By Dave Spadaro
Derek Barnett isn’t your typical 21-year-old kid. Instead of noshing on Cheez Doodles and working on his summer beach body, Barnett is at the NovaCare Complex with Eagles training camp fully underway hoping that he can be an instant-impact player who helps take Philadelphia’s defense up a notch.
It isn’t easy being an NFL rookie, as Barnett already knows. The defensive end was the team’s first-round draft pick in April and he’s been going 100 mph since. And this is still the easy part. When the legs get heavy in August and the pace becomes even faster, well, that’s when the boys go home in the NFL.
The men stay around and play some ball.
“I kind of know what to expect, having talked to a lot of people and experiencing everything since the draft,” Barnett said, “but I have also been told by the guys here that until you go through it, you don’t understand what it’s like. So I’m just going to take it day by day and I’m going to enjoy myself and do what I love to do, and that’s play football.”
As the Eagles dig in for the marathon of a season, they do so expecting veteran additions such as wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan will be difference-making players. It all sounds good — on paper.
But what about the rookies? Barnett needs to be a right-away help at defensive end with his pass-rushing skills and his ability to chase down the running game. Third-round pick Rasul Douglas could, if he performs impressively in the summer, earn playing time at a concern point for the Eagles, the cornerback position. Wide receiver Mack Hollins is going to have every chance to be a stud on kick coverage, and running back Donnel Pumphrey will try to will his 176-pound (dripping wet) body into doing things that 176-pounders just don’t do in the NFL.
Rookie impact? The Eagles sure hope so. They could really use some help from the young guns.
“I’m not looking at it like I have to go in and play right away,” said Douglas, who was playing at Nassau Community College just three seasons ago. “I know I have so much to learn. This is an entirely different world. This isn’t college. This is the best players in the world playing and bringing their best on every single play.”
Teams in the NFL don’t have two or three seasons to see how a draft class comes together. That’s the way of the old days. Now, the expectations are higher and the learning curve is shorter. The Eagles need impact from their rookies to compete in the NFC East. Will they get it?
“It’s our job to coach up the guys and get them ready,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “This is their job. They’re here to help us win football games. So we have to prepare them to play football at a high level in the NFL in a very short period of time.”
The Eagles open the preseason on Aug. 10 at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. Talk about a welcome-to-the-NFL moment. And get this: It’s only two weeks away. The clock is ticking.
This rookie class, the Eagles know, has to grow up quickly.