Thursday, August 11, 2011
Castillo's energy driving Eagles' defense
By Dan Graziano
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has fired up his players during camp with his enthusiasm.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has a small cut on his face, right between the eyes. He got it when he head-butted linebacker Keenan Clayton in a recent practice while trying to drive home a point. Clayton had a helmet on at the time, hence the cut. When you watch Castillo in practices, it strikes you that it's a miracle he hasn't been hurt worse.
"That man there is fired up," new Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He's always running around. I've seen him head-butt a few guys. Anytime someone makes a play, he's going to run from wherever he's at to that person and congratulate him."
Rodgers-Cromartie is not exaggerating. At the end of every practice play, Castillo sprints into the middle of the action to high-five the guy who made a big play, or to holler a correction at the guy who blew his assignment. Or both. Castillo is a screaming, sweaty fireball whose relentless energy is inescapable.
"A great thing to see out of a coach," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Usually you get that out of players -- when somebody makes a play, everybody gets hyped. But to see a coach do it? And the defensive coordinator at that? You're like, 'This man here is kind of out there.' But it fires you up."
That's what Castillo wants to hear. The energy and enthusiasm are genuine, sure, but he's got them turned all the way up for effect.
"Other coaches want their guys to have energy, but then they don't," Castillo said. "Well, I have it for them. I can take that and I can get them pumped up and give the high-fives, and they know I care."
Castillo may well epitomize the impatient energy that's coursing through Eagles camp. The Eagles found a lottery ticket last year named Michael Vick, and a franchise that has never celebrated a Super Bowl title wants to cash that thing in as soon as it can in case the jackpot is as big as it appears to be. In order to do that, the Eagles needed to make improvements on defense. And long before they started the offseason acquisition spree that brought in Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, they made leadership changes. They brought in Jim Washburn to coach the defensive line and, rather surprisingly, gave Castillo the job as defensive coordinator after he'd spent the last dozen years coaching the offensive line.
"This has been a 13-year process," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. "Juan played defense and coached defense, and then every year he's bugged me about going back to the defense, even though he'd developed into one of the best offensive line coaches in the National Football League. So I used to tell him, 'When I can find somebody as good as you, then I'll move you back over.' I was finally able to do that by bringing (new offensive line coach) Howard Mudd in, and that allowed me to make this move."
Reid knew the move would be surprising, and it was. Even in his own locker room, where Castillo was a familiar face.
"I was shocked," linebacker Jamar Chaney said. "Everybody was shocked."
But Castillo, as Reid said, was a linebacker and a linebackers and defensive line coach during his college career at Texas A&I (now Texas A&M Kingsville). And he says he's always had it in his blood. Plus, he's a firm believer that coaches can coach, period.
"I'm a teacher," Castillo said. "And if you're a teacher, you can take anything and learn it and apply it. What I did when I was coaching the line, I just took everything that I did on defense and flipped it over onto offense. I just flipped over the D-line drills I did with my D-line, except we won now instead of the D-line winning those drills."
Now, he's flipping it back, and the players feel more educated by the day.
"He's a great teacher," Chaney said. "He's teaching us the concepts of the offense. If you're a good defensive player, you know the defense. But to know what kind of blocking scheme they're going to throw at you if you're blitzing, or if they're running, or if they count this person in protection -- that's the kind of stuff Juan teaches you. And it's great, because now you know who's fixing to block you so you can come down here and hit them and get to the ball. So he has a great concept of offense but also knows defense very well."
Which is good, because if he didn't, he'd just be a loud, crazy guy running around the field babbling nonsense. Castillo's credo, which he preaches daily to his new defensive charges, is three-pronged: "Know what to do, know how to do it, and do it hard."
"That's what defense is," Castillo said. "It can't be too complicated. Everybody's got to play fast, and to play fast they've got to know what they're doing. It's got to be second nature. You can't be out there thinking, or you'll miss the play."
And then maybe you'll get the head-butt instead of the high five.
"Having Juan and 'Wash' on this side of the ball has definitely changed the dynamics of the entire team and the coaching staff," said Babin, who played for the Eagles in 2009 and for Washburn in Tennessee last year. "Before, there was a little different hierarchy when it came to how you could coach. And with Juan and Wash's explosive coaching nature, some of the other coaches have seen that they've consequently come out of their shell. But it's been good, because all of a sudden you see this passion, this intrinsic motivation in the coaches, and now you're seeing it carry over into the players."
There's so much pent-up energy around the Eagles, who can't wait to start this season, that it's probably good that Castillo and his fellow coaches are letting some of it out. Castillo's just glad the new CBA eliminated two-a-day training camp practices. He's exhausted after one.
"Two practices like this, I don't know," he said with a tired smile. "That would have been hard."