Brandon Graham dropped back into coverage once during the entire 2012 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Trent Cole? Three times.
Fletcher Cox most often lined up at defensive tackle in a four-man front. Vinny Curry barely saw the field.
So while Chip Kelly, defensive coordinator Billy Davis and the rest of the Eagles’ coaching staff have spent a considerable amount of time watching players on film, they’ve known all along the importance of finally getting them on the practice fields.
“That’s what this process for us in terms of evaluating those guys from an athletic standpoint and knowledge standpoint is part of that,” Kelly said. “And we did some three‑down spacing today, some four‑down spacing today. But we’re by no means dialed into this is what we’re going to do, because, again, it’s day one.”
That’s a big part of what this week’s three-day mini-camp is all about – continuing to evaluate the skill set of players on the Eagles’ roster.
As for scheme, there’s plenty to be determined. But all signs (the addition of nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, the hiring of an outside and inside linebacker coach) point to a 3-4 or some kind of hybrid.
“No. 1, it hinges on the players that we have,” Kelly said. “Then number two, it hinges on the situation of the game. There are no purists. No one runs a 3‑4 defense every single down. No one runs a 4-3 every single down. People have elements of both in there.”
The prevailing theme so far with Kelly on both sides of the ball has been versatility. He wants players with varied skill sets, who are capable of handling multiple responsibilities.
“If you’re going to nickel, or if you’re a 3‑4 team, who are you taking off the field if you’re bringing in that extra defensive back?” Kelly said. “But someone that has that versatility that can play in a three‑down front or four‑down front, that really helps. Can you be an outside linebacker and drop into coverage on first and second down and be a defensive end that rushes the quarterback on third down? So versatility is kind of the key to that.”
One of the more intriguing players to keep an eye on is Graham. He’s coming off his best season as a pro, but is expected to make a position change. Graham said a couple weeks ago that he’s dropping weight and preparing to play outside linebacker.
“Trying to see if Brandon is a guy that can drop and play good in coverage. Or is he more of a natural defensive end?” Kelly said. “That is more of what this process for us is about. Finally getting the chance to identify our talent on the defensive side of the ball and then put them in positions to make plays. If we really feel that Brandon can, then that’s another weapon that Billy [Davis] has to use in terms of what he can use defensively. But if we don’t think Brandon’s a great drop guy, then shame on us if we’re making him do that.”
Kelly has maintained all along that scheme on both sides of the ball will be personnel-based. And while the Eagles focused much of their free-agency efforts on defense, there are still more key pieces to be added during next week’s draft.
With the No. 4 pick, the team could take a look at Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan, Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei or Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd. And the team is likely to add secondary help at some point as well.
But for now, the process of determining what the players on the roster are capable of continues.
One more note on the defense. The Eagles’ first practice featured a special guest: Brian Dawkins.
“It’s a lot of movement, I think is going to be something for guys to get used to,” Dawkins told PhiladelphiaEagles.com. “A lot of reps for these guys. Some things, once again, to get used to, but I love the energy. Obviously, being new, guys are hopefully understanding they have to go out and earn some things, earn some positions.
“As soon as these guys buy in to what’s going on, the better off they’ll be.”