These past two seasons for the Eagles defense have been abysmal to say the least. Two years ago was supposed to be the start of something great. The start of a dominate defense that would help propel the Eagles to there first Super Bowl win in franchise history. Man oh man where we in for a long two seasons. Super stars that were signed in the off-season of the 2010-11 season vastly under performed. The Eagles constantly got gashed on the ground by opposing offenses running attack, in large part to the wide nine technique. The secondary had plenty of plays that made a middle school football team look good. This resulted in plenty of Eagles fans face palming in disgust as they watched there beloved Eagles flop right in front of their eyes.
Over the span of those two year the Eagles went through two defensive coordinators. The first was a head scratcher to all. Juan Castillo was the offensive line coach under Andy Reid from 1998 to 2009. Most people wondered how a man who had spent all of his NFL coaching experience could now all of a sudden be able to manage the defensive coordinator role. Castillo was fired on October 16, 2012. Then came along a man named Todd Bowles to replace Castillo mid season. Bowles was originally supposed to be the guy who saved our secondary from the problems it had the year before. Instead the Eagles continued to struggle mightily in both against the pass and stopping the run.
Now it is 2013 and hopefully Billy Davis has the answers or at least enough to get the job done. Davis’ track record hasn’t been all that impressive over his NFL coaching career. In his time with both the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49er’s, Davis’ defenses never ranked higher than 14th in points allowed and never ranked higher than 20th in yards allowed. It is expected that Davis will look to run a hybrid between the 3-4 and the 4-3 as he has experience working with both. This also adds more options to the Eagles defense with their personnel being 4-3 oriented.
The Eagles cut ties with a lot of dead weight this summer with some of its players. They got rid of (CB) Nnamdi Asomugha, (CB) Domonique Rodgers Cromartie, (DT) Cullen Jenkins, (OLB) Akeem Jordan, (DT) Derek Landri, and (DE) Darryl Tapp for notable players. In mid season they traded (DE) Jason Babin to the Jacksonville Jaguars. However they added (S) Patrick Chung, (CB) Bradley Fletcher, (NT) Isaac Sopoaga, (OLB) Connor Barwin, (S) Kenny Phillips, (CB) Carey Williams, and (OLB) Jason Phillips. In the draft they added (DT) Bennie Logan, (S) Earl Wolff, (DE/OLB) Joe Kruger, (DE) David King, and (CB) Jordan Poyer. They also traded for (DE) Clifton Geathers from the Colts as well as trading for (OLB) Sam Acho from the Browns.
The defensive front is going to be switching its assignments between a 3-4 look and a 4-3 look and same with the linebackers. The only players on the defensive line that have experience with the 3-4 are Sopoaga, Cox, Geathers, and Square. So the 3-4 is going to be a big learning curve for these other players. At the linebacker level you have Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, and Phillip Hunt learning the 3-4 for the first time in their pro career too. The secondary is completely new and are figured to run more man than zone. One thing the Eagles got away from in the past two years was blitzing. They used to be ranked in the top 5 in the NFL blitzing percentage under Jim Johnson, which has been attributed to the Eagles strong defensive play over his tenure as defensive coordinatior.
Players to watch on the defensive line are: Vinny Curry, Antonio Dixon, and Cedric Thornton.
These players will all be learning a new technique and seeing how well they adapt will dictate whether they make the team or not. Dixon already has the size to play nose tackle while Thornton is undersized for the nose tackle position and will need to add weight. Curry is also undersized for an end but he has a lot of potential and the Eagles may look to either trade him or give him more time.
Players to watch at the linebackers are: Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, and Jake Knott.
Cole is the veteran who now finds himself needing to impress and learn a new scheme to make the team unlike earlier years. Graham started to come on towards the end of the year last year when he was starting. He too will have to adapt to a new formation, but it is said that he has a better understanding of the 3-4 than Cole which should help him. Jake Knott is an un-drafted free agent out of Iowa State. He flows to the ball very well as a sideline to sideline tackler. He plays with an attitude that energizes the team. At the very least expect this kid to contribute often on special teams.
Players to watch in the secondary are: Earl Wolff, Jordan Poyer, and Brandon Boykin.
Boykin is a natural slot corner but he is looking to earn that starting spot. He is able to stay with almost any receiver he is matched up with but needs to become more consistent if he wants to start. Poyer was the 7th round pick who fell in this years draft for some reasons. Poyer had great production in college and most draft experts had him going as high as the 3rd round. Earl Wolff has great athletic ability. He knows what he’s doing in the secondary and is able to make tackles.
As I have said before this is gong to be a totally new thing for most of these players. A lot of these guys are young. The defense can’t be much worse than it was last year or the year before, can they? In fact one could say we are going to be better an hopefully they continue to progress through the season into next year. It’s a new era, it will need patience but non the less it should be exciting to watch.