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What's In A Name For Defense?

Posted May 23, 2013

We want to know what Bill Davis has planned for the defense, whether we can label this a "4-3 under" or a "3-4" or a "4-3" front. Does it matter, anyway? ...

Bill Davis and the Eagles' assistant coaching staff spent an hour on Thursday talking to the media, and the reporters came armed with the hope of discovering something about the schemes and about what the coaches have learned about their players in the time the Organized Team Activities have been live at the NovaCare Complex.

Davis, of course, was a focal point. Other than the repeated attempts to pry from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur or quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor on who the starter will be at the quarterback position -- no success, by the way -- the person of highest interest was Davis, the long-time NFL coach who is entrusted with turning the Eagles back into what we all remember so fondly.

"A Philadelphia Eagles defense," said Davis. "Aggressive, taking the ball away and making big plays. Being physical. Being proud and playing like a team. That's what it's all about."

That's what we want to see, right? The Eagles need to get back to "nasty" on defense after too many seasons of being ineffective taking the football away and having too many breakdowns in the red zone.

About the scheme? Well, if you must know, Davis was asked about 40 times if the Eagles are going to run a 4-3 or a 3-4 or something in between.

"Multiple is the best way of saying it, and I know you guys are tired of hearing about it," said Davis. "What we're doing here, guys, is we're taking that Wide 9, 4-3 and we're moving in the direction of the 3-4, but where we stop has yet to be determined by the players we have.

"We're not eluding the question. I'm not trying to. But that really is the fact of maximizing the players we have and what they do best."

So what Davis is saying is that he remains in the teaching phase and the discovery phase as the defensive coordinator, and that he understands that the Eagles aren't going to truly know what they have on defense, and what they are on defense, until the regular season begins at Fed Ex Field against the Redskins.

Geez, the pads aren't even on right now, so how much can Davis judge Trent Cole in his new role, which appears to be as an edge rusher in space who may also drop into coverage? How does Davis know about any of the players who played here in 2012 with the Wide 9 front, who were drafted and acquired to fit that and who now have to assimilate into this evolving defense.

Davis said the defense has been taught the entire playbook 1 1/2 times in the OTAs, and that much of what the players learned only skimmed the surface of what it means to get from Point A to Point D, the football. Between now and September the players will come to understand better how important Points B and C are to reaching Point D.

LB Mychal Kendricks

"Right now we're in complete teach-and-learn mode. We're running in space, in shorts, in t-shirts and we're learning," said Davis, who will call the defensive signals "probably" from the coaching press box, but who will try doing it both from the field and from the box until he hammers down his decision. "We're getting coached and we're learning new techniques. We're evaluating how coachable they are."

The coaches are also evaluating how the pieces fit into projections. Trent Cole's role has changed, and he has to make different reads and adjust to a new scheme. Can Davis put Cole into position as an edge rusher -- in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 -- to get to the quarterback and become a double-digit sackster again? Is Fletcher Cox a blossoming star along the defensive line? Are the linebackers able to be versatile and explosive and make plays? Can the new-look secondary be aggressive and physical and more consistent than it was a year ago when the Eagles allowed 26 touchdown passes in the final 10 games of the season? Is second-year man Mychal Kendricks a key player to unlock in the middle of the defense at linebacker?

Every offense is going to give the Eagles different looks, and so the Eagles have to be versatile and the defense has to communicate well and play as a great "fit."

Right now, Davis is just giving his players the concepts, the overview, the first few layers of the playbook and then he will gradually prepare his troops for September 9 and the Redskins, a game Davis says is the defense's "starting point."

We are all caught up in the interest of labeling the defense based on its front, and so maybe in the big picture it doesn't matter a bit. What matters is winning football games, no matter how. What matters is creating chemistry and a winning, confident attitude and personality as the defense learns together.

Davis spoke during his time with the media on Thursday of the late, great Jim Johnson and his impact on the Eagles. The truth is that while Johnson was known as a blitzing madman, as an X's and O's genius, the brilliance of his method was that his disguise was real.

"He did a great job of keeping offenses off balance through pressure, illusion of pressure and non-pressure," said Davis. "And you need all elements to attack an offense."

There isn't much more in the fact department here. Davis has the task of restoring the Eagles to greatness on a side of the football that hasn't been the same since Johnson passed away and since Brian Dawkins signed with Denver following the 2008 season.

There are a bunch of new faces and there are holdovers that Davis says he is excited to see in the new scheme. Really, Davis has nothing negative to say about any of his players right now because they are all working hard and learning the new language and methodology of what Davis and his coaches are installing.

"The mentality of the defense we take out on the field is going to make all the difference for us," said Davis. "All I can evaluate now is that we have players who love the game and who love to work and who prepare to win. That's all I can ask for right now. That's all I can speak to at this juncture."

When will we know about the defense? Sorry to disappoint, because we all want answers before it happens, but Davis is a realist and knows that the opening game is when it will all start to become clear. Until then, it's about teaching and repetition and evaluating and working together in small bites every day.

"That's about what it is," said Davis. "We're practicing the right way. The guys are learning. They're still in shorts. I understand there is only so much to read into right now. That part wiill come. Right now, we're just trying to grow together."

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