Kelly Talks 3-4, 4-3, Graham’s Role

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 “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.”

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  • Adam

    “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.”

    Sounds like Dion.

    • Todd Orange

      If he is there…

  • JofreyRice

    Versatility and flexibility are fine, but conventional wisdom says these players need to have some defined roles and responsibilities; seems weird they’re just basically throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks with these guys, haven’t they studied the tape to get a sense of their abilities? Unless their base set is going to be an amoeba look, these guys have to hone in one skillset that fits what Davis asking them to do, and then practice it.

    I’d say I think it’s going to be a long season for the D as they adjust, but I’m not sure it could get much worse than last year, so I’ll bite my tongue and hope Kelly & Davis know what they’re doing. Right now, they’re not inspiring a lot of confidence.

    • Capt. Undapants

      It’s only April…

      • SBeast

        I would agree. I know we’re not known as a fan base for having patience, but for christ sake they’ve had one day of mini camps in April and we’re still days away from the draft. They’re basically rebuilding an entire defense and we still have no idea who they plan on adding through the draft. Pump the breaks. Sit back and enjoy this portion of the NFL off season. Make your judgements in October or November and even then remember that this is a work in progress. We’re a year or two away from regaining form. If it turns around sooner all the better. Fly Eagles Fly!!!

        • JofreyRice

          Opining on this stuff is part of the fun.

          • SBeast

            I feel you. It’s just hard to have an opinion when we have no idea what the plan is. We’ll have a better idea in two weeks. Excited for the draft.

    • Adam

      I think this is more of a case of Chip being vague with the media. When you hire an inside and outside LB coach, along with the FA signings, it’s pretty clear we’re making a switch to some sort of a 3-4, or at the very least a hybrid of sorts.

      At the same time though, there is going to be some uncertainty. Chip can watch all the tape he wants of Graham and Cole lined up as a 4-3 DE in the Wide 9, but it’s not going to help him completely figure out 100% if he can be an outside linebacker. At the end of the day he needs to see these guys on the field to see what they can do.

      Does Chip honestly strike you as a guy that’s just going to wing anything? In my opinion, I’d say Chip has a clear cut idea of what he wants to see in his defense. All this wait-and-see and vagueness has more to do with him trying to figure out if the left over pieces (Cole, Graham, Curry etc) fit into that picture. The signing of Barwin, a guy that can play the Predator or SAM role in this defense, shows me that Chip isn’t just going to “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks”, it shows me that he’s got contingencies in place depending on how the holdovers from Andy turn out.

      Plus, it’s April man. Chip has only been allowed to talk football with the guys for like what, a little over two weeks now? Let’s have some patience. It would be very unwise for him to come out and say “here’s the exact defense we’re going to run, and here is who will be playing what position and here’s where they are in the depth chart”. He’s not going to paint himself into a corner.

      • JofreyRice

        If he’s just being vague with the media, that’s ok–if just frustrating as a fan. The fact that he hasn’t committed to a scheme, and now is apparently just getting a sense of what the players can do athletically makes it seem a bit more than that. That makes me a little nervous about getting the most of what talent there is on the roster. If they are going to have any shot of succeeding in a new scheme, they need to know what positions they’ll be playing.

        Projecting fit based on observable athletic traits is not witchcraft–it’s basically what every personnel office does in the draft every year. Robert Griffin & Andrew Luck didn’t come in and run the same offense they ran in college, they had elements incorporated, but were asked to do other things their teams felt they could do based on watching the film of them.

        For recent turnaround stories, when Harbaugh came into the 49ers org, he brought Stanfords power run offense with him, and immediately started installing it. Whatever talent he had on offense had to understand, adjust, and execute; and the talent he had was much better than what the Eagles have got here. You can have all the fancy schemes and packages you want, but at the end of the day, you have to commit to some philosophy–you’re not reinventing your defense every week. To go back to the 49ers they are basically a very plain 1 gap 3-4 stunting defense that’s executed really well. They basically just interchanged Sopoaga & Culliver (The Nickel back), and go out and play.

        I think a lot of folks are taking the In Chip We Trust approach. Optimism is a prerequisite for some fans, but I’m a little resistant to that kind of mentality. I’ll trust in Chip as a pro coach when I see some results. I’m not saying I’ll hop on the bandwagon after he hoists a Lombardi, but I want to see him get the team moving in the right direction–there will be signs if it’s happening. Right now, we’re watching him make the sausage. Commenting, projecting and opining on how it’s going to turn out is fun for me.

        • Adam

          You’re all over the map here… Just because Chip hasn’t come out and said what his scheme is doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one in place. It may be frustrating as a fan but do you think that concerns him at all? If you watched any of Chip’s pressers, you can see that he feels absolutely no need to fill anyone in the media or fans in on what his plans are. It’s just the way he operates, he did it in Oregon and will clearly do it here in Philly. That’s just life, and you’ll have to read a bit more between the lines to figure out what he’s doing, because he’s not going to explain it to us.

          I’m not sure how you can compare projecting Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, who have been in the NFL for a few seasons, switching not only SCHEMES but also POSITIONS…. to rookie QB’s coming into the league? That’s not even comparing apples to oranges. That’s apples to staplers.

          The Harbaugh vs Chip comparison I’m also not sure what point you’re trying to make. I think it’s been pretty obvious to everyone that Chip has been bringing his fast paced read option offense to the NFL and has been installing it since day one.. just like Harbaugh. First part of your paragraph you talk about him bringing his offense, then you switch to talking about his simple defense? How do you know Chip’s defense will or will not be simple? and who says it has to be simple? You completely lost me once again.

          I understand you don’t like the optimist approach, but to be this pessimistic after 1 day of voluntary mini camp, 2 weeks after a brand new NFL coach has been allowed to talk to his players, is just a bit much. Way too small of a sample size to making judgement calls.

          • JofreyRice

            Isn’t reading between the lines what I’m doing here? He’s figuring out if Brandon Graham can drop in coverage, so that leads me to believe he’s not sure where or how he’ll fit. I don’t expect him to release his defensive playbook in a PDF but to say the basic front they’ll be playing is far from that; many analysts, writers and Eagles bloggers have said as much, I’m not really breaking any new ground here.

            They’re in position to possibly add a blue chip player in the draft in a week, right? Hopefully a top 5 pick is not something we’re going to be debating every year. You want to pick a guy that can really help, and defense needs a lot more help than the offense. Having a clear assessment of what you’ve got, and how you’re going to use it is kind of key to that. Like I said above, maybe it is all obfuscation, but if it isn’t, it’s a little alarming.

            Players project to roles in schemes based on athletic traits. If you can’t see the point I’m making with QB as an example, pick a different guy from the draft last year and plug him in. Melvin Ingram played DE/DT at S.Car and was drafted to play OLB for the Chargers. It happens literally every April.

            Once again, you missed the forest for the trees with the comparison to Harbaugh–it was about philosophy, not specific comparison of scheme to scheme. Harbaugh’s O had specific roles & responsibilities associated with it. In my opinion, in order for Davis/Kelly’s defense to be successful, it has to have some similar formal definition–it can’t be some collection of athletes playing nebulous positions; you seemed to agree with this idea, but explained it by saying Chip playing it close to the vest.

            I’ve been fairly critical of the moves they’ve made in terms of personnel since Chip took over. We’re looking at this from different perspectives. You want to give Chip and Davis the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to remain skeptical; I think being skeptical is a far cry from being a pessimist. Not once have I said Chip or his schemes (offense or defense) are doomed to fail, which is a closer definition of pessimism.

    • Mike Hartwell

      Kind of tough to evaluate graham as he dropped into coverage once last year…

    • Erdessy

      Of course they have watched the tape. The problem is the players had their defined responsibilities last year in a 4-3 so there is not a lot of tape showing what they can do in a 3-4 or a 3-4 hybrid. You need to get them out there to see and yesterday was the first practice. I love the fact he is looking at each player with a blank slate and is not using how they have been used in the past as a template moving forward. I also like how he wants to see if the best guys are versatile so he can keep them on the field for more plays.

      On Chip watching tape. Chip is known as the coaching equivalent of a gym rat. He is not married and has no kids. All he does is think football 24/7 and sleeps in the office often. It may not work out but it won’t be for a lack of effort or planning.

    • Erdessy

      Of Course they have watched the tape. The problem is the players had their defined roles last year in a 4-3 so there is not a lot of tape showing what they can do in a 3-4 or 3-4 hybrid. You need to get them out there to see what they can do and yesterday was the first practice. I love the fact that he is looking at each player with a blank slate and is not using how they have been used in the past as a template for moving forward. I also like like how he wants to see if his best players are versatile so he can keep them on the filed for more plays.

      On Chip watching tape. Chip is known for being the coaching equivalent of a gym rat. he is not married and has no kids. All he does is think football 24/7 and sleeps in the office often. It may not work out but it won’t be for a lack of effort or planning.

      • cliff henny

        at end of press conference he made a crack about practices being closed and not having to deal with reporters, wasting his time since he had film to watch.

    • Richard Colton

      Graham came into his own as a player in 2012, and he only dropped into coverage once. Doesn’t suggest to me that there’s a whole lot of film there. Cole did it more under McDermot – if memory serves me right. I’m ok with figuring out who can do what in training camp and OTAs. Hell, even the 2013 season. Just as long as the D consistently improves.

      • JofreyRice

        Yeah, that’s right. Graham did it a bit in 2010 as well, as well as rushing from the inside. JJ’s scheme had those guys doing a lot of different things in the 4-3 version of a fire-zone. PFF has Graham down for 22 drops in coverage in 2010, Cole 42 times. Graham was also considered to possibly be a 3-4 OLB because of his lack of height, in the mold of Lamarr Woodley when he came out of Michigan.

  • ftotheyu

    Some of the things coach Kelly says should be taken with a grain of salt, and I can totally understand. I can’t imagine coming in here on first day of practice and basically showing all of your cards for the entire league to see (via the media). That’d be stupid.

  • Roasty

    Dawkins needs to be on the sideline of every practice

    • cliff henny

      he needed to be in pads the last 2 years! can you imagine Nnamdi flailing his arms at weapon X? not sure what Dawk would have done, but i’d been first in line to bail him out of jail

  • sig

    Love that Dawk was there! Not sure if it was Chip’s idea, or if Dawkins asked to be there, but regardless it was a fantastic move.