February 18, 2013
— Only after Billy Davis figures out his current personnel will the Philadelphia Eagles' new defensive coordinator begin to assemble his base package.
All he can say for now is that "we'll be multiple. ... I know it's a vague answer, I know that. Everybody wants to know — is it a 3-4 or is it a 4-3? I wouldn't be a very good coach if I just said, 'It's a 3-4.' It's who we have and what we can do with that. And if it's a 3-4, then it will be. If not, then it won't be."
All Eagles fans can do for now is keep their fingers crossed.
Davis' track record in his two previous jobs as defensive coordinator is not encouraging. He lasted just two seasons in San Francisco and two in Arizona. His squads in both stops often failed spectacularly.
Davis was the linebackers coach for the Cardinals' Super Bowl team of 2008, but when he was elevated to coordinator the following season, the team began a decline that eventually led to his exit, followed by head coach Ken Whisenhunt two seasons later.
The Cardinals went 10-6 in '09 but gave up 90 points in just two playoff games that season. They followed up in '10 by going 5-11 while allowing a staggering 434 points. Only three teams gave up more. They gave up 373.6 yards per game, fourth worst in the league.
By contrast, the Eagles were never close to being that poor last season under Juan Castillo, who was fired after six games, The unit then completely fell apart, placing all but a few starting jobs in jeopardy for 2013.
"When you talk about yards stats, the No. 1 stat I'm concerned with here is points allowed, and we will constantly grind on points allowed," Davis said. "In my past I've had good stats and I've had bad stats, like most people. I have no excuses for any of them. Everywhere I've been I've had good people I've learned lessons from. And I think I've gotten better because of it and it's something I'm bringing to the Eagles now."
What he'll have to work with is unclear, because it's not unreasonable to think the Eagles could feature as many as seven new starters.
The entire secondary could be replaced, and if they go to a 3-4, they likely will have two new players starting alongside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. That's assuming the team is still willing to pay Ryans $6.6 million this year.
Their defensive line is an even bigger mystery. Mike Patterson, due $2.9 million, might not be back. Ditto for Cullen Jenkins and his $4.5 million. Darryl Tapp and Derek Landri already are gone.
So projecting what the Eagles defense might look like by opening day is almost 100 percent guesswork.
Nevertheless, there's certain things we can reasonably expect.
•Fletcher Cox, a solid performer after being drafted in the first round last year, will be a key member of the defensive line. He'll be inside in a 4-3 but probably outside in a 3-4. His 5.5 sacks are the third most by an Eagles rookie.
•Defensive end Brandon Graham is ready and, according to him, able to make the switch to outside linebacker if the Eagles change their system. "I'm gonna be gettin' after it," he said with his usual smile a day after their season ended.
•Linebacker Mychal Kendricks will be counted on to continue with the promising play he showed as a rookie, first on the strong side, then on the weak side. In a 3-4, he likely will remain on the outside, weak side, where he will be free to do a variety of things without having to worry about a blocker being on him right away.
•Defensive end Vinny Curry will contribute somehow. Like Cox and Kendricks, he also showed too much promise as a rookie to simply be discarded as someone who can't fit a particular system.
"The fronts, the alignments, the schemes are not necessarily overrated," inside linebackers coach Rick Minter said, "but in some ways they are. It all equals 11. It's how good can we be about allowing points, what are we going to do to get the ball?
"If we could stand everybody up across the front and just say 'let's play radar defense,' but we knew how to get the ball, knew how to tackle, not give up 'X' plays and keep people from scoring, everybody would be pretty happy, regardless of who had their hand in the dirt."
For now, everything remains on the table.
"We're marrying into a family that's a 4-3," Minter said. "So if that turns out that's what we need to do, we'll probably do that."
•The secondary will have a different look. Both of last year's starting cornerbacks, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, could be out of the picture as starters by as early as the first minicamp, which this year comes before the draft. Ditto for safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman.
Figuring the Eagles will be most active in this offseason with the business of adding to their secondary, linebacking corps and defensive line, in that order, Davis, general manager Howie Roseman and new vice president of personnel Tom Gamble will have their work cut out for them in identifying and getting all the projected new talent up to speed.
If the offense works out the way Kelly thinks it can, this unit will not need to be great. Competent would work just fine.
Just getting to that level, however, is going to require some major overtime and a little bit of luck over these next few months.
Copyright © 2013, The Morning Call