Davis on New Eagles’ D: It’s a Huge Learning Curve

Billy Davis is well aware that there is no quick fix for the Eagles’ defense.

But he also knows that fans don’t want to hear excuses.

“We’ve done a complete roster flip defensively pretty much,” Davis said. “I mean there’s a huge roster change and then there’s a scheme change. We’re not going to run the Wide-9 4-3. I know that we’re moving away from that with players that were picked for that and were built for that. Now we’re kind of re-training that, so this year’s absolutely the hardest transition year we’re going to have.”

There are several spots to be won or lost, but the defense could be looking at as many as six starters who weren’t even on the roster last year (Connor Barwin, Isaac Sopoaga, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips).

In other words, there are going to be bumps in the road. That’s inevitable. But in the NFL, we often see teams go from below .500 to playoff contenders in one year. Davis knows the fan base will expect to see improvements in 2013 after last season’s embarrassing display.

“I know this,” Davis said. “When the season hits, nobody wants to hear any excuses or anything. They want to see good defensive play. Right now, we have our head down as a collective staff and players and are working our tail off.”

In addition to the new starters, holdovers from last year’s squad are learning a new scheme and new roles. The focus has been on Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, who are going from 4-3 defensive ends to 3-4 outside linebackers. Davis said he’s been pleased with the way the two players are transitioning.

“I think it’s been outstanding,” he said. “When you take the guys that have had their hand in the dirt and you expose them to dropping into coverage at times, the biggest thing is training their eyes and where to look. When your hand’s in the dirt, there’s not a whole lot to look at. There’s only a couple keys and they’re right up on you. When you stand somebody up, they drop, they have to see more keys. And they’re doing a great job.”

Davis was quick to point out that the coaches are still in fact-finding mode and haven’t even had a chance to see the players in pads yet. The outside linebackers have been playing the right and left sides instead of strong side and weak side.

It might not stay that way once the season starts, though.

“The degree of difficulty right now is at its all-time high,” Davis said. “And they’re embracing it and doing a great job with it. Whether their hands are down or up, whatever mode we’re in, they’re learning it the hard way. And already you can tell, the comfort level with the way coach runs the practice and the amount of reps we get, with reps, come comfort. With knowledge of what you’re supposed to do, they’re relaxing more and you can see a big improvement.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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