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McDermott Keeps Open Mind On Defense

They stood and talked for a good 10 minutes. Cornerback Sheldon Brown and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott discussed strategy, concepts, what tweaks must be made this week as the Eagles prepare for Washington.

This is the way McDermott works: He has an open-door policy. Everybody communicates. A defense that has absorbed as many injuries as this one requires a constant series of adjustments, an open mind, and great flexibility.

McDermott, elevated to the role of defensive coordinator days before training camp started after Jim Johnson, has had no time to exhale. Before the first preseason game, he lost his best defender, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. It was the first -- and most damaging -- injury to a group that also has lost linebacker Omar Gaither and cornerback Ellis Hobbs for the season. Linebacker Akeem Jordan has been out for two games going on three, defensive end Victor Abiamiri is still recovering after missing a few games, safety Quintin Demps could be on the field after missing a month, cornerbacks Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel are hurting and nickel corner Joselio Hanson is in the middle of a four-game suspension and ....

"Every team has injuries and you have to work through them," said McDermott. "You have to get every player on the roster ready to play, and that is what we are trying to do. Our job is to teach and make players better every day."

Particularly troublesome has been the middle linebacker position. Bradley, a three-down player, natural leader and a force against the run, in the blitz game and in coverage, has been every bit as difficult to replace as expected. The Eagles have used every possible solution there, and still aren't finished experimenting.

It appears that both Joe Mays and Jeremiah Trotter will share duties on Sunday, with Mays taking a slightly-higher percentage of the snaps. In power formations, Trotter is likely to play. Otherwise, the Eagles hope Mays takes another step forward after his most extended action last week.

"We are going to do what it takes to win each week, no matter who is playing," said McDermott. "The key for Joe, after last week, is to take what he learned and get better every day. He's doing that. He is a hard worker, a smart guy and he knows he is young and has a lot to learn. Trot is at the other end of his career and he gives us some juice, like he did last week. Jeremiah did good things last week. He came right out and made the play to get the defense going, and we all saw 'The Axeman.'

"It's changing every week. We have to look at it that way. Stewart was a player who knew the defense, who you could leave on the field for three downs. We don't have that now, so we have to keep our minds open and work the best combinations we have. It has been challenging for the coaches and for the players. We are just trying to find the right mix from one down to the next. That's really how we are approaching things."

McDermott is coping, for sure. He has exhausted his roster, which has really brought out the best in everyone. Players at the bottom of the depth chart know they are going to be called on to play and that they are going to be called on to perform well. Part of the genius we are seeing from McDermott so early in his coaching career is his ability to think outside the box, to use all of his available tools and to manipulate his schemes to fit his personnel.

"You watch tape from last year and see No. 55 out there and it is impressive what he means to the defense. He is that kind of player," said McDermott. "But he isn't here now, and that reality set in quickly. I'm pleased with the effort our guys have shown, their ability to learn and adapt to all the situations we have put them in.

"It is a never-ending challenge, I think. We're a pressure defense so we have to explore ways to bring it and that doesn't mean blitz every down."

Washington brings in an offense that has suffered major, major casualties. The Redskins are down to their third halfback of the season, the offensive line has been ransacked by injuries and Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley is missing. Still, Washington is one of those teams that always seems to give the Eagles fits.

So the Eagles need to be ready with Mays, Trotter or whomever McDermott uses in the middle. He seems pleased with Will Witherspoon on the weak side, called him a "natural" player there. It will be interesting to see what happens when Jordan returns to full health. Where will he fit in?

"We take everything day by day, week by week," said McDermott. "Nobody looks ahead."

And nobody looks behind. The Eagles have taken a licking, to borrow a phrase, and they keep on ticking on defense. McDermott, working with a young, largely-new staff, has done a remarkable job. There is still plenty of work to do -- hour by hour, day by day, week by week.

"Whatever it takes to get it done," he says, the mantra of the Eagles defense this season.

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