Before the ink had time to dry on head coach Chip Kelly's contract with the Eagles, Kelly faced questions about the team's defense. Who would coach it? What kind of scheme would that coach run? How would the personnel change?
Eagles fans received some clarity last week with the announcement that former Cardinals and 49ers defensive coordinator Bill Davis would be helming the defense in Philadelphia. Davis has experience in both the 3-4 and 4-3. When he met the media on Monday, he made sure to explain that the Eagles will build their defense around the strengths of their players, not a pre-ordained scheme.
"I wouldn't be a very good coach if I just said 'it's a 3-4," Davis said. "It's who we have and what we can do with that. And if it's a 3-4, then it will be. If it's not, then it won't be."
If all of this sounds familiar, it's probably because Kelly has stressed this very point about the Eagles' offense. So it comes as little surprise to hear Kelly say that Davis' open mind, experience and flexibility were all huge selling points when Kelly was looking for a defensive coordinator.
"One of the things that really attracted me to Billy was his versatility and being able to coach in both systems," Kelly said. "He's a 21-year veteran of this league, and has coached under guys like Dick LeBeau, Bill Cowher, Wade Phillips and Vic Fangio and just spent time in Cleveland with Dick Jauron. So he's got a good background. And that's what I wanted in a coordinator, is a coordinator with versatility. Then it's our job as coaches to figure out what is the best scheme for the guys we have in place."
In his last two NFL stops, first with the Cardinals and later with the Browns, Davis worked in different schemes. The Browns ran a 4-3, while the Cardinals ran a 4-3 'under' defense. That defense looks like a 3-4 scheme to the naked eye, but it features an extra rusher nicknamed the "Predator." Will the Eagles use a player like Trent Cole or Brandon Graham in that role next season? Davis isn't ruling anything out.
"My main job is to take the players that are on the roster — and that's really our staff's job — take the players on the roster and at the end of the day, line them up in a configuration that the best 11 are on the field and go attack the offense from there."
While the exact alignment and personnel remain up in the air, there is one thing Eagles fans can be sure of – next year's defense will be aggressive and it will attack.
"We're going to try to keep the opposing offense on their heels instead of sitting back and letting everything be dictated to us," Davis said. "We will, as a staff, find a way to keep them off-balance. "We're not going to sit back and let them dictate what personnel we'll be in. We'll aggressively keep them off a rhythm."
Questions certainly remain for Davis and the Eagles defense. There will be time to break down the X's and O's; to figure out which players will play where. And though Kelly, Davis and his assistants are still learning everything they possibly can about the players they have, one thing is certain: these coaches won't let any preconceived notions of the way things "should" be done get in the way of fielding the best defense they can.
"We'll evaluate all the players we have and we use their talents," Davis said. "Whatever they do best, we'll have them do that the most."
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