In the big picture, speed and tempo are two of the components that Juan Castillo wants to improve greatly for his Eagles defense in 2012. Both were on display as the Eagles worked as a full team for the first time in this offseason. Another element, increased physical play, comes when the pads go on in training camp.
The coaches basically got what they were looking for on Day 1. Second-round draft pick Mychal Kendricks spoke after practice of his time working with the starters at the SAM linebacker spot, understanding immediately that he wasn't working with the rookies only any longer.
"It was faster today, a lot faster," he said. "It was a faster pace and there was less time to think about your responsibilities. It was my first day and I think I did fairly well. I could have done better. It was my first day and I will take it for what it was."
What it was, in the big picture, was a very preliminary tease of what Castillo has in mind for the defense. To suggest that the scheme is going to radically change is to approach the defense blindly. In fact, the X's and O's may not change much at all. The execution has to improve and Castillo will expand his thinking.
So on Day 1 of the rest of the season, the Eagles went after it. They played fast football, even though there was no tackling and hardy and touching at all. It was clear that middle linebacker DeMeco Ryan is here to set the table and have everyone follow him, and that with Kendricks on board, with a deep and talented line group without -- for this day, tackles Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins and end Jason Babin -- the Eagles want to play fast and furious football.
"We're attacking it like a championship team in everything we do," said starting safety Kurt Coleman. "We had almost 100 percent attendance in the offseason program, which is almost unheard of. Every single guy is out there working hard. I think our mindset is not to just win our conference, not to just go to the playoffs, but to do it.
"We're going to work for it and leave everything on the field."
Every player on every team in the league believes the same thing at this time of the year, and why not? The NFL is all about giving every team an equal opportunity to win the Super Bowl, so it is no surprise that the Eagles emerged after their practice in great spirits and filled with confidence.
"We picked right up where we left off from last year," said Coleman. "I think Juan did a great job getting everybody -- the veterans, the rookies -- to learn this defense. The more we can get out there and get reps against our offense, the better we are going to be. You saw how we played the last four games of last season; we finished off really well and were among the top 10 defenses in the league. We have a lot to build on."
The talent begins up front, where Jim Washburn plans to rotate wave after wave of linemen. He has some depth, including rookie Vinny Curry, 2010 first-round draft pick Brandon Graham, second-year man Phillip Hunt and veteran Darryl Tapp behind starting ends Trent Cole and Babin. Inside, the Eagles think Fletcher Cox will get some immediate playing time, and he is right in there with Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri pushing starters Jenkins and Patterson.
Kendricks is clearly going to have to a chance to start on the strong side as Jamar Chaney adds depth at all three positions, and Ryans makes an immediate difference. No. 59 is already fast on the field and in this defense.
These practices are the building blocks for the season. Castillo didn't have the opportunity to introduce his plan to the team until training camp, and there just wasn't enough time to put it all together until the final month of the season.
Now, the Eagles have all the pieces in place on defense. They really should have a fine unit that attacks up front, can run sideline to sideline in the middle and can cover on the back end.
The components are all here.
"It's early and nobody should get ahead of where we are," said Ryans, the voice of reason. "I love what we did today and what we've done throughout the offseason. We have a long way to go. The attitude is great. Once we get to September, we're going to be ready to go out there and compete."
OTA NEWS, NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
- This is a voluntary camp and nobody is concerned about the absences of Jenkins (wife reportedly had surgery) and Babin (on a hunting trip in Alaska), two over-30 players who have been part of the offseason conditioning program all along. Patterson is making great strides after his brain surgery, and he should be fine for training camp. The only absence that I can't explain is linebacker Keenan Clayton, who has been a regular participant in the offseason program.
- Safety Colt Anderson rehabbed after practice and says he feels he is right where he wants to be in his recovery from knee surgery.
- Tight end Brent Celek practiced, which was a bit of a surprise. Is there a tougher guy on this team?
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a pretty interception in coverage down the sideline and looked good teamed with Nnamdi Asomugha as the starters at cornerback.
- Look for Nick Foles to get some reps with starters around him in the offense. The Eagles want him to work with players who know the offense which, in turn, helps Foles learn the offense more quickly. Mike Kafka, though, is the second-team quarterback. He had some nice deep throws on Tuesday. I think still Trent Edwards will make a strong push for the job.
- All of the running backs caught the football well in drills. That's a must for this offense.
- Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin looks great, great, great on the field. He is a few pounds stronger and every bit as fast and precise running his routes. The Eagles have some serious ability up and down their wide receiver corps.