We know the problems the Eagles had a year ago, and truth be told, in the years since defensive coordinator Jim Johnson passed away. The promote-within-the-staff approach didn't work with Sean McDermott or Juan Castillo, and now the Eagles turn to the experienced Bill Davis, who has 21 NFL seasons under his belt.
Davis concludes his third day of the pre-draft minicamp with another several hours of install work, classroom review and some on-field "get-the-players-in-the-right-spot" practice. Then Davis will spend the following days holed up in his office and in meetings rooms with the rest of the defensive coaching staff making notes on every player and every situation he has witnessed in the NovaCare Complex teaching sessions.
This is the start of a rebuilding process for an Eagles defense that looks to restore the pride of seasons past. Isn't it fair to say that, looking over the course of this franchise's history, the face of the Eagles comes from defensive dominance and attytude and strength?
Davis has a massive job in front of him. The front office addressed the defense heavily in free agency, overhauling the secondary, adding a couple of linebackers -- one of whom, Connor Barwin, is counted on as an impact starter -- and bringing in a massive human being to anchor the middle of the line of scrimmage in Isaac Sopoaga.
So not only does Davis have the chore of teaching the carryover players from last season's Eagles roster his scheme, he has to integrate Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to the cornerback positions and Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips at the safety spots as well as the task of rebuilding the front seven in scheme and in personnel.
To make this whole thing work, Davis first has to get every player on the same page and he has to develop chemistry and trust through and through.
The best defenses in the NFL are generally the ones who have played together the longest, and who have established a pecking order of playmaking. When the Eagles raged with Johnson at the helm, Brian Dawkins ran the show as Johnson moved him around the defense to poke holes in an offense's protection.
Davis, then, has to find his go-to playmaker. He has to build around that player and then develop more and more pieces to add to the puzzle. Davis wants his team to be fast and physical and to be sound fundamentally. He wants everyone to tackle, so when the Eagles added Fletcher and Williams in free agency they made sure to mention that both played good, physical football.
We've focused a lot on the other side of the ball since Chip Kelly was named as the new head coach, and that's understandable. Kelly's offense is what attracted the nation of football fans and experts to Oregon football, and it is the signature of his coaching brilliance. The truth is, as we know, the Eagles are going to go only as far as the defense is able to take them.
With that, let's understand that the defense has a lot of moving pieces as it establishes it's "hybrid" scheme, which at times will have three down linemen and four linebackers and at times will have four down linemen and three linebackers. It's unlikely, as Kelly semi-joked on Tuesday, that the Eagles will have many instances in which they play six linebackers on the field at one time.
Davis is learning as he goes along, because this is the first time he's had the opportunity to see his players in the scheme he wants to play. Perhaps, for instance, Mychal Kendricks is going to stand out and become the variable piece who the Eagles use to find the football and create mayhem. Kendricks certainly showed promise in his rookie season.
While the offense has a new scheme and a huge task ahead, the defense is even more of a work in progress. There are a lot of new faces on that side of the ball who just starting to learn each other's names, much less how his neighbor will react when the "X" receiver goes in motion.
It may not be as glitzy and glamorous a story as dissecting Kelly's scheme offensively, or who is going to win the job at quarterback -- Michael Vick was outstanding with the media on Wednesday, by the way, more relaxed and confident in his approach than we've seen in a long time -- but raising the level of this defense to the standards long-time Eagles fans understand is vital. It's the key to the season, really, and Davis is taking this one careful, meticulous, intelligent step at a time as he determines what he has on the roster now and what could be added when the draft begins in one week.