Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had a tough go of things in 2009. He was replacing the legendary Jim Johnson and only got the job permanently a few days before training camp began. Sean wasn't able to make the kind of personnel adjustments he might have wanted. He didn't have a full offseason to integrate his ideas. Sean had to do the best he could under awkward circumstances. He also had to deal with a couple of tough breaks. Sean didn't have Brian Dawkins to act as a stabilizing force at the back of the defense. He didn't have Stewart Bradley to be the leader of the group and the 2-way middle linebacker that the defense needed. McDermott's defense had some good games, but didn't play nearly as well as expected.
McDermott is now in his 2nd year of running the defense. He's made player changes and had the whole offseason to figure out what changes he wanted to make to the playbook. SS Quintin Mikell recently had some interesting comments about the 2010 Eagles defense. He mentioned some issues with the blitz being somewhat predictable the last couple of years and then added this:
"But we have a whole different scheme this year. It's a whole different package. And a lot of different personnel. You won't be able to tell where it's coming from all the time. We've changed up a lot and we've got a refreshed look at it. I'm excited."
Before we get into the quote you need to understand one key thing. Players are the worst source of information there is. They mean well. They really do. The problem is that players rarely communicate well enough for their information to come through as intended.
We don't have a whole new scheme this year. We're still running the 4-3 as our base defense. We still have a pair of stout DTs that will play 2-gap technique to occupy blockers. We still believe in attacking the QB. Do we have a whole new blitz package? It is doubtful that McDermott has changed everything. After all, there are only so many things you can do with 11 players. There are always going to be basic blitzes like having a LB come off the edge or sending the slot corner after the QB.
My guess is that Mikell is trying to say that we have a whole new set of wrinkles to add to the defense. We saw some new stuff last year. The most successful thing that McDermott did was when he shifted Trent Cole to ILB in some looks and had him rush up the middle. This led to sacks against Carolina and Chicago. I don't recall Jim Johnson ever having Cole line up at ILB and blitz up the middle. That was a simple, but original twist. And effective.
I'm sure that Sean has some new ideas for the defense. There has been a shift in our type of personnel. You have to think back to last August 1st. At that time we had one of the biggest sets of LBs in the league. Bradley is 260 in the middle. Chris Gocong was about 260 at SAM. Akeem Jordan was 240 at WIL. Our line had some size. The DTs aren't Pat Williams big, but they can eat up blocks. And Victor Abiamiri was the projected LDE. People see his listed weight (267 pounds)and believe it. Victor was up in the 285 range at one point. He isn't a speed rusher. Victor is a tough, physical run defender.
We definitely had a change in philosophy after the '09 season. We have guys in the 235-240 range at SAM. We traded for Ernie Sims to be the WIL at about 225 pounds. Abiamiri is hurt and we're not counting on him. We added a pair of DEs in Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham that are both speed and effort guys. McDermott wanted more speed on defense and that's exactly what he got. We also added rookies LB Jamar Chaney and DE/LB Ricky Sapp who were among the fastest guys at the Combine for their position group. Rookies Keenan Clayton and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim had some of the best overall workouts at the Combine.
We now have the fastest, most versatile defense of the Andy Reid era. That gives McDermott the flexibility to move players around and do different things. He can get as creative as he wants. We've gotten practice reports about the defense installing some new looks and wrinkles. We know that LB Moise Fokou is getting a lot of work with the pass rushers to get ready for the role of the Joker in our Okie package. There was a play in practice the other day where Cole and Graham moved from DE to ILB so they could both blitz up the middle. That's a twist on last year's twist. And so on.
We won't get to fully appreciate what McDermott wants to do for quite a while. We don't face the Cowboys until December. You can bet he'll save some stuff for our games with them. We'll certainly see some creative blitzes and new looks before then. I'm sure we'll do our best to confuse the Packers in Week One. McDermott indicated he'll mix in some 3-4 at times this year. It wouldn't shock me to see us come out with that as our base look for some of the 1st quarter against Green Bay. Always keep 'em guessing.
I think we can safely say that McDermott wanted more speed in the middle of the defense. Jordan or Fokou will replace Gocong at SAM. We lose about 20 pounds, but add speed and cover skills. Sims replaces Jordan at WIL. We go down about 15 pounds, but add speed and cover skills. Jordan can run with TEs. Sims can run with RBs. Heck, he can run with some WRs. Pass coverage by the LBs should be greatly improved in 2010.
I haven't said much about the secondary to this point. There could be a shift in coverage styles. We've played a mixture of man and zone over the last decade. With Bobby and Troy we played mostly man. We've gotten to more of a balance since they left. This year we brought Dick Jauron in to be the DBs coach. He's most well-known for using the Cover 2 look with his secondaries.
Let's understand that Cover 2 doesn't mean Tampa 2. Big difference. The Cover 2 is simply when the Safeties split the deep middle and each guy covers one half of the deep zone. The CBs can play man or zone in this set-up. Usually they play zone. The Tampa 2 is an overall style of defense. The Minnesota Vikings are a Cover 2 team. They have a big front seven and they focus on stuffing the run. The Tampa 2 is based on the old Bucs teams (obviously). They featured small guys that flew to the football. We only have one speedy LB in our starting trio and our DTs are run stuffers, not guys who penetrate and make plays (Warren Sapp). We aren't a Tampa 2 team.
I have no problem if Jauron and McDermott mix in more Cover 2. It would take some of the pressure off of our CBs and would simplify things for rookie FS Nate Allen. Neither McDermott nor Jauron has talked all that much about coverage schemes so we don't know what will happen. We could stick to a balanced mixture of man and zone. No matter what style we use, the real key is execution. Last year's playbook was fine. We just didn't cover well and gave up a ton of passing TDs. That can't happen again.
Sean McDermott now has the kind of players he wants. He's had time to adjust the scheme and add to the playbook. The 2010 defense will give us a much better idea of exactly what he's looking to do. Don't expect to see new looks and wild blitzes on every snap. The basic defense will largely be the same. There is more of an emphasis on speed and coverage ability, but the inside trio of Patt, Bunk, and Bradley is still very much a force against the run.
It will be exciting to see what wrinkles McDermott has come up with. He's a bright guy and he definitely got to learn from one of the great defensive minds of all time. With Sean's creativity and our improved speed and athleticism, the 2010 Eagles should be a fun defense for us to watch.