D.K. McDonald is certainly no stranger to the defensive backs room at the NovaCare Complex. He was an integral part of a defense that last season ranked first in passing yards allowed, third in opponent passer rating, and fourth in interceptions.
The "assistant" part of his previous title the past two years was removed this offseason as he was named the team's new defensive backs coach. McDonald described the transition as a "smooth" one, joking that he just moved a few seats over in the meeting room.
McDonald, who is in his third NFL season after 18 years in the college ranks, understands that "change is just a part of life and it's part of the game." As he gets the chance to put his own spin on the group, there are four pillars of a D.K. McDonald-led secondary that fans should watch for this season:
1. Great effort – Both mentally and physically
2. Execution – It's up to McDonald to teach the X's and O's, but once the players know what to do, they must go out and do it.
3. Teamwork – "Connection is big here, so our guys working together doing one-11, 11 as one is what we're looking for." It should come as no surprise that McDonald and Nick Sirianni previously worked together at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, given the head coach's affinity for team bonding.
4. Physicality – "That you can feel that these guys play hard and they play physical and they're a violent team."
That last point echoed what new Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai said earlier this offseason about how he wants the defense "to be palpable" where teams leave the field knowing that they played the Eagles.
McDonald inherits a fascinating mixture of talent and experience in the defensive backs room. At cornerback, Darius Slay and James Bradberry form arguably the most prolific duo in the league. Slay has earned Pro Bowl honors in back-to-back years, while Bradberry was a second-team All-Pro selection last season after registering the third-lowest passer rating in his direction.
"The most impressive thing about those two guys is not all the accolades they have is that they work really hard to get those," McDonald said. "And if you watch them out on the field, they go full speed. And so that's why they are who they are."
Avonte Maddox returns at the nickel position and then there is a litany of contenders for the reserve spots ranging from returning veterans (Josh Jobe, Zech McPhearson, Josiah Scott) to new veterans (Greedy Williams) to rookies, including fourth-round pick Kelee Ringo.
At safety, it's just as competitive starting at the top as both starters from last season – Marcus Epps and C.J. Gardner-Johnson – moved on in free agency. Reed Blankenship went from rookie free agent to five-game starter, including the Divisional Round playoff win over the Giants. McDonald witnessed Blankenship's transformation up close as the second-year safety eyes a first-team spot on the depth chart.
"I love how he competes. I love how smart he is and what he does on the field. And now he's taking that next step to being a leader back there on the back end and it's really fun for us to watch," McDonald said.
The Eagles also added to the safety group in the offseason, both in free agency (veterans Terrell Edmunds and Justin Evans) and the draft (third-round pick Sydney Brown).
Training Camp and the preseason will allow time for everyone to get on the same page so that no matter who starts, McDonald will have them ready.
"When you step in this building, it's just not about you playing well. It's about the next man being able to play well," he said.