There are a lot of phrases overheard at the NovaCare Complex during a typical day of Training Camp. From "Go Birds!" and "Fly, Eagles, Fly!" to guests pointing out new players to each other from the sidelines, daily practice observers tend to hear some things repeated over and over again.
But there's one saying coming from the Eagles' defense that is somewhat surprising to hear from a unit that has three new starters in the secondary and possibly two new starters at linebacker: "We're much further ahead than we were at this time last year."
DeMeco Ryans has said it. Malcolm Jenkins has said it, and when two of the veteran leaders say the defense is further along compared to a year ago, it gives the statement a lot of credence.
This week, defenders gave more of an explanation as to how and why things are different entering this season.
"What happens is that when you enter Year 1, everyone is learning for the first time," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "When you get to Year 3, your veterans are helping with coaching your new guys. It's triple the coaching - there's coaching from us, coaching from each other, and then hearing another player explain it when you're in locker room. It's just easier for the new guys to pick up because more people can give them the proper answer that you don't have in Year 1."
Nearing the first preseason game, the #Eagles kept up their intensity during Thursday's practice. View the full gallery here...
The linebackers group has gone through its fair share of changes this offseason. Trent Cole was released and Kiko Alonso and Brad Jones were brought in to bolster the group's depth. Connor Barwin has witnessed all the moving parts around him, but he's seen the veterans in the locker room take charge and lead the way when it comes to learning the system.
"I think we added some pieces that are going to help us on defense, but there's a core group of guys who are going on their third season now, so obviously time allows you to understand the defense better and that's what's happening," Barwin said earlier this week.
He elaborated more on those comments on Thursday, saying that the real test to see how much the defense has progressed will be when the preseason slate begins on Sunday.
"We have more installed, but we'll see how far we are once we start playing some games," Barwin said. "We definitely have more calls installed at this time than we did last year."
Ryans echoed fellow linebacker Barwin's comments on game-action being the true test, but he also mentioned that the younger players brought onto the roster this year, specifically in the secondary, have been picking things up very quickly, making the learning process that much easier.
"For me I always have to see the transition to when the lights come on and it's game time, but what they've shown me in practice so far, I feel like we have a lot of good young cornerbacks," Ryans said on Saturday. "I think it was kind of forced upon the younger guys coming in that we just hit it running. It wasn't like, 'Take it one day at a time, install a little bit.' Billy just threw the entire playbook at us, and for us as veterans, we picked up on it fairly quickly because we've been doing it for a couple of years now, but the younger guys had to come in and spend some extra time studying on their own so they can keep up with the pace we're moving at and they did an excellent job.
"I remember when we first started with Billy, our first year in a new system, he couldn't have thrown the entire playbook at us. It took some time, but these young guys have stepped in, and what's impressed me the most is that they haven't missed a beat. They've really done a good job learning the defense."
According to Jenkins, all of the new faces haven't been a hindrance at all in the defense's development. In fact, they've done the opposite by bringing new concepts to the table.
"I think the more guys we bring in, the more versatile the packages get," Jenkins explained. "More ideas get thrown on the table when guys come from different places. There were things that I brought in with me last season that we were able to install. (Defensive backs coach) Cory Undlin brought things this year that he had installed with other teams, even Byron Maxwell, coming from a team that plays a lot of three-deep and single-high, he's able to add some of his expertise to it. So when you take all of these different ideas from veterans and coaches and bring them all together, you get to expand the playbook and tweak it so that's it's advantageous to us as players.
"We've seen the scheme take the next step to where we're keeping our identity – we still want to be single-high, disruptive on the outside and get after the quarterback – but also be able to do some other things to surprise some people."