How two mangled hands have helped Eagles' d-line become one of NFL's best originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
"Have you seen his hands?"
Nick Sirianni is chatting about Tracy Rocker, and after lavishing a couple minutes of praise on the veteran defensive line coach, he abruptly stops and asks, "Have you seen his hands?"
This is 100 percent Sirianni, interrupting himself to ask a reporter if he's ever noticed Tracy Rocker's hands.
"They're jacked up beyond belief," Sirianni says in admiration. "And then Sweaty's (Josh Sweat's) hands are like that, too."
"You determine how good a D-lineman is by how jacked up their hands are. I didn't get to see him play in the '80s, but judging by his hands, he was a monster over there at Auburn."
Rocker, who played at Auburn in the late 1980s, is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen in college football history. These days, he's leading the Eagles' defensive line to some pretty lofty heights.
"College Hall of Fame," Milton Williams said. "My pops used to watch him back in the day. Tracy Rocker, he used to be a bad you-know-what. He's played the game, he's seen it all, done it all, knows it all. He's definitely brought out the best in me."
Fletcher Cox was a rookie in 2012, and Rocker is his seventh position coach. That's seven in 11 years.
If you can name them all, you're the king of Eagles trivia. (Jim Washburn. Tommy Brasher. Jerry Azzinaro. Chris Wilson. Phillip Daniels. Matt Burke. Rocker.)
"I've had a few," Cox said with a chuckle. "I've had a few."
Eagles defensive line coaches have come and gone like Spinal Tap drummers. But the Eagles may have finally gotten it right with Rocker, who's got the Eagles d-line playing lights-out football in his second year on Nick Sirianni's staff.
"He's all about physicality, no matter who it is, where it is, when it is," Cox said. "He always wants us to be more physical than whoever we're going against. He wants us to be physical in practice, he wants to be physical in walkthrough.
"Great coach, great teacher. He wants his guys to understand what's going on and he does a really good job of it."
At Auburn in the late 1980s, Rocker won the Lombardi and Outland trophies, was a two-time first-team All-America and in 1988 he was SEC Player of the Year. After a couple years in the NFL, he started his coaching career at Auburn High School and spent 24 of the next 27 years coaching on the college level.
Last year, Sirianni brought him in as defensive line coach, and alongside defensive ends coach Jeremiah Washburn he's transformed the Eagles' defensive front into one of the NFL's best.
"His thing is messing people up," Williams said. "Just messing people up. He doesn't use those exact words, but that's what he's all about. Playing hard, giving everything you got, that's what he preaches all the time. He's all about getting better, striving to get better every day, and be physical."
The Eagles have an unusual structure in the coaching staff, with Washburn and Rocker overlapping. But it works. (Curiously, Rocker's first NFL job was with the Titans in 2011, where he replaced Washburn's dad as d-line coach.)
The Eagles recorded 70 sacks this year, 3rd-most in NFL history, and set a franchise postseason record with five more Saturday night against the Giants.
If that defensive front has another huge game Sunday against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles will be on their way to Arizona.
"Coach Rocker is a great coach," Sirianni said. "He's very detailed in what he does. The guys trust him and like playing for him.
"The other day last week, I couldn't sleep. Just thinking about what I'm going to say to the team, this and that. I woke up at like 2:30 in the morning and I couldn't go back to sleep, so I go in and I'm in the office at 4 o'clock. I'm like, what else am I going to do? I'm just going to lay here in bed? I can watch some tape on the Giants.
"I'm pulling in at 4, and walking in right before me was coach Rocker, and I'm like, I'm a little embarrassed. … Everybody was like, yeah, he always does that, that's when he goes in. He grinds. He's doing everything he can do to put these guys in positions to help them make plays."
Nick Rallis is 29. Brian Johnson and Alex Tanney are 35. Shane Steichen and Jason Michael are 37. Jonathan Gannon and Dennard Wilson are 40. Kevin Patullo is 41. Aaron Moorehead is 42.
Rocker and 60-year-old o-line coach Jeff Stoutland are the only Eagles assistants older than 42, and they bring this team an important dimension of experience and savvy
"I think the biggest thing about him is that he has no ego," Cox said. "He knows what it takes to play this game. He's been here, done that, and that's something I really respect about him."