When New Orleans announced that it was moving on from Steve Spagnuolo, the fan reaction was immediate. Spagnuolo's defense struggled for much of the year in New Orleans, but then came around a bit as the Saints started to put some pieces in place.
But New Orleans is moving from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4, and apparently the Saints want a defensive coordinator with experience in that front. Spagnuolo, then, is out from New Orleans.
Immediately, of course, fans wanted to know if it would be a good fit for Spags to return to Philadelphia, where he cut his NFL coaching teeth on Andy Reid's early-seasons coaching staff. The answer is that Spagnuolo is an accomplished defensive coach in this league, but that it's a very difficult question to answer given the shroud of secrecy around Chip Kelly's intentions on that side of the ball.
Will the Eagles keep the 4-3 scheme? They have some building blocks, particularly in the front seven. And if the intention is to keep DeMeco Ryans in his best position, middle linebacker, keeping the 4-3 might be the way to go.
But the league is becoming a 3-4 league, it seems, and the Eagles could very well move in that direction. They would have to tinker, perhaps, a bit more with the personnel and find, for instance, an impact player to line up at the nose tackle position.
There are options for the Eagles, with a number of quality NFL defensive minds on the market, and they are being as patient and thorough with their decision as the organization was with the move to hire Kelly as head coach.
The Eagles haven't provided many clues as to what they're thinking with the defensive alignment or the coordinator. Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman have used the word "versatile" to describe the approach in general to building the roster, but they haven't gone beyond that. There have been a lot of "reports" that say the Eagles have "hinted" at having an interest in moving to the 3-4, but nobody has confirmed that.
When you study the personnel, the conclusion is that the Eagles need to be better no matter whether they play 4-3 or 3-4. There are some pieces that fit naturally into the 4-3, particularly a group at defensive end that offers promise. That said, who is to argue that Brandon Graham is more effective in a 4-3 than he would be in a 3-4? Many believed he would play rush linebacker in a 3-4 when he entered the 2010 NFL draft, so it's not like it would be a foreign concept. Most of the ends here look physically like they could be 3-4 rush ends, with the possible exception of Vinny Curry, a 275-pound end who looks more capable of playing 4-3 end than 3-4 rush linebacker.
Fletcher Cox can be an impact player as a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end. Cedric Thornton is a developing player as a 4-3 tackle or maybe as a 3-4 end. Mike Patterson needs to bounce back from his tough 2012 and Cullen Jenkins has experience in both schemes.
The linebackers are a question mark. Whether the Eagles play 3-4 or 4-3, they've got to have more impact on the weak side. They have to play better against the run. And, in general, they have to make more plays. A kid like Kendricks needs to be put in the right places on the field to realize his very high ceiling of ability.
When the Eagles hire a defensive coordinator, I do not know. They have been linked to a number of coaches from the college ranks, and they have reportedly been interested in some NFL coaches, including San Francisco defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, formerly the coordinator in Green Bay. I can truly tell you I have no idea who the Eagles are considering. Those making the decision haven't whispered their candidates out loud.
It could be that the Eagles want to have a defense that features multiple fronts, switching from 4-3 to 3-4 for certain opponents and moments in games. Versatility is an important part of the game in the NFL and the concept of specialization is obviously a huge part of the mode of operation on game days. In other words, maybe the Eagles want a hybrid defense. I really don't have a feel.
It's all very behind-the-scenes stuff, which is going to be decided in the next week or so. It's obviously a very important decision, for the man in charge of this defense has to turn around what last season was an incredibly disappointing unit that showed a lack of commitment to the scheme and to each other.
Let the speculation continue, then! That's all we've got until the Eagles make their plans public and tell us how they intend to aim this defense in the right direction for 2013 and beyond.