Eagles training camp officially got underway on Wednesday, with the team taking the field for the first time. There were several interesting tidbits from day one, but one of the more eye opening ones was Josh Sweat getting first team reps at defensive end over former first round pick Derek Barnett.
There were certainly reasons to believe Sweat could overtake Barnett for that starting spot, but a lot of fans (including myself) just assumed Barnett would be the starter, while Sweat came off the bench in passing situations. After all, Sweat was excellent in that role last season.
Despite not even playing 40 percent of the defensive snaps, Sweat was first on the team in forced fumbles (3), second in tackles for loss (9), third in sacks (6), and fourth in quarterback hits (12). Barnett is a fine pass rusher in his own right, but he’s yet to meet the expectations placed on him as a first round pick.
Injuries have gotten in the way more often than not. Barnett has been healthy for an entire season once in his NFL career. Because of this, Barnett has never played more than 70 percent of the defensive snaps in a season.
Availability is the best ability in the NFL. Despite having serious injury concerns coming out of college, Sweat has managed to stay fully healthy more consistently than Barnett has. He suited up in every game during the 2019 season, and he only missed two games last year.
Sweat’s potential has barely been tapped. He clearly has all the tools to be Pro Bowl level defensive end in this league. The pass rushing acumen is already present. If Sweat can put it all together and become a well-rounded EDGE player, he could be a staple along the Eagles defensive line for years to come.
Barnett is still an ascending player as well. But he is somewhat of a known commodity at this point. He’s had ample opportunities to prove his worth over the past four seasons. Sweat, on the other hand, has overachieved in the small sample size of game time he’s gotten.
Regardless of who starts at defensive end Week 1, this defensive end rotation is going to be difficult for any offensive line to handle. Whether it’s Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan coming off the bench, or Sweat and Kerrigan, you rarely see a defensive end rotation of this caliber. Even when the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, their pass rushing rotation was not as good as this one is on paper.
Keep an eye on this defensive end battle throughout camp. It should be one of the more interesting story lines to follow in August.