Philadelphia Eagles News

Defense: A Strong First Impression

Who really knew what to expect? The Eagles have overhauled the coaching staff since last year, and they have overturned the roster. Only Trent Cole, Juqua Parker and Asante Samuel are in the same place they were a season ago. Things are even different for Nate Allen -- a free safety last year, a strong safety now -- and Moise Fokou -- a SAM linebacker then who is now lining up on the weak side and Jamar Chaney -- a MIKE linebacker last year now on the strong side.

In this case, after one game and two-plus weeks of training camp, change is good. Very, very good.

"It's a matter of getting everyone on the same page and getting after it," said defensive end Darryl Tapp, who led the sack attack with two. "We know we have the talent and we know the coaching is great. It takes time to get everyone to jell and to play together.

"That's coming. You can feel it. We had some moments out there. It was a lot of fun, I can tell you that."

It looked like a lot of fun, didn't it? The Eagles used the wide-9 technique up front, which angles the defensive end and positions him on the weak side on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Playing in space is something that makes all kinds of sense for faster defensive ends. Jim Washburn, the defensive line coach, wants his players to react at the snap of the ball and to get up the field. They did that, obviously, against Baltimore.

Even more encouraging was the play against the run. Now, there is going to come a day when a smash-mouth offense is going to try to jam the ball down the defense's throats. The Eagles may get a dose of that on Thursday night in Pittsburgh (8 p.m. kickoff, seen nationally on FOX) against a Steelers offense that can grind it out with the best of them.

There are going to be a lot of tests along the way. The Eagles are going to have to win a 13-10 game during the season. You can believe that. It isn't going to be Blowout City this year.

Castillo's defense is only a piece of what it is going to be. The aggressive mentality is there, and the X's and O's are to follow. He is going to call blitzes, he is going to move his pieces around and he is going to need depth at every position. The Eagles are going to have to prove that they can defeat a big offensive attack with speed and technique.

But we can only go on what we have seen so far, and to date the defense has been extremely encouraging. How can you not love the depth that is developing up front? The Eagles are bringing, in the words of head coach Andy Reid, "fastballs" at offenses. With Cole, Parker, Tapp and Juqua Parker coming off the edges, offensive tackles have to get to their sets quickly. Quickness inside from Derek Landri, Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove give the Eagles push they haven't had inside in years.

Add in an improving Antonio Dixon and Mike Patterson, who is still at least a week away from taking part in full practice, although he is out on the field conditioning, and the Eagles have some serious depth here.

This is a pretty picture, but there are question marks. The linebackers are going to have to make a lot of plays in new positions and the young safeties have to make sure they are not too aggressive looking for big plays.

Then there is Castillo, the workaholic who impressed everyone with his demeanor and his organization against Baltimore. He has created a collegiate atmosphere here. There is a lot of jumping around, tons of enthusiasm. The Eagles are going to go after every offense, guaranteed. The party is just starting here.

And the defense is leading the way. It's a great thing. Seeing Jarrad Page intercept a pass in the end zone of what is essentially a meaningless preseason game was so gosh-darn encouraging because, well, the Eagles got a stop in the red zone!! A stop! Not a field goal. A takeaway! Hooray, after last year's struggles in the red zone.

Anyway, it's all good stuff for the defense so far. There is a lot more to install and the personnel questions are going to continue throughout the season. But the reviews are in and the first impression was soundly positive. The defense, the one that the Eagles have ridden to success for decades, one that leads teams to championships, is back, baby. And it just might be better than ever.

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