Most people agree the Eagles defense will be better in 2014. Whether the defense will be good, mediocre or bad remains up for debate. Those who have faith in Bill Davis see reason for hope. Others, like Bob Brookover, are focused on the Eagles young talent.
The Eagles defense couldn’t stop anybody at the beginning of last season, couldn’t stop the Minnesota Vikings with Matt Cassel at quarterback near the end of the season, and couldn’t stop the New Orleans Saints on the final drive of a first-round playoff loss at Lincoln Financial Field.
The only new starter figures to be safety Malcolm Jenkins, a free-agent addition who has created little excitement among the people who love to spell their team’s name out loud.
Don’t worry. The defense will be better. In fact, it might even be more improved than the offense, which, as you may recall, lost its top receiver.
Here’s why: the Class of 2012.
That group, the last one selected in the Andy Reid era, has a chance to be the best draft class in franchise history. Other than Foles, it is a class dominated by defensive players.
Brandon Boykin might have been the best slot cornerback in the league last season, and he’s going to be better in 2014. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks developed into a playmaker in his second NFL season and he’s going to be better in 2014. Fletcher Cox, the first-round selection in 2012, is going to be better, too.
They know it and you’ll see it.
“I would compare it to just kind of like being a freshman in college and everything is just fast and you’re trying not to just learn your way on the field, but also around the whole organization,” Boykin said. “Once you get settled and calmed down on the field, you are able to home in on the fundamentals and the techniques, and that’s kind of what I did in the offseason going into my second year. That’s why I got better.”
For Kendricks, the experience was similar.
“The leaps and bounds you make between your first and second year, they’re phenomenal,” the linebacker said. “Once you learn the language, the schemes, and the concepts, and you have that down, you can focus on the little things that make you better.”
It’s important to remember, of course, that Boykin, Kendricks, and the rest of the defense had to learn a new system last year. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis introduced a 3-4 defense, and Kendricks said it wasn’t until the middle of last season that everything started to click for him individually and for the defense as a whole.
“This may not run well with a whole lot of people, but I consider last year my first year, just personally,” Kendricks said. “My first year wasn’t really one to remember in terms of personal achievements. Even though I had a great time with the whole experience . . . it wasn’t until the second year that I really had fun and felt like I made a difference with my play. I felt like I did what I got drafted to do.”
I think Brookover makes good points and has a logical take here, but he’s awfully sure of these young players. I’m confident in them, but not quite as much as him.
He did get me to thinking about not just 2012, but the last rookie classes (drafts + UDFAs). Look at the defense the team is building.
DE Fletcher Cox
NT Bennie Logan
DE Cedric Thornton
OLB Marcus Smith
ILB Mychal Kendricks
ILB Jake Knott
OLB Travis Long
S Earl Wolff
S Ed Reynolds
CB Brandon Boykin
CB Jaylen Watkins
There are others with potential. Joe Kruger and Taylor Hart could be good backup DEs. Vinny Curry is a gifted role player. Beau Allen could be the backup NT. LB is thin. That’s an area where the Eagles still need work. There isn’t much depth behind the DBs that are listed.
My point isn’t to make the list above look like Gang Green, Pt. 2, but just to show that the Eagles have the framework of a good, young defense. Some players will pan out, others will fail. Some will get hurt. Others might become firemen. Oh wait, that’s only O-linemen.
Out of the list above, Cox, Smith and Kendricks are probably the 3 key players. Cox can be a difference-maker up front. He showed that at times last year, but needs to be more consistent. The light went on for Kendricks about midseason. The 3-4 needs a playmaker in the middle of the field. And Smith is pretty obvious. The 3-4 needs LBs that are outstanding pass rushers. If he can be disruptive off the edge, that helps the DL and the DBs. If Smith is more of a try-hard guy who can’t regularly affect the QB, the 3-4 won’t be all that effective without heavy blitzing.
I really am curious to see how this defense comes together in the next year or two. There is potential. More talent definitely needs to be added, but there is potential.