Eagles Wake-Up Call: Donahoe Helps With 3-4 Transition

Tom Donahoe has experience finding players for a 3-4 scheme.

Now the Eagles’ senior football advisor, Donahoe was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ director of football operations from 1991 to 1999. In the summer of 1992, defensive backs coach Dick LeBeau and defensive coordinator Dom Capers were installing their zone blitz scheme under new head coach Bill Cowher.

“It was really fun because my room at [training camp site] Saint Vincent College was right across the hall from Coach Capers,” Donahoe recalled. “And he and Dick LeBeau were in there, they were like two mad scientists. They were in there all the time just talking about different looks to create to give the offense trouble and protections, what schemes would work better against those protections. Coach LeBeau had really done a lot of it at Cincinnati even before he came to Pittsburgh. So I think he educated Coach Capers and Coach Cowher about how the zone blitz really could work.”

That coaching staff also included 26-year-old Billy Davis – then defensive quality control coach, now the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. As we’ve written about at length, Davis’ defensive philosophy was influenced greatly by those early days in Pittsburgh. He even showed Eagles’ defensive linemen film of the Steelers during the spring.

But Davis and Chip Kelly have acknowledged that the move towards a two-gap 3-4 might be gradual, depending on personnel. Howie Roseman,Donahoe and the Eagles’ personnel staff have added pieces this offseason, but there’s still plenty of work to do.

“As we’re trying to transition to it, we’ve gotta get the right personnel in place to be able to do it as good as we want to do it,” Donahoe said. “We’ve made strides this offseason through the draft, but it’s gonna take us time to see how everything fits together.”

Up front, the Eagles added nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and defensive linemen Bennie Logan and Clifton Geathers. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are making the switch to outside linebacker, and the team also signed Connor Barwin.

“The secondary’s maybe not as position-specific for the 3-4, but those front seven guys, you’ve gotta get guys that are physical,” Donahoe said. “You’ve gotta get guys that are good against the run. You’ve gotta get outside ‘backers that can stop the run, that can rush the passer. So there’s a certain position-specific, particularly for those front seven guys, and as we evolve toward that, our defense will just keep getting better and better.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Abbreviated practice notes and observations.

Really interesting take from Cary Williams on Riley Cooper.

Kelly admits that Cooper’s comments could divide the locker room.

“He’s looked at differently,” says LeSean McCoy.

In his Twitter Mailbag, T-Mac talks about Michael Vick’s role in the Cooper saga.

Meet Alec Halaby, a 26-year-old Harvard grad with an analytics background whose influence in the Eagles’ front office is growing.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane talked to some anonymous players about Cooper:

Another veteran Eagles player said that he could not get past Cooper using the n-word and that he didn’t think he would ever speak to him again. “The coaches are saying we should think team first, but this is just crazy,” the player said. “Was he thinking about the team when he said that?”

Jason Whitlock of FoxSports.com doesn’t think the Cooper situation will divide the locker room:

Cooper’s transgression isn’t much of a locker-room issue for the Eagles. There are bigots of every color on sports teams. The beauty of sports is that teams force participants to put aside their biases and work together. Working together is different from liking or respecting each other.

Cooper isn’t a coach or executive with the power to hire and fire people based on his racial biases. Cooper is a player. He’s a 25-year-old kid with immature thoughts. His teammates will move on as long as he plays at a high level.

COMING UP

Practice this afternoon. We’ll have it covered.

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