For all of those weeks the defense hit shadows. They ran the plays and they worked at a high tempo and the reward was the frustration of seeing the offensive players sprinting down the field, completing the play. Saturday, the pads went on, and the defense let loose.
"It was about time," said middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. "I think we were more than a little bit ready."
If first impressions are any indication, the defense is ready to go. Asante Samuel's hamstring injury notwithstanding, the defense played fast, physical football and had the advantage over the offense. Jim Johnson, as he hopes to do all year, rotated in his packages, used a lot of personnel and saw speed, speed and more speed on the field.
Some of the particulars stood out:
- At left defensive end, the Eagles are using Juqua Parker, Victor Abiamiri and Chris Clemons on a rotational basis. Maybe Parker is slated to play 40 percent of the time, and Abiamiri will play 30 percent of the snaps and Clemons will play 30 percent of the time. However it works, the Eagles have some depth there that they want to use.
- On the right side, Trent Cole is the guy, and he looked great on Saturday. Very quick. Very powerful.
- I watched Brodrick Bunkley in practice and I thought he looked good. Had some good inside pressure in 11-on-11 drills. Mike Patterson looks like he has gained some weight, which could have been one of the coaches' requests to him.
- Bradley raved about the effectiveness of the defensive line in the morning. "I couldn't get to the ball. The d line was awesome. They made a lot of plays," said Bradley.
- Brian Dawkins had a good day, I thought. He showed excellent recovery in one-on-one drills and he moved very well. Dawkins is healthy. That much is clear. He has to stay that way.
- Darren Howard is backing up Cole and, yeah, he was good on Saturday. He and William Thomas battled in one-on-one drills.
- Samuel's injury takes a bite out of the secondary, but with Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, the team has depth to hold up while Samuel is out. I thought Therrian Fontenot had a better day than did Nick Graham in that battle for the fifth cornerback spot.
- J.R. Reed has really improved his speed in the last year or two. He looks good out there.
It is only one day, so there is no reason to go overboard. But it exciting to think of the possibilities on defense. The players seem aware of the growth potential here with a young, smart, fast group of linebackers, with so much talent in the secondary and with the depth up front. It is a long way from coming together, but the defense had a good day on Saturday.
"I think we all feel it, because you get a sense of what is around you in the spring," said Bradley. "There is a lot of confidence. We have to keep working at it and see how it all turns out. I know there is a great deal of expectation here."
Said Dawkins: "I can tell you this is one of the most excited I've been about going into the season. I can tell you that. In 2004, I was jacked up because I felt great about that year. I feel great, personally, physically, and where this team is headed right now. The potential we have, defensively and also offensively also, with Donovan being healthy. You saw what he was able to do on one of his scrambles; he was able to pull away."