The NFC East is home to two of the best running backs in the NFL, if not, arguably, the very best in Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and New York’s Saquon Barkley.
So it made sense when the Eagles splashed into the free agent market by signing defensive tackle Malik Jackson to a three-year, $30 million deal. They re-signed Timmy Jernigan, traded for Hassan Ridgeway, brought in undrafted free agent Kevin Wilkins from Rutgers and kept Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector.
In short, they beefed up the defensive tackle spot to try to do a better job against the run, specifically Elliott and Barkley.
Overall, the Eagles weren’t bad in defending the run, finishing seventh in the league in 2018, but in two games against Elliott they allowed 151 yards on 19 carries in the first meeting and 113 on 28 runs in the second. Barkley had 130 yards and 101, both totals reached on 13 carries in each game.
“We are always trying to find a complement to go with Fletch (Fletcher Cox),” said defensive line coach Phillip Daniels. “I think we have that with Timmy. He missed a lot of season last year (due to injury).
“Then we have Malik coming in here who is really long, has a lot of length, can rush, can do a lot of things to help Fletch out. The main thing is to keep teams sliding to Fletch and getting all the double teams. I think Malik’s a guy who can come in and do that.”
Then there is Daniels himself. This will be his first year as the team’s defensive line coach after the team decided to move on from Chris Wilson. He will be assisted by first-year NFL assistant Nathan Ollie, who coached the defensive line at Eastern Kentucky last year.
Ollie was also a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee when Derek Barnett played there.
Daniels played 14 years in the NFL after entering the league as a fourth-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks out of the University of Georgia in 1996. He played four years in Seattle, four in Chicago then the last six with the Redskins, collecting 62 career sacks with 512 tackles and 12 fumble recoveries.
“If you get how it was as a player, you probably won’t be a bad coach,” said Daniels. “I can relate to these guys. I have been in their spot. I have been in their place. I know what they’re going through at times. I know how to approach certain things just by sitting in those seats. I had a lot of great coaches through my years.
"Thing is to just treat the players the way you wanted to be treated when you were in their position. From my coaches, I learned little bit from each one of them so I can carry it with me and carry it to the guys.”
Daniels said he learned a lot from former coaches Greg Blache in Washington and Chicago and Tommy Brasher in Seattle.
Here is what Daniels had to say recently about some of the players on his D line:
On Josh Sweat: “Josh came in here bigger, stronger. He’s explosive off the ball. He’s done all the things he needed to do in the offseason to get better and be ready to go. I’m looking forward to the competition with him and all those guys, Joe Ostman, Daeshon Hall, all the young guys. They came back here after getting bigger and stronger.”
On Vinny Curry: “Vinny always brings a physicality. Any time you can be physical in this game, you have a chance to be successful as far as making plays. Vinny just loves being here. He grew up an Eagles fan. He’s just one of those guys who loves being an Eagle. Vinny will bring a lot to the table. In the Super Bowl year, that was one of his best years. If we get him back to that form and to that level of play and he’ll be fine.”
On Shareef Miller: “He’s long, has length, he has speed, he can get on the edges, he’s smart and makes good decisions. He takes a lot of notes in the meeting room. I’ve been pleased with him, young guy coming in here to a new situation to a team like this that’s been successful with a lot of successful guys around. Those guys are helping him.”