Eagles D a Reflection of Jim Schwartz, Who'll 'Kick Your Ass and Outthink You'

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 26, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 27: Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on against the Indianapolis Colts during a preseason NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The description is simple, yet so perfect. 

"James John Schwartz comes to Mt. St. Joe as a proud resident of Arbutus," reads the caption under his yearbook photo. "He has been a member of the football team for four years, two of which he spent on the varsity squad. Jim has also been a member of the forensic society and the National Honor Society. Most of his free time is spent playing sports, weightlifting, partying and listening to Judas Priest. Jim hopes to pursue a law degree after college."

He did like his Judas Priest.

Few call him James. He's mostly known as Jim Schwartz, the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, who will play the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

For those of us who knew Schwartz from Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, and especially those of us who played on the football team with him, it's not surprising he's reached this particular pinnacle of his career.

Jim has always been one of the most dedicated, intelligent and fierce human beings I've ever known. If I was ever going to pick anyone from my young life to be in a Super Bowl, it would be Jim.

In fact, in a poll of seniors at our school, Schwartz was named the most ambitious. The people who knew him figured he'd be a star in whatever field he picked, and here he is.

On the Mt. St. Joe football teams, where I played corner and safety (badly) and he played linebacker and on the line (very well), Schwartz was a leader and a diligent student of the game. He'd call out the offense's plays before they happened.

The league we played in, from what I can remember, was physically brutal. There weren't many good quarterbacks, so teams ran the ball a lot. Tons of pitches, pulling guards, traps and dives.

Jim Schwartz in his Mount Saint Joseph High School yearbook.
Jim Schwartz in his Mount Saint Joseph High School yearbook.Photo courtesy of Mike Freeman

I remember being terrified of the collisions. More terrified than the first day of Army basic training, or muay thai training in Thailand, or boxing, or my mom's reaction after I was caught taking the Camaro for a joyride.

Schwartz, though, was fearless. And combined with his smarts, that made him everything you want in a player.

He'd kick your ass and outthink you while doing it.

But he wasn't just a great athlete.

High school, of course, is a place of social strata and divisions: geeks and nerds hang, there are the jocks, the rich kids, the outsiders, the insiders and others.

Jim was one of the few people who could cross all of those divides. Everyone liked him, especially the black students.

At lunch, most of the black students would sit at the same table in a corner of the cafeteria. We were a small minority, and we supported each other intensely. Few white students ever ventured into our part of the room. Not because we were so intimidating, but because of those typical high school divides I mentioned before. Everyone stayed in his or her own corner.

Jim Schwartz (pictured in the top row, fourth from the left with arms crossed) set a tone of fearlessness and support for his high school team that he has carried to the Eagles defense he coaches today.
Jim Schwartz (pictured in the top row, fourth from the left with arms crossed) set a tone of fearlessness and support for his high school team that he has carried to the Eagles defense he coaches today.Photo courtesy of Mike Freeman

Except Jim. He was the only white student that I remember who constantly sat with us. Black students saw Jim, to be blunt, as one of us.

On the field, Jim was cocky, but he always backed up his words with actions. No one on our team, and in our little section of the high school world, was more respected.

If you got beat on a play, he was the first to pick you up, sometimes literally off the ground. I remember getting torched deep once, by one of the state's best tight ends, as I was covering him all over the field. Schwartz had my back: "You'll make plays in another game," he said. And I did.

It's been an interesting ride for Schwartz going from a small Catholic high school in Maryland to the NFL's grandest stage. He started as a scout under Bill Belichick in Cleveland. Took over the Detroit Lions for five years, making the postseason once. Got fired. Looked like he was done, but he wasn't.

Now he's in Philadelphia, coordinating the NFL's fourth-stingiest defense. The degree to which he transformed the Eagles D cannot be overstated. It was a wrecked, dead husk just a few years ago—near the bottom of every statistical category. In less than two years, he has made the Eagles defense into one of the best, highlighted by a run defense that allowed fewer than 80 yards on the ground per game, best in the league.

When I watch that defense, I see Schwartz all over it. It's not the fastest, but it's more than fast enough. It's smart and studious. It doesn't make a ton of mistakes and makes opposing offenses pay if they do.

Schwartz has made the Eagles the toughest team to run on in the NFL this season.
Schwartz has made the Eagles the toughest team to run on in the NFL this season.Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Does that mean the Eagles can win a little more than a week from now? Of course they can. Schwartz's group has plenty of athletes and plenty of smarts. And while Tom Brady has shredded many a defense before, and maybe this one, too, it's also true that Schwartz is one of the most formidable minds Brady will face.

"I think you have to put that challenge to playing the Patriots' offense," Schwartz told the media this week. "No player stands on his own. … There are a million different guys in there. I'm sure somebody will say something because I slighted somebody, but [with] – the NFL in general, but particularly the Patriots, you can't scheme for one player. If you do, then they have plenty of other players that can make plays.

"You have to do a good job against their entire offense, and you can't really make it about one person."

He was a tough, smart player in high school, and he's created a tough, smart defense in Philadelphia.

For those of us who knew Jim Schwartz from that time, no one is shocked.

We expected to see him here.

           

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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