Before Jerry Azzinaro was the 49ers defensive line coach, he was the defensive line coach of the Eagles. We chatted with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation to learn more about how Azzinaro performed in his stint there.
1. How much did Azzinaro change the culture/scheme during his time with the Eagles, vs. building on what was already in place?
Before Azz arrived, the Eagles were running a 4-3 defense featuring a wide-nine front. The arrival of Azz with Chip Kelly saw the Eagles move from a one-gap system to a two-gap 3-4 scheme. Pretty radical change there.
The coach Azz replaced was Jim Washburn, who got fired in-season by the Eagles in 2012. Washburn was known for being too much of a hardass. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and some of his players (such as Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham) really hated playing for him.
Azz seemed a lot more likable than Washburn. He was still hard on his guys but in a way where players didn’t absolutely hate him.
2. How did Azzinaro integrate with the rest of the defensive scheme, based on what you saw on gamedays?
The Eagles’ two-gapping defensive line was the foundation of their 3-4 defense. It all started there.
3. How well did Azzinaro's line perform relative to other NFL defensive lines?
The Eagles had some really good defensive line play under Azz. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton were arguably one of the best 3-4 defensive end duos in the league. Bennie Logan turned into a pretty good nose tackle in the middle as well. The Eagles had a lot of young talent on the defensive line and Azz seemed to do a good job of getting the most out of his players.
4. Who were the players that developed and excelled the best in Azzinaro's schemes?
The 3-4 defense didn’t allow Cox to rack up big sacks numbers but he racked up a lot of pressures and was a plus run defender as well. The scheme also allowed Cox to occupy blockers so the outside linebackers, such as Connor Barwin, could have free opportunities at the quarterback.
Logan and Thornton weren’t consistent pass rushers but they were really good run defenders under him.
5. What type of coach was Azzzinaro like on the sideline?
The Eagles had their DC (Bill Davis) call plays from the press box. Azz seemed to be the next closest thing to having a DC on the sideline. He always seemed pretty involved.
For a better sense of what Azz is like, watch this video. “MORE VIOLENCE! MORE VIOLENCE!”
6. What do you consider was Azzinaro's best performances as a defensive line coach? Any points where he ultimately struggled?
The Eagles had to face some really good rushing attacks during Azz’s tenure. In his last season as head coach, Philadelphia’s defense really broke down. His unit didn’t perform so well.
But there were moments when his defensive line really shined, such as when the Eagles shut down the Cowboys’ offense on Thanksgiving in 2014.
Overall, I think Azz is a good coach. He gets on his guys during drills but off the field he seems pretty well-liked and respected. Seems like a smart, relaxed guy when I’ve had the chance to talk with him personally.