Funny, Juan Castillo was the least talked-about man at the NovaCare facilities this week. While Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid and Michael Vick were taking arrows, and DeMeco Ryans and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were being praised, Castillo quietly slipped into the backdrop.
He offers so little at his press conferences, terrified of giving away anything that could help the opposition, that some reporters have given up on the exercise altogether, opting instead to visit the locker room in search of a more willing dance partner. So Castillo sits on stage in front of a modest gathering, speaks about exactly nothing for a few minutes, and then makes his way out of the auditorium and back behind the scenes.
After a year of public struggles and endless criticism, this is undoubtedly the preferred existence. A down effort against the Ravens will bring some of the heat back, but internally there is a sense that the situation has stabilized. The players have noticed a different Juan Castillo in Year Two, and it has had a ripple effect.
The Cleveland Browns got an offensive boost Monday with the return of rookie running back Trent Richardson.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Richardson worked in with the first unit and looked healthy doing so. The former Alabama standout and No. 3 overall pick in the draft had his knee scoped about a month ago. Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson are also in the running back mix. Head coach Pat Shurmur said that Richardson will be the starter if he is ready to go, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Dealer.
Juan Castillo‘s unit ranked 16th against the run last season, yielding 113 yards per game.
The Eagles open with the Browns in Cleveland on Sunday.
Luckily, though, our boy McManus was able to ask the owner about the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. And his response was telling.
Is Lurie comfortable with Castillo? Does he feel he is the right man for the job?
The intention of the players surveyed, of course, is to heap praise on their new secondary coach. It is plain to see that Bowles has made believers out of the Eagles defensive backs in short order.
“His knowledge of the game is by far the best that I have been around as far as the back end, and I’ve had some pretty good coaches,” said Brandon Hughes.
“Brandon’s on a mission,” Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said today. “You can ask him, and he’ll tell you the same thing. He’s on a mission. We expect some good things from Brandon. But he’s in a dogfight, just like all of them. It’s tough to keep 12 of them.”
It’s not difficult to find stories about rookies looking great in camp, players who have had great offseasons and coaches vowing to make adjustments in the year ahead.
But every now and then, it’s important to look at the past.
So without further ado, here are five things to remember about the Eagles’ defense – some good, some bad – with an eye on the upcoming season.
Tra Thomas kept it together for about 57 seconds.
Officially retiring as an Eagle at the Novacare Complex today, he watched a short highlight video of his time with the Birds before stepping to the podium.
He thanked owner Jeffrey Lurie, talked about transitioning from a defensive end to an offensive tackle in college and remembered when the Eagles drafted him in 1998.
But then Thomas got to his coach, Andy Reid.
But since an NCAA rule prohibited Harris (Oregon) from participating in spring practices, he’s still playing catch-up.
“Cliff is a competitor,” defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said today. “He is still learning our system. The hard thing is that when you miss those OTAs, it’s hard, so he is just trying to get a complete understanding [of the defense]. In the classroom, he understands the scheme, but when it is going fast, I think that is the part in time he will get better and better at.”
On one of the first plays today, Nnamdi Asomugha lined up inside against backup tight end Chase Ford. Last year, playing Asmougha inside was simple because the Eagles had Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside. But Samuel’s gone, and the new wrinkle today was that Curtis Marsh lined up outside at right cornerback.
Marsh, a third-round pick in 2011, played only 13 defensive snaps as a rookie. But with Samuel gone, he’s looking to fill a bigger role in his second season.
“We rotate. We have different guys that do different things well. It’s by gameplan,” Marsh said.
Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles sat just a few feet from one another under the field-side tent Tuesday, one entertaining questions about the other during a media session with reporters.
It is easy to paint a picture where Bowles’ shadow creeps into Castillo’s personal space. He is the rising star, after all, the man coming off several head coaching interviews after taking over the Dolphins down the stretch of the 2011 season. The Temple alum was a defensive back in the NFL for eight seasons, and has been coaching that side of the ball in the bigs since 2000. You get the sense that it is about his time.
We all know Castillo’s story and the tale of the lost season, where the defense had to put together a late push just to finish 29th in red zone success. There was a whole lot of learning on the job, and it cost them. Things improved down the stretch and the defense vaulted to eighth overall statistically. But if this team stumbles out of the gate, won’t this fan base be calling immediately for a changing of the guard?