OCD.” But he added, “It’s what has to be done.”
In May, Babin will turn 31. But he downplayed his age, highlighting his emphasis on health and noting the three-season stretch when he played in only 11 games.
“I was basically working out and hanging out,” he said, “so there isn’t that wear and tear.”
As for his diet, he eats whole, organic foods, doesn’t drink soda and sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber a couple days a week. In fact, Babin’s offseason passion is gardening and butchering at his Texas farm.
“I don’t know what got into me,” he said. “But, I love growing my own food.”
Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and jalapenos, among other vegetables, and he raises his own cows and pigs.
“From the hoof to the plate,” he said. “In today’s day and age, I know the food my family is eating is 100 percent organic and healthy.”
But his hobby isn’t going to distract him from his career, he said. He’s endured too much to take anything for granted now.
“I’ve had to scratch and claw, and fight my way to the top of the heap,” he said. “And you know what? I’m not letting it go. They’re going to pry my dead hands off it.”
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