There are not a lot of NFL first-round draft choices who stay in the business after retirement. The Eagles have one in Todd Lyght, their assistant defensive backs coach. He and running backs coach Duce Staley and assistant tight ends coach Justin Peele (a 10-year NFL player) are the members of Chip Kelly's staff who have been there and done that. It is a necessary component on any modern NFL staff.
"I think it puts players at ease because they know that you've done what they want to do," said Lyght, a cornerback out of Notre Dame who was the Rams' first-round pick in 1991.
"They understand that you can help them get to where they want to be as a player," he said. "Everybody comes into the league and everybody has a different agenda. Some guys just want to make it to the league. Some guys want to play in the Pro Bowl. Some guys want to win world championships. Some guys want to get into the Hall of Fame. Everybody's a little bit different.
"So you've got to figure out what the guy wants and help him become the best player he can possibly be. That's going to be because of hard work and effort and attitude."
Who are you giving up on for Lent?
Defensive backs coach John Lovett, along with Lyght, will be tasked with trying to fix and/or rebuild the disaster that was the Eagles' 2012 secondary. Lyght, like all of the Eagles' assistants, was reluctant to comment too much on individual players.
"There are a lot of different variables that went on last season that I don't know anything about," he said, meaning the midseason change in defensive coordinators from Juan Castillo to Todd Bowles.
There were coverage issues, physicality issues, just lots of things - and Lyght is an interesting person to walk into this. He played at 6-foot and 185 pounds, usually assigned to cover the best receiver on the field. And if he wasn't exactly Night Train Lane out there, he was an honest workman. Put it this way: Nnamdi Asomugha has averaged 41 tackles per season with the Eagles and Lyght averaged about 65 in his full (or nearly full) NFL seasons.
Yes, the game has changed and it is more of a passing league. There is no getting away from that - and it does make it harder to compare players over time. But there are some truths here. Lyght was talking about safeties who have to deal with running backs out of the backfield when he said this, but it really is universal:
"If you don't have a guy that can get the ballcarrier on the ground, you're not going to win a lot of ballgames," he said. "At the end of the day, it all comes down to tackling. Blocking and tackling - if you can't tackle, you never give yourself a chance to win."
So there is that. There also is the notion that safeties are becoming more important in today's game, and that versatility is a key.
"At the safety position, you have to get guys who can tackle in the open space," Lyght said. "That's going to be key - and also guys with range. Nowadays, with the way the game is called, you can't really get hands on guys. You can't be physical with them down the line and you can't cut off people like you used to do. When I first got in the league [to now], the game has definitely evolved and it definitely favors the offense and it's definitely become a passing league.
"You've got to have guys that can read their keys, play the ball in the air, and track trajectories of the ball. Some guys have a really hard time tracking the trajectory of the ball on those deep balls. They'll be in position to make plays but, for whatever reason - if it's speed, or their eyes bouncing when they're running, or just not being able to locate the ball . . .
"It's easy to locate the ball when you see it come out of the quarterback's hand. We have to have guys that can locate the ball after it's been let go, and be able to find it in the air, locate it, check the trajectory of the ball, and finish at the end of the route."
As for the versatility part . . .
"For a defense to be really good," Lyght said, you need safeties who can play both up near the line of scrimmage and deeper in the secondary, not completely interchangeable but interchangeable enough that "you're not giving away which way the defense is being tilted."
The prototype, he said, is Baltimore's Ed Reed - who, last anybody checked, is not about to walk through the door on Nova-Care Way.