Of all the moves head coach Andy Reid has made in his tenure here, moving Juan Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator in one fell, dramatic swoop ranks right there at the top. Signing quarterback Michael Vick fresh out of prison is under consideration as well, but at least you could imagine the possibilities there.
Moving Castillo from offensive line to running a defense? Reid took the idea of an out-of-the-box move and blew it to smithereens.
Last year, of course, Castillo was under the intensity of the microscope. His defense, a collection of new coaches and some new players in a system that was quite a bit different than in recent years, took some time to come together. Without the benefit of the offseason teaching programs, the defense showed up one day at training camp and had a regular-season game five weeks later.
In retrospect, then, it's easy to understand why the defense had so many ups and downs through the first three months of the season. At times, like in the opening three quarters in Atlanta, when the swarming, all-out aggressiveness of the defense dominated the action. Then there were times, like in the fourth quarter of that game against the Falcons, when the defense couldn't get off the field.
Ups and downs. Good and, well, not very good.
But in the final month of the season, the last four games, the defense allowed an average of 11.5 points per game and showed some of the explosiveness up front that Castillo envisioned. He varied his scheme and his players responded.
So now we turn the page. You can only take so much from those last four games against offenses that, admittedly, were struggling. Miami? Not really very good. The Jets? Mark Sanchez was awful in the last few games of 2011. Dallas? A totally dominating effort by the Eagles, Tony Romo or no Tony Romo at quarterback. Washington? Quarterback problems out the wazoo.
Still, the results for Castillo's defense were encouraging. And the momentum was real. And the Eagles built on that momentum in the offseason by re-tooling the coaching staff, adding highly accomplished defensive backs coach Todd Bowles and then upgrading the roster with the acquisition of middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and then adding to the front seven heavily in the draft.
All the bases are covered on defense, then. Castillo is a confident man who has earned the respect of his players. He has a scheme in place and has had an entire spring and offseason to confirm his X's and O's with the roster.
The big key on defense is Castillo as much as it is Ryans at middle linebacker or rookie Mychal Kendricks at strong-side linebacker as much as it is the depth on the defensive line as much as it is the question marks at safety and in the secondary.
Castillo is in Year 2 in a league where coaches have been working a professional lifetime. Offensive coordinators who play the Eagles this year have spent the offseason preparing for Castillo, trying to figure out his tendencies and his scheme.
The personnel on defense is most certainly upgraded. What will be different with Castillo and the scheme? How will he pull it all together in a league where his coaching brethren are, despite what they say, skeptical of Castillo's ability to lead a defense?
It's the be-all, end-all question for the Eagles' defense this season, and if you think Castillo isn't relishing the challenge, you haven't paid attention to the man. He lives for challenges. He lives for proving the doubters wrong. Castillo's path to the NFL has been well documented and his persistence and dedication to the job is legendary.
In just a couple of weeks, the action begins again for Castillo. The coaches are in the final stages of their vacations, a five-week period of time during which they relax and connect with the real world. Castillo, bet your bottom dollar, hasn't taken a whole lot of time off. Oh, he's stepped away just long enough to clear his head and get his batteries re-charged, but Castillo's motor is always running.
Castillo, Year 2, is sure to be a success story, because that's how Castillo plays things. He wins in the end. He proves himself day after day. The defense is his and his players follow his lead.
You aren't going to learn a lot by listening to Castillo in press conferences. Watch the defense on the field and see how much different things are from 2011. He has leadership with Ryans in the middle. He has great depth and talent up front. He has a rookie in Kendricks who wowed in the spring. He has some very strong competition in the secondary.
There is team speed, hunger and the desire to prove that those last four games of 2011 were just the start of something great. The Eagles have the goal of returning to their glory years on defense, with Castillo in the lead, bringing it all together.