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Defense Ready To Go In A New Direction

The first earthquake of what is expected to be another extraordinary offseason came on Saturday when news emerged that head coach Andy Reid decided to relieve Sean McDermott of his duties as defensive coordinator. The move had been made days earlier, between the men. done quietly to give McDermott an opportunity to sign on elsewhere in the league. That shouldn't be a problem, for McDermott is a bright, hard-working young coach who someday will make a very fine head coach.

But for this time, for this defense, Reid made the call to change. It is the first time in Reid's 12 seasons that he has made such a significant move to his coaching staff. Coaches have come and gone on to greater positions, but Reid had never removed an offensive or defensive coordinator prior to now (he replaced Ted Daisher with Bobby April to run special teams last year).

Certainly, the defense had its ups and downs in 2010. The red zone was a huge problem that was never improved. Third downs, particularly third-and-long situations, were a concern. A young defense that suffered major injuries throughout the year just couldn't get off the field enough to suit Reid.

At the same time, the Eagles put together some impressive outings and some strong numbers despite losing starting cornerback Ellis Hobbs, starting defensive end Brandon Graham, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and free safety Nate Allen at various times during the year. The team ranked among the best in the NFL in takeaways and in interceptions. And the game plan in the playoffs against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers was good enough to give the Eagles a chance to win at the end.

McDermott will land on his feet and he deserves the best of luck. He stepped into a tough situation when he replaced the late Jim Johnson, and nobody worked harder at his craft.

For the Eagles, well, the defense goes in a new direction for the first time in the Reid era. Johnson's scheme was unique and pressure-oriented and McDermott took what he learned from Johnson, added his own personality, and applied them to the Eagles' defense the last couple of seasons. From this moment forward, of course, the defense is going to be different.

What happens next? Reid has a list and he is going to check it many times. The Eagles are going to consider all options, including, I'm sure, current secondary coach Dick Jauron, who is reportedly a candidate to be the defensive coordinator in Cleveland.

What is Reid looking for? No doubt the Eagles must be more physical on defense, and they have to figure out a red-zone defense that must improve dramatically for this group to be a Super Bowl-caliber defense. Is a 3-4 defense a possibility? That is the vogue in the NFL, but the Eagles don't currently have the size up front to run three down linemen, so significant personnel changes would have to be made.

The Eagles used nine of their 13 draft picks last April on the defense, players specifically brought in for their speed and what the team felt would be an adaptability to the scheme. That, of course, changes. There are still some players here who fit into the foundation of the defense, but it is likely, too, that the Eagles will look for more punch for the defense -- everywhere -- in the draft and in the personnel-acquisition part of the business.

Clearly, the Eagles need more horses to become a top-shelf defense. They need it everywhere, especially up front rushing the quarterback and in the secondary defending the pass.

With a new coach comes new terminology and a learning curve. And understanding the potential for a lapse in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the new coordinator could very well have a lot of time to evaluate the personnel on the roster and not a whole lot of time to incorporate the group to his demands.

It is exciting to wonder where Reid turns. Does he promote from within, preferring to keep some continuity? Or does he conduct an exhaustive search and find the right veteran hand to guide the defense into the future? There have already been some recognizable names moving to new defensive jobs around the league, but Reid is going to have his plan in place.

Whatever happens, the Eagles are ready to go into the future with a new look on defense. A new personality. A different cadence. Blitz packages that we haven't seen.

This is the next step in the rebuilding of the Eagles defense. It was expected to be a two-year project when the Eagles addressed that side of the ball so heavily in last year's draft. Phase 2 is the coaching change. Phase 3 comes the rest of the way between now and the 2011 season when the Eagles name their guy, and then try to put the right faces into the right places to again make this an elite defense.

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