JUAN CASTILLO has gotten a lot of spiffy new parts for his defense this offseason.
Over the last 2 1/2 months, the Eagles have added a Pro Bowl middle linebacker (DeMeco Ryans) with Dawkins-like leadership skills, a 300-pound athletic freak of a defensive tackle with 4.7 speed (Fletcher Cox), and a strongside linebacker with sub-4.5 speed who can blitz and cover tight ends (Mychal Kendricks).
But the defense's most important offseason addition actually might be none of those three guys.
It just might be former Temple defensive back Todd Bowles, who was hired in late January to rehabilitate an Eagles secondary that has given up a disturbing 58 touchdown passes the last two seasons, including 27 in 2011 despite the presence of three Pro Bowlers back there.
Castillo certainly made his share of mistakes in his first season as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. But his boss, Andy Reid, did him no favors with the staff he assembled around him.
It included two newbies - Mike Caldwell (linebackers) and Mike Zordich (safeties) - who were in their first year as head position coaches, and weren't really in a position to give Castillo advice, and an ineffective cornerbacks coach - Johnnie Lynn - who crept in and out of town on cat feet in his one and only year in midnight green.
Defensive-line coach Jim Washburn was a terrific hire. But Wash does his own thing with his front four and couldn't care less about what's going on with the back seven.
With the arrival of Bowles, 48, who is overseeing the entire secondary while Zordich focuses on the safeties, Castillo now has somebody he can use as a sounding board much like Reid has with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
"It's all about getting to know each other and trust each other," Castillo said. "Not just the players, but the coaches, as well."
Bowles played eight seasons in the NFL with the Redskins and 49ers and has spent the last 12 as an assistant. For the last 4 years, he was the Dolphins' assistant head coach/secondary. During those 4 years, the Dolphins allowed only 87 touchdown passes, 17 fewer than the Eagles over the same period.
Bottom line: He knows what the hell he's doing.
"The corners are very intelligent, very athletic, very long," Bowles said. "The safeties are a lot more athletic than what I've had in the past.
"With no offseason last year, the biggest thing is to make sure all of the defensive backs are on the same page, communicating. You want to make sure the younger guys get more vocal and don't just sit there and play football and try to understand everything. The communication is going to be ultra-important."
Bowles was the Dolphins' interim head coach for the final three games last year after the club fired Tony Sparano. The Dolphins were 2-1 in those three games, beating the Bills and Jets and losing by three points to the eventual AFC champions, the Patriots.
He was interviewed for both the Dolphins' and Raiders' head-coaching jobs, but didn't get either one. The Raiders offered him their defensive coordinator's job. The Dolphins invited him to stay on as secondary coach. The Bengals offered him the same assistant head coach/secondary job he had in Miami. But in the end, he decided to come to work for the Eagles.
"When I didn't get either of the [head-coaching] jobs, I considered my other options," Bowles said. "This was a team in a great city. A great program that had a good chance to win. It just looked like it would be a good fit for me."
Some suspicious minds might suggest it's also a place ripe with potential advancement for a respected guy such as Bowles, considering the hot seats both Reid and Castillo are sitting on. But he insists that's not why he took the Eagles' job offer. He took it because he thinks it's a good place to work and because he thinks the Eagles are a Super Bowl contender.
"As a coach, you don't expect or not expect too many things," Bowles said. "You just sort of go with the flow. If it's out of your control, there's no sense worrying about it. I'm more than happy coaching defensive backs for the rest of my life. I would have no problem with that.
"As a player, you learn to keep your head down and do your job. And that's how it is in the coaching ranks, as well. All you want to do is win. That's the big picture."
Bowles and Castillo didn't know each other very well before Bowles interviewed for the job. But in the 4 months they've been working together, they've developed a good relationship.
"Todd played with a good friend of mine – Darrell Green," Castillo said. "Darrell and I went to college together [at Texas A&I, now Texas A&M-Kingsville]. We're good friends and talk a lot. In fact, when Todd was in for the interview, Darrell called me.
"Todd knows another friend of mine down in [the Rio Grande] Valley that he's friends with. So we knew a few people like that. And I think that helps. What happens then I think is Todd finds out what kind of guy I am, the same way I find out what kind of guy he is.
"What we both found out is that we're both real. And I think that's important to understand. We're both real and we both have the same goal. We both want to win."
Bowles called Castillo "a heckuva hard worker." Said he's "extremely bright."
Said Bowles: "We have a great staff on that side of the ball."
Most of Bowles' pro coaching experience has been with 3-4 defensive schemes, including the last 4 years with the Dolphins. But as far as the secondary is concerned, he said Castillo's scheme really isn't much different from what the Dolphins played.
"People try to make football harder than it is sometimes," he said. "It's blocking and tackling. It's been like that for a hundred years. It's not going to change much. You've just got to teach the guys to see what you're seeing on the field. That's basically it. We're all trying to get on the same page."
Bowles said Washburn's wide-nine alignment with his front four will have zero effect on his secondary.
"It doesn't affect anything we do," he said. "The 4-3's been around a long time. Jim might move [his defensive ends] an inch wider. But the wide-nine isn't a scheme. It's an alignment. I don't see how it affects my guys any. They've got the front, we got the back."
And Castillo's got a coach he can bounce ideas off of, and even ask for suggestions.