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Fan-Demonium: A Defense To Rep Philly

Posted Mar 12, 2016

The Eagles had quite an active first week of the new league year. They made a variety of moves that reshaped the team and brought a lot of enthusiasm from fans and even the media. I'm not sure the first week could have gone any better.

The trade of DeMarco Murray got a ton of attention. Likewise, the trade of Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso was a huge deal. It took away a projected pair of starters from the defense and moved the Eagles up to the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. The team signed guard Brandon Brooks, adding a young, massive player to upgrade the interior of the line.

I must admit that I was most excited by the moves on defense.

The Eagles signed cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. They added linebacker Nigel Bradham. The biggest piece was safety Rodney McLeod. McKelvin, Brooks and Bradham all played for new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Buffalo. McLeod came over from the Rams, who ran a similar scheme. Their defense was run by Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams, two men who mentored Schwartz when he worked for them in Tennessee.

We are not projecting the new players into roles and hoping they fit. The Eagles hoped Maxwell and Alonso would be impact starters when they acquired them a year ago. The problem is that both players had success in different types of systems than what the Eagles ran. Add in the complications of adjusting to Chip Kelly's up-tempo system and you can see where that was a tough transition for those players.

McKelvin, Brooks and Bradham all came to Philly in part because of Schwartz. They played well in his system back in 2014, with McKelvin and Bradham each having the best season of their careers. Of course they would want to play for that coach and in that system again. It is important to understand that the players didn't have fluky once-in-a-lifetime performances (such as quarterback Nick Foles in 2013). They played well and can repeat those performances. None of the former Bills is an impact defender. They didn't get mega deals. I think it is much easier to succeed with a new team when you don't have the pressure of a huge contract and lofty expectations.

McLeod isn't a household name, but all you had to do was turn on the tape and No. 23 flashed on a regular basis. While he lacks ideal size at 5-10 and 195 pounds, McLeod is a tough, physical safety. He can hit as well or better than guys who are bigger than him. McLeod explodes through his targets, delivering jarring hits. He played deep in St. Louis most of the time. It was McLeod's job to not let receivers get behind him, while also coming down quickly in run support. That is a tremendous challenge for every defensive back. You want to be cautious and aggressive at the same time. If you hesitate on coming up, teams can run on the defense. If you bite on a run fake, you are letting receivers get behind you for game-changing plays. McLeod is a smart, disciplined safety who shows a good feel for balancing being a run and pass defender.

Think about who I have as the Eagles' projected defensive lineup right now.

DE Brandon Graham
DT Fletcher Cox
DT Bennie Logan
DE Vinny Curry

LB Mychal Kendricks
MLB Jordan Hicks
LB Nigel Bradham

SS Malcolm Jenkins
FS Rodney McLeod
CB Eric Rowe
CB Leodis McKelvin

That is a young, athletic and talented defense. McKelvin is the only player over the age of 30, and he's not even guaranteed to be a starter. I'm penciling him into the lineup for now, but the Eagles could add another corner in free agency or they could draft someone to challenge for that job.

Depth is an issue at certain spots. The Eagles can still make some more free agent moves and then use the draft to fill out the defense. There are also some young players on the roster who have a chance to become key role players. The coaching staff was very high on cornerback JaCorey Shepherd last year. He hurt his knee, but should be healthy by this summer. Marcus Smith has been disappointing so far in his career, but attacking off the edge in a simplified scheme might help him play better. Taylor Hart could be good at pushing the pocket from the middle. Denzel Rice and Jaylen Watkins are young defensive backs who have flashed potential. I think safety Jerome Couplin could be a good player in this scheme.

It feels good to be excited about the Eagles' defense. They are back in an attacking scheme, which is what most of the players were drafted for. Jim Schwartz will certainly have some terrific pieces to play with.

The offense also got some talented pieces. Brooks is a huge addition, literally and figuratively. He will take over at right guard and give the Eagles their biggest presence at the guard spot since Shawn Andrews was the starter in 2007. Like Andrews, Brooks moves well for being such a big man. He gives the Eagles a player who can get movement at the line of scrimmage, but who can also get up to the second level or make blocks in space. With Brooks, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce, the Eagles now have a younger line than in recent years.

The Eagles also made a change at quarterback. They traded backup Mark Sanchez and signed Chase Daniel to come in and take his spot. Daniel can be a big help because he spent the past three years with Doug Pederson in Kansas City. Daniel will know the offense and help teach it to the other players. Daniel isn't just here to help coach up his teammates. He wants to push Bradford for the starting job. That's what you want from a player who is a projected backup. He can't settle. He has to want more, to believe that he should be starting and playing more.

Daniel has backed up Drew Brees and Alex Smith, a pair of durable quarterbacks. That has limited how much he has played, but if you watch the tape, you will see Daniel's talent. He has good mobility. He has a solid arm and is an accurate passer. Daniel is smart and doesn't try to do too much. I hope Bradford plays all 16 games, but I trust that Daniel can be a solid player if he gets on the field.

Howie Roseman did a great job of making moves. He dealt players the team was ready to move on from, getting good value in return. He signed a couple of impact free agents and added other pieces that can help the team and who came at the right price. The Eagles didn't acquire a bunch of big names. They got players who fit the schemes, were the right age and who made sense financially. The goal isn't to spend the most money. It is to be the smartest shopper.

There is still work to be done. There are holes to fill and moves to make. The Eagles have a good foundation in place thanks to a terrific week of moves so the team can be more methodical over the next month. They can be choosy shoppers and add players who maybe didn't get the deal they were looking for in the first week. There are still plenty of talented players on the market. Even better, the draft is just six weeks down the road. I like the Eagles' roster right now and it will get even better in the next couple of months.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

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