When Billy Davis met with reporters back in the spring, he used words like multiple to describe his scheme. He also made one point repeatedly: The Eagles’ defense would bear little or no resemblance to the unit that took the field last year.
“We’re not going to run the Wide-9 4-3,” Davis said. “I know that we’re moving away from that with players that were picked for that and were built for that.”
In 2011 and 2012, all aspects of the defense started with the four pass-rushers up front. But the days of defensive ends lining up out wide, pinning their ears back and attacking the quarterback on every down are over. The Eagles have switched to a 3-4, and the defensive linemen will now be expected to do a fair share of the dirty work, freeing up the linebackers to make plays.
The roster turnover has been dramatic. Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Derek Landri and Darryl Tapp are gone. Brandon Graham, Trent Cole and Phillip Hunt have made the switch to outside linebacker.
In free agency, the Eagles added nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who has already been described as the leader of this group. And they spent a third-round pick on LSU’s Bennie Logan.
The pressing question: Where does Vinny Curry fit in?
The 2012 second-round pick did not make the switch to outside linebacker in the spring. Instead, he bulked up and got reps at defensive end, mostly with the second team.
Curry’s had to deal with unfavorable circumstances so far. He’s only played 89 snaps in the league, per Pro Football Focus, yet he’s already on his third defensive line coach. He’ll have to prove this summer that he’s a fit in his new role. If that doesn’t happen, there’s at least a chance that the Eagles part ways with Curry before the regular season.
Don’t be surprised if…
Cox has a Pro Bowl season. He was impressive on tape as a rookie and showed consistent improvement, even as the defense was falling apart around him.
Davis has said repeatedly that he will scheme around his talent, and Cox is the most gifted player he has to work with. The ceiling for the 2012 first-round pick is high. It’ll be up to the coaches to find a way to unleash him.
Roster battles to watch
The locks to make the roster are Cox, Sopoaga, Logan and Thornton. Beyond that, spots are up for grabs.
Rookies Joe Kruger (seventh round), David King (seventh round) and Damion Square (undrafted) obviously fit the Chip Kelly mold since he’s the guy who drafted them. They’ll battle for spots against veterans like Curry, Clifton Geathers and Antonio Dixon.
As far as starters go, pencil Cox and Sopoaga in. The other DE spot is up for grabs. Based on spring ball, it looks like Thornton is the favorite.
The Eagles will likely use a rotation up front, so whoever makes the final 53-man roster should expect to see the field on gamedays.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Love for Nick Foles and a “rude awakening” for Jason Peters in our latest national media roundup.
How much hitting will there be? Where will players sleep? Kelly recently revealed training camp details.
“We’re not revolutionizing anything,” says Kelly. The coach explains his philosophy on communication.
Kelly explains why he made the decision to bring Michael Vick back.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
SI.com’s Stewart Mandel released a list of his top-10 college coaches. He addressed where he’d have Kelly ranked if he were still at Oregon:
You’d be hard-pressed to find many college coaches who enjoyed a better four-year run than Kelly’s stint at Oregon, which included a 46-7 record, four BCS bowls, three Pac-12 titles and a national championship game appearance. Plus, he was one of the sport’s greatest innovators in recent memory. I’d have a hard time placing Kelly above two coaches, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, with multiple national titles, or above Chris Petersen, who has a similarly gaudy record with far fewer resources. So Kelly would have landed at No. 4.
In a PhiladelphiaEagles.com piece, Tommy Lawlor explains why he thinks the team will be better against the run:
Beyond the front seven, the defense will be better against the run for a couple of reasons. First is scheme. The wide nine front put tremendous pressure on the defensive backs. They weren’t just part of run support. They were tasked with being primary run defenders. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis watched 2012 tape and talked about how difficult it must have been for safeties to come up and cover the A and B gaps. This doesn’t happen in most schemes.
The other big help to the run defense is the acquisition of Patrick Chung￼. He is a bigger, stronger and more physical safety than Kurt Coleman￼, the player he’s competing with for a starting spot. No one would ever question Coleman’s effort. Chung is a better tackler and can be an impact hitter. When he comes down into the box, he can make a real difference.
Rookies report a week from today. So many storylines, so little time.