Everyone agrees that the Eagles defense needs help. Watching Seattle dominate in the Super Bowl certainly made everyone say “Let’s go get some of those guys!” While the Eagles will try to upgrade on defense, don’t count on major changes right away.
In my PE.com column on lessons to learn from the Super Bowl teams, my first point was “Be Patient”. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the Seahawks defense. It takes time to build up a great unit.
There is also something to be said for working new players in slowly. Mix in a couple of guys a year. When you make big changes at once, you’re going to have chemistry and communication issues. Football is a team game. This isn’t like building the Miami Heat on the fly. Even if a current player isn’t in your long term plans, there can be value in keeping them around for a season or two.
The Eagles will almost certainly return 7 starters from 2013: Thornton, Logan, Cox, Barwin, Kendricks, Williams, Fletcher. There is a good chance that DeMeco Ryans returns. There is a solid chance that Trent Cole returns. And if you count Earl Wolff, that would be 10 of 11 starters. The biggest question mark right now would be Nate Allen, because he is a free agent. And it sounds like he wants to come back.
There is a possibility that the Eagles bring back all 11 starters on defense.
Say what? But what about the need for upgrading? What about the need for speed?
The Eagles will bring in help, but these players won’t be thrust into starting jobs right away. The new players will have a chance to earn jobs. We all know how much Chip Kelly loves competition. He’ll give everyone a shot to show if they belong.
Before you get too fired up about how crazy it would be to bring back all 11 starters, think about the Super Bowl. MVP Malcolm Smith didn’t start the game. He was a role player. Seattle actually started some Nickel players like Cliff Avril, Clinton McDonald and Michael Bennett. They sat starters Tony McDaniel, Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane.
Defense is about 15 to 20 guys. Offense is generally 11 starters plus a role player or two. Coaches can play lots of different guys and in lots of different looks when it comes to defense. Seattle played their best pass rushers and cover guys. They focused on stopping Peyton Manning. If the Eagles build up the depth of the defense, they can do more of that type thing in 2014. Bill Davis and the coaches got more creative as the year went on, but they simply didn’t have the guys needed to be very creative.
Imagine for a second that the team adds a speedy ILB and S. Davis could go to a 3-3-5 look with Curry, Cox and Cole as the DL. He could have Barwin, Kendricks and the rookie at LB. The DBs would be the starters plus Brandon Boykin. That would give you pretty good speed on the field. Davis could go to a 4-1-6 Dime look. The DL could be any number of combinations. Then you could have Kendricks at LB. The DBs would be the starters plus Boykin and the rookie S.
The Eagles struggled in 3rd down defense. The base unit was pretty good. You can mix in specialty players to units situational units. Those guys can have defined roles that make it easier for them to get on the field quickly and contribute right away.
The Eagles will add defensive speed and talent this offseason. Those guys can have an impact, even if they don’t start. Hopefully a player or two will emerge and either win a job or seriously challenge for a spot. Just don’t count on a bunch of new starters.
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One other note about Seattle. Be careful about using them as the measuring stick. They landed the best CB in football in the 5th round. They have the best S duo in the league. The Eagles can build up a good defense, but counting on them to try and put together an elite unit like what Seattle has is a bit much. That group is special. Time will tell how special.