By Dave Spadaro
Tim Jernigan had lost his starting job in Baltimore. He just wasn’t a good fit with the Ravens, in a three-man front that emphasized more read than reaction, and as he entered the final season of his rookie contract, Jernigan wondered what his next career step would be.
Turns out, the Eagles did the thinking for him, acquiring Jernigan in a pre-draft trade and insisting that the scheme the Eagles had in place, one that demands aggressiveness from defensive linemen, would be perfect for Jernigan.
Turns out, the Eagles were right. Turns out, the Eagles were right — based on a 5–1 start to the 2017 season, anyway — on a lot of the decisions they made in the offseason. Jernigan has been a perfect, game-disrupting fit at defensive tackle. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have added big-play skills to an offensive passing game desperately in need of them. LeGarrette Blount has been the power running game, with some big-gain ability, the offense lacked in the red zone over the years.
Defensive end Chris Long, considered by many to be done and washed up after a season in New England, has been a valuable piece to the rotation on defense. Cornerback Patrick Robinson’s career never took over in New Orleans or Indianapolis, but he’s been a real find as the defense’s nickel cornerback.
Add in a draft that yielded immediate contributors in defensive end Derek Barnett (first round), cornerback Rasul Douglas (third round) and wide receiver Mack Hollins (fourth round) and some in-season additions like placekicker Jake Elliott — who has made 10 consecutive field goal attempts — and running back/punt returner Kenjon Barner, the reigning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and it’s easier to make sense of the Eagles’ 5–1 start.
“Our entire roster is stepping up and that’s the way it should be,” Long said. “That’s the mark of a really good football team. You win games and you see that everybody is contributing. I feel like that’s the way it has been in this start to the season.”
Yeah, it’s been a spectacular six weeks for the Eagles, who play on Monday night against visiting Washington in a second straight prime-time game. A win over the Redskins would give the Eagles gulps of breathing room in the NFC East and demonstrate again how “for real” this team is.
“It’s all about the NFC East. That’s the first order of business,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “You have to win in the division first and foremost to get to the playoffs.”
And as spectacular as quarterback Carson Wentz has been, the newcomers have been just as instrumental in keying the fast start. The Eagles needed more playmakers on offense and they went out and got them in the offseason. The defense had some pieces in place after 2016, but Jernigan is the kind of difference-making tackle the line needed to take some pressure off of Fletcher Cox. Robinson is having the season of his career. Long is a leader and a solid role player.
This is a puzzle, and the pieces are all fitting for the Eagles right now.
“It’s contagious,” Blount said. “We’re all feeling it. But it’s early and the key is to keep it going, keep working together and helping each other out. It feels good now, I can tell you that.”
And it looks good, too. At 5–1, the Eagles are on a roll and are the darlings of the NFL.