Bill Davis: Secondary Will Be Tested Monday
As Bill Davis and the Eagles approach the regular season opener Monday, the defensive coordinator is dealing with a hand full of new players and shuffled positions.
Between three new starters in the secondary, a few ill-timed injuries, and a defensive lineman playing linebacker, Davis has been tasked with making each of his pieces fit. After today’s practice, the third-year coach said he feels good about the makeup of his defense—for now.
“I’m excited about the hand we’re holding right now,” Davis said. “Monday night will tell us our starting point.”
His first-team defense allowed a total of three points in three first-quarter shifts during the preseason against the Colts, Ravens and Packers.
Brett Hundley and the Packers scored 14 points in the second quarter, but by that point a number of starters had left the game for the Eagles.
As expected, the big-name players made big plays in the preseason. Connor Barwin piled up eight tackles in limited playing time, Byron Maxwell picked up an interception, and Walter Thurmond tallied two.
But come Monday night, the game will be won—or lost—behind the big names, where it becomes Davis’s job to make sure the right personnel play the right positions.
With guys like Thurmond, that’s meant changing positions out of necessity—and for strategic purposes. In the defensive back’s case, the Eagles simply didn’t have a better player to take the safety position alongside Malcolm Jenkins.
Thurmond played the best in the preseason, and won the starting job right away. But Thurmond isn’t locked into the starting safety position. There’s a chance that Eric Rowe, who had a shaky preseason at cornerback, could wind up seeing time at safety, where some believe he fits better.
Davis pointed out that the entire Eagles secondary cross-trained at both cornerback and safety this summer. It’s all by design, he said.
“Everybody comes through the door through the corner door,” Davis said. “We start from there, and then we grow you to where your skill set takes you. How much nickel can you play? Do you have the safety ability? E.J. Biggers still has safety ability, so he’s another guy that we cross-trained.
“As we go through this, we’re cross-training and trying to make sure that we’ve got flexibility through a long season, absorbing injuries and finding who the best fit is, week to week.”
This week, against an Atlanta team that likes to throw the ball a lot, the cross-trained secondary will be the focal point for many watching.
“They’re a deep-ball team, anyway, so our thing we’re preaching about how we’re going to keep the X-ball off of us, it’s going to be tested,” Davis said. “They’re a max-protect, vertical-throwing team, and they take their shots. They’re going to block it all up, and we’ve got to hold up back there. We will be tested, no matter what coverage we’re in.”
The Eagles released their injury report after practice today, saying Zach Ertz (groin) and Marcus Smith (hamstring) were both limited.