The new kid in town is a long-time coach, 70-year-old Tommy Brasher, called by head coach Andy Reid in the wee hours of the morning on Monday and asked to come to the rescue for the Eagles' defensive line that suddenly had a void with the dismissal of coach Jim Washburn.
Brasher was only too glad to help. He is one of the many coaches with deep loyalty to Reid and the idea of riding into town and working with a promising group of defensive linemen for the next four weeks -- there is certainly nothing promised after the December 30 season finale against the Giants -- was enticing enough for Brasher to end his retirement.
Brasher coached for Reid from 1999 to 2005 and then he hung up his whistle, sort of. Brasher remained a consultant for the Eagles, watching film and offering some reports on the defensive line. His input was always honest and always welcomed.
What can we expect from the defensive line immediately? It's hard to believe that Brasher is going to work miracles in such a short period of time. His teachings are obviously far different than Washburn's and the linemen admit to being asked to do a lot of reading and reacting instead of just getting off the ball and up the field.
Washburn wanted his linemen to play pass first, and if there was a handoff instead, to go get the football. Brasher is going to preach more gap discipline, a different level of hand placement, and more of a "fit" up front. Defensive linemen aren't going to sell out for a sack, and they aren't going to charge off the line of scrimmage and end up three and four yards beyond the quarterback.
The key to success is how the players react when the game begins in Tampa on Sunday afternoon. Do they hear and absorb and practice what Brasher is telling them, or do they revert to the undisciplined approach taught by Washburn -- a tactic that paid great dividends with a team total of 50 quarterback sacks in 2011, but regressed to only 20 through 12 games this season?
"It's a lot different than what I'm used to doing here," said defensive tackle Cedric Thornton. "It takes some time to get used to it. We're working hard and learning what Coach wants us to do."
The thing is, there is no time to learn. The Eagles are up and at 'em on Sunday against a strong Tampa Bay offense that features running back Doug Martin, who has rushed for 1,050 yards with a 4.8-yard-per-carry average. Josh Freeman is having a fantastic year at quarterback and Tampa Bay has big-play receivers, led by Vincent Jackson.
So it's a huge challenge for the defense. Some out there think that by eliminating the "Wide 9" alignment and the get-up-the-field approach from Washburn, the problems the Eagles have had on the back of their defense will magically go away. If Brasher's presence can make that happen on Sunday, he's a miracle worker.
Brasher has four games to make a difference. That's hardly the blink of an eye in NFL time, and the expectations, then, are realistic. A great teacher is here, glad to again be part of things, hoping he can make any kind of positive difference for the Eagles' defense.
- Big matchup in Tampa Bay between Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett and rookie right tackle Dennis Kelly. Another strong showing by Kelly would be extremely encouraging. He's come a long way as a developing tackle whom the Eagles tried at guard just to see what he could do in the short-area part of the offensive line.
- No update on Michael Vick or LeSean McCoy. Neither player is practicing, so you can pretty much rule out both players through next Thursday's game against Cincinnati. The Eagles return from Tampa Bay on Sunday night and get on the practice field for a light workout on Monday to prepare for the Bengals. My guess is that McCoy has a chance to play in the final two games of the regular season.
- I'd like to see rookie running back Chris Polk get a few carries in the final couple of games. He's back at practice now and it would help the Eagles to get an idea of what Polk can do in the regular season.
- Doesn't Jon Dorenbos deserve some strong consideration for the Pro Bowl? Alex Henery has made 21 field goals and has missed only one all season despite having two holders. Dorenbos has played through a sprained ankle and is doing a great job in coverage. He has had a terrific, unheralded season.
- I want to see Fletcher Cox take a step or two forward with Brasher's help. I'm not sure how much Cox has progressed this season in terms of technique. I think the plays he makes are made because he has such great natural ability.
- Will Marvin McNutt see any action now that he's on the 53-man roster? I have to say I doubt it. Who are the Eagles going to sit to play McNutt? Riley Cooper has clearly earned his playing time and Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant aren't going to lose playing time. Damaris Johnson is making nice progress.
- Tampa Bay's pass defense is ranked last in the NFL, while the Bucs are first in run defense. You know that Marty Mornhinweg wants quarterback Nick Foles to be aggressive, but how much do the Eagles throw the ball after two games with so much success on the ground? Sunday represents a terrific chess match to watch. Good game ahead ...