A year ago, the very thought of revamping the pass rush and the front seven seemed ridiculous. The Eagles had a sack-filled 2011 season and the buzz for 2012 was even greater.
But we know what happened to the pass rush and, then, to the defense.
It appears, after the meltdown of 2012, that the defense is to be given a makeover. Just how extreme that becomes in a single offseason, we'll soon learn. Surely, though, new coordinator Bill Davis has a reasonable familiarity with the current roster, so certainly he knows that the Eagles have major questions -- no matter the scheme -- about their ability to get to the quarterback.
As the coaching staff and personnel department study the daily goings-on at the NFL Scouting Combine, the buzz of the draft is the depth of talent along the defensive line and among the edge pass rushers who would likely stand up in space and come off the edge in a 3-4 front. Will the Eagles dip into that talent pool early in the draft and add to their front seven? As much as we all understand how the secondary needs to upgraded, a defense is keyed by its play at the line of scrimmage and by its ability to reach the quarterback with a multitude of pass rushers.
Who do the Eagles have, as their roster is currently constructed? They're counting on Trent Cole, in whatever role Davis sees for the 270-pound veteran who is coming off the least-productive season of his NFL career. Brandon Graham also figures to be a key figure either with his hand down as an end or in space as a rush linebacker in a 3-4. Fletcher Cox, who enjoyed a fine rookie season, is going to need to push the pocket against the passing game.
Other than those three, are there any givens in the front seven? Certainly the Eagles think that DeMeco Ryans will be even better in his second season on the team, and second-year man Mychal Kendricks has to featured in some form as a play-making linebacker.
And, really, the truth is that there are no givens because we have not a clue what the coaching staff thinks, truly thinks, of any player on this roster.
So let the guessing game continue. But expect that in some form or fashion, the Eagles are going to hit the defense hard, and they're going to address the front seven as much as possible.
What are the Eagles learning in Indianapolis? Pretty much what their draft board told them for many weeks, that the talent is rich on the defensive side of the football and that there are a lot of versatile, speedy prospects to consider. The Eagles are conducting their interviews -- as many as 30 of them at the Combine -- and checking their stopwatches and comparing notes on the draft prospects.
Come late April, the defense will be improved. How much the team is able to accomplish in free agency remains to be seen, but the sense here is that the primary focus to build the roster is going to be the draft, not free agency.
The first few rounds are critical, then. That's generally where the stars are found. The defense could use some stars. The team hasn't drafted a Pro Bowl player on defense since Cole was taken in 2005 and the lack of star talent hurt the Eagles badly in 2012.
It's a great challenge, to fix this defense and restore a ferocious pass rush and stout performance against the run. You can be sure that the front seven will be very much on the minds of the Eagles when they have a chance to acquire some big-time talent between now and the end of April.