The Eagles still will be running a 3-4 two-gap defense this season. But Bill Davis promised it won’t be nearly as vanilla as it was a year ago.
“Last year, you saw the base foundation of the defense,’’ the Eagles’ second-year defensive coordinator said Sunday morning. “We’ve kept our foundation, but we’ve added some bridge-concept coverages and added some run calls.
“We’ve grown it in a way that didn’t take away from last year. The guys understand what we did. We just saw some holes where maybe there were some gameplan tools we didn’t have. We added them in the offseason and worked on them and will continue to work on them. So we’ve grown the package without changing it. We’ve just given ourselves more tools.’’
The offseason additions the Eagles made on the back end of their defense, particularly the free agent additions of cornerback Nolan Carroll and safety Malcolm Jenkins, and the drafting of outside linebacker Marcus Smith, should give the Eagles the flexibility to do more with their sub-packages. Last year, because of a lack of depth at cornerback and the disappointing play of safety Patrick Chung, the Eagles seldom played dime (six defensive backs).
Davis said the Eagles ran just two personnel packages last year – base and nickel. He said he expects to be able to add two or three more this season.
The fact that his players have a year in his system under their belts should also allow them to do more.
“A year ago, you saw more assignment football,’’ Davis said. “Guys were studying hard to know their assignment and what was asked of them, but didn’t really understand the whole picture and how they exactly fit with their teammates.
“We’ve had an awesome offseason. I think our guys have a much better understanding of not only their assignment, but they feel the whole package now, the whole defense and how they fit. Why their teammates rely on them to do a certain technique we’re asking them to do or align in a certain way. I think all of that has grown and will make the package stronger.’’
Some other highlights of Davis’ morning news conference:
--(on the competition between Nate Allen and Earl Wolff for one of the starting safety jobs): “I don’t see just the two of them going for it. The safety positions are up for grabs. All of the safeties that are lined up at safety, it’s an open competition. I don’t see it as a two-man race for that one spot. We’ll be rolling them and they’ll all get a chance to work against 1s, 2s and 3s.’’
--(on getting enough practice reps for first-round pick Marcus Smith): “Our seconds and thirds get almost twice as many reps as guys on other teams I’ve been with. We have more reps per period and we have more reps per practice. So the 2s and 3s get more of those. And what this kid really needs is reps. A big volume of reps every day. Getting his eyes in the right spot, his feet, his technique.’’
--(on how the Eagles got better at tackling last season even though they didn’t do any tackling to the ground in training camp or practices): “All of us in the NFL are getting better at teaching tackling and working on tackling without the tackling-to-the-ground element. A lot of that is body-placement. You’ll see we have our guys two-hand-tag below the waist. If you can two-hand-tag a runner like Shady (McCoy) below the waste, your body is gonna be in position to tackle him. If you can continually work on putting your head in front of the ball carrier, as opposed to behind, I think one of the biggest problems we had last year when I broke down the tackling issues was our head placement was always behind the ball-carrier, leaving all arm tackles. We kept working on it, talking about it. And I think as we went on and got better at tackling, our head placement, along with our total form tackling, increased. We have to build on where we left off last season.’’
--(on whether rookie Jaylen Watkins will get a look at safety): “One of the reasons we picked him was because he’s a very versatile player. We’re starting him out at corner and we’ll see where he is at corner and the skill-set he has. We’ll look at him at nickel. Those are two corner-world positions. He’s got a very high football IQ. As he digests those two positions, I think we can grow him to where he could play safety if we needed him to. And depending on how the roster he plays out, we love the versatility in his skill-set.’’
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