NFC East: billy davis

Eagles' 'red flag': Cornerback

May, 13, 2013
Football Outsiders is doing a series of posts called "Red Flags," which take a look at the biggest remaining issue facing each team with the draft behind us and minicamps getting underway. Today's post is on the NFC East teams Insider, and I'm breaking it up into four smaller posts to examine the red flags team-by-team. This one looks at the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom Sean McCormick feels cornerback is the top remaining red flag.

Sean agrees with the Eagles that they needed to move on from 2012 starters Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He just doesn't think the cornerbacks the Eagles signed to replace them have enough upside:
Bradley Fletcher finished out the year as St. Louis' fourth corner thanks to his penchant for drawing flags. He might be a more natural slot defender, but Brandon Boykin is entrenched as the Eagles' nickelback, so Fletcher will play on the outside. Cary Williams started for the Super Bowl champion Ravens, but he gave up a ton of completions by playing soft on any kind of comeback route. The one thing Williams does exceptionally well, though, is tackle -- he missed a grand total of three tackles in the past two years. And, as noted before, that's a talent that was sorely missing from the Eagles' secondary.

So there's that. But while it's certainly nice to have corners who tackle better than Asomugha does, the corner's primary job is to make plays that prevent him or anyone else from having to make a tackle. I find it hard to believe that the Eagles' defense under new head coach Chip Kelly and coordinator Billy Davis will want to be the kind of defense that allows big pass plays because it can make tackles downfield. But Fletcher and Williams are two guys the Eagles targeted. With their money and cap room, they could have signed anyone they wanted to sign. Their priority was to find younger guys who fit the profiles of players they believed could develop within their system.

The question for 2013 is whether the corners (and the new safeties, who are also addressed here) will be good enough to support a front seven that's transitioning to some sort of hybrid front and will be full of players learning a new system with new terminology taught by new coaches. The defense could be a major work in progress in Philadelphia this year, which would require a lot of patience with the new coach and his new cornerbacks.
With three days left until the NFL draft, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay are having a "Hot Button" debate about which team picking in the top five Thursday night has the best chance to contend in 2013. Mel picked Andy Reid's new team, the Kansas City Chiefs, who hold the No. 1 pick. Todd picked Reid's former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, who pick fourth:
The Eagles added pieces for their new 3-4 defense in OLB Connor Barwin and NT Isaac Sopoaga, and new FB James Casey can be a versatile contributor on offense that could provide plenty of fireworks.

If QB Michael Vick stays healthy and buys in to the up-tempo system of new coach Chip Kelly, he could team with RB LeSean McCoy and WRs Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson to give Philly plenty of weapons. And with OTs Jason Peters and Todd Herremans returning from injury, and WR Arrelious Benn also added in the offseason, there's a lot to be excited about on offense.

With all of those pieces already in place, plus the high draft picks the Eagles have with the ability to use them to truly draft best-player-available instead of drafting for need make Todd think the chance exists for the Eagles to turn things around quickly.

Personally, I think the Eagles could go either way. I agree with Todd about the good pieces in place, especially if the offensive linemen can all recover from their injuries and play the way they played in 2011. But I have major concerns about Vick and about the ability of all of the defensive players to learn a whole new defense in time for the start of the season. A major shift in defensive schemes can take two years to fully implement, and it might be that the Eagles need more than just the next several months to be as good as they can be in Kelly's and Bill Davis' system.

It appears as though Kelly is viewing his project as a long-term one in Philadelphia, which is good for the Eagles. And this is the NFL, where there are surprise contenders every year who went 4-12 or worse the year before, so you can't rule the Eagles out as a 2013 factor. But I think the potential exists for serious growing pains, especially while they figure out quarterback.
The main goal for Chip Kelly at this week's Philadelphia Eagles minicamp appears to be assessing personnel. With five months still to go before real games start, the Eagles' new coach is determined to spend his time figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of his players prior to determining how to deploy them.

This is called good coaching. And while there's been a lot of outside speculation about the Eagles switching from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 alignment, Kelly has insisted all along that they will run plenty of both.

This brings up Brandon Graham, the former first-rounder who has always been a pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. Some have asked me whether I think they'll trade Graham, especially with guys like Trent Cole and Connor Barwin on the roster as pass-rushers. I don't see why trading Graham makes sense, since he's good and 25 years old and finally healthy and costs less than $3 million against this year's cap. Even if they deploy him as a situational pass-rusher, he's got more value to them as a member of the roster than as a trade chip.

As for how they'll deploy him ... they don't know yet. Kelly wants to know if Graham can handle coverage responsibilities if he lines up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Per Sheil Kapadia:
“Trying to see if Brandon is a guy that can drop and play good in coverage. Or is he more of a natural defensive end?” Kelly said. “That is more of what this process for us is about. Finally getting the chance to identify our talent on the defensive side of the ball and then put them in positions to make plays. If we really feel that Brandon can, then that’s another weapon that Billy [Davis] has to use in terms of what he can use defensively. But if we don’t think Brandon’s a great drop guy, then shame on us if we’re making him do that.”

It doesn't mean he won't have anything to do. Graham is a talent, and he showed last season that he can be a productive and useful one. Good coaches don't cast talent aside just because it doesn't fit their preconceived notions of what they want to do with their schemes. Good coaches don't have preconceived notions about schemes. They identify their best players and find the best way to maximize their abilities. That's what's going on in Philadelphia on Days One and Two and Three of Kelly's program, and I imagine we can expect it to continue for a while.
Washington Redskins

John Keim offers an offseason primer for Redskins fans, and it's little surprise that the first two areas of need he cites are in the secondary.

Considering 2012 began with some doubt as to whether and how much Kory Lichtensteiger would be able to play coming off a major knee injury, the season he had at left guard (and some center) is worthy of note.

New York Giants

One of the broken-record items we tend to address on here more often than is likely necessary is the fact that the Giants have not drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since 1999. They could change that trend this year, and it might not be a bad idea. Ohm Youngmisuk takes a look at the offensive line situation for the Giants as the offseason begins.

The crew from has some debate topics, including one about whether David Wilson can rush for 1,000 yards in 2013.

Dallas Cowboys

Calvin Watkins thinks Miles Austin will be playing for the Cowboys in 2013 but Anthony Spencer likely will be playing for someone else. I tend to agree, though I think Austin may need to restructure his contract to help them out with the cap situation.

Oh, and in case you missed it, Jerry Jones said late last week that all of the coaching changes this offseason were Jason Garrett's idea. And if you buy that, Jones also would like to speak to you all about some oceanfront property.

Philadelphia Eagles

Mike Garafolo reports that Trent Cole had surgery on his hand recently and that there's a chance it could cost him part of the team's spring program. Worth watching, as I think everyone's interested to see what Cole's role is going to be in the new Chip Kelly/Billy Davis defense.

If Kelly's initial coaching staff has you pulling your hair out, Reuben Frank thinks you need to exercise patience. Which is good advice in general.
Washington Redskins

CSN Washington is taking a look at unsung heroes from the Redskins' division championship season, and this latest installment looks at right guard Chris Chester. Indeed, Chester had a strong season at right guard and was one of the pleasant surprises on the offensive line.

Dan Steinberg dug into the Redskins' ticket-price increases and, not surprisingly, found some things that are making some fans a lot more unhappy than the team's initial announcement claimed they would be about this.

New York Giants

A day after cutting defensive tackle Chris Canty, the Giants announced that they re-signed defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. He impressed coaches and teammates in training camp last year but missed the season due to a blood clot in his leg. It's possible he could function as a Canty replacement at low cost, if he can stay healthy and play the way he looked in the preseason last year.

Ohm believes the Giants will make a push to re-sign tight end Martellus Bennett, which is not a big surprise nor a bad idea for them. The only potential issue is that, since he played well for them and looks more appealing now than he did at the end of his time in Dallas, they might not be able to get him as cheaply as they did a year ago.

Dallas Cowboys

Expect some changes for the Cowboys at running back this year, as Nick Eatman writes. And while he's right that they're not looking for a starter because they like DeMarco Murray for that role, it's not ridiculous to think they might look for someone who can share the starter's load with Murray and possibly help keep him healthier.

This is likely nothing, but if you're the Cowboys or one of their fans, you may want to see if Dirk Nowitzki is willing to hang a Tony Romo jersey in his locker next year.

Philadelphia Eagles

Sheil Kapadia has the full breakdown here of new Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Lots of interesting information, including something we'll get into later today about whether he's a 4-3 guy or a 3-4 guy or something in between.

It appears as though Alabama offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will be joining the Eagles' coaching staff in the same role.
As reported first, and our Adam Schefter has confirmed, the Philadelphia Eagles have selected Cleveland Browns linebackers coach Billy Davis as their new defensive coordinator. The Eagles have yet to confirm the hire (or any of the other coaching staff hires new head coach Chip Kelly has made), but Davis ran a 3-4 defense when he was coordinator in Arizona in 2010-11. He was also defensive coordinator for the 49ers in 2005-06.

It's not exactly an inspirational hire, especially given how long it took, but Cleveland's defense was pretty good last year and Davis does have experience overseeing an NFL defense. It does seem to indicate a desire by Kelly to switch the Eagles to a 3-4 defensive alignment, and if that is what happens then Davis has one of the most important jobs in the Eagles organization over the next two years. Philadelphia's personnel does not appear to translate fluidly from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so tough decisions will have to be made about who can handle it, who can't and what other pieces will be necessary to augment those in place.

Much more to come on this in the coming days and weeks as the Eagles' plans take shape, but you now know the identity of the man who will lead the defense under Kelly.
The latest name to surface in the Philadelphia Eagles' hunt for a defensive coordinator is that of Cleveland Browns linebackers coach Billy Davis. Tim McManus reported Sunday that Davis' name was one to keep an eye on, and our man Adam Schefter reports Monday morning that Davis interviewed for the job Sunday. New head coach Chip Kelly said in his introductory news conference that he hadn't yet decided whether to keep the 4-3 defensive alignment the Eagles currently run or switch to a 3-4, but Davis is the latest coach whose candidacy indicates a preference for a 3-4. Davis is a former defensive coordinator of the 49ers and the Cardinals and ran a 3-4 in each of those stops.

Personally, I believe a switch to a 3-4 defense would indicate that Kelly views his task as a relatively long-term build. The Eagles have a very good 4-3 defensive line, and while some players (such as Fletcher Cox, who would make a nice 3-4 end) likely could make the transition easily, it's hard to see how the switch would play to the strengths of anyone currently on the Eagles' defense. Switching to a 3-4 takes a couple of years, as recent examples in Washington and Green Bay have shown, and the first season would be spent figuring out which current players could handle it and which would have to go. Can Trent Cole and Brandon Graham become stand-up outside linebackers? Would the Eagles have no more room for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, as the Texans did when they switched to a 3-4?

Those are some of the questions, and if Kelly installs a 3-4 under any coordinator, the Eagles and their fans will need to be patient with him while it takes effect. The Eagles likely would struggle with the transition in 2013, and unless they find a better solution at quarterback than they currently appear to have available to them, they can't count on the offense to simply outscore people. Rebuilding doesn't have to take long in the NFL, but it appears as though some sort of rebuild is what you can expect to take place in the early part of Kelly's tenure in Philadelphia.