Versatility Will be Key For Philadelphia Eagles Defense

By Matt Lombardo
trent cole
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There has been plenty of speculation about  what kind of defense the Philadelphia Eagles plan to run under first-year head coach Chip Kelly and new defensive coordinator Bill Davis Jr.

It’s no secret that Davis Jr. prefers the 3-4 alignment up front, but that sort of wholesale face lift from a team that is comprised of players best suited for the 4-3 and does not happen overnight.

If Monday’s first open practice to the media is any indication of what’s to come for this team, the defense will likely be more of a hybrid of both fronts, which certainly will make versatility a virtue for the linebackers and defensive ends.

Two players that will likely face the biggest challenge and most scrutiny as a result of the change are Trent Cole and 2010 first-round draft choice Brandon Graham. Cole has thrived from the defensive end position, totaling 71 sacks which puts him behind only Reggie White and Clyde Simmons all time in franchise history. Meanwhile, Graham emerged last season with 5.5 sacks, good for sharing the team lead.

“Brandon [Graham]did it in college,” Kelly pointed out shortly after Monday’s practice to “Brandon was an outside linebacker in college, so he’s done some of it. But you watch Trent I think it was in 2010, I think he dropped over 100 times into coverage and zone blitz schemes with his hand on the ground. So there’s a little bit of basis of film but we can look at that and see what they can do.But again, it’s still an evaluation period, so we’re going to find out what they do the best and put them in those situations where they can do it.”

Both players will likely be forced to play both defensive end in the 4-3, and pick their hands off the ground and play outside linebacker in the 3-4, which was evident Monday.

“It’s not bad,” Graham, who played both defensive end and outside linebacker in college, said Monday. “It’s football. At Michigan, I had three different coordinators and they asked me to do different things. As long as I keep repping at it, I believe I can get it done. I don’t know exactly how they’ll use me yet, but we’ll see.”

Graham noted during the team’s offseason conditioning program that he was looking to drop his playing weight to roughly 260 pounds, he played at 270 last season, in anticipation of switching positions this season.

The four-year veteran says that the coaching staff has been patient during this process.

“They’re patient with us,” he said. “It’s not like they’re trying to get rid of us right away if we can’t do it right away.”

Meanwhile, for Cole, who has yet to line up for any extended period of time at linebacker, recognizes that a position change will be an adjustment, but not one he isn’t prepared to tackle.

“It doesn’t feel strange anymore,” Cole said while walking off the Novacare Complex practice fields Monday. “I’m going to be up against receiver more than I have been in the past, but I’m taking to it well. You’ve gotta pay attention to detail and you’ve gotta watch more.”

For all intents and purposes, Cole and Graham likely will be called upon to do little more than rush the passer from a stand up position, rather than a three-point stance that they had become accustomed to in their careers.

“If we’re playing in a three‑down scheme, our outside linebackers will be asked to do both things,” Kelly said Monday. “But we have to figure out who that is, and that’s part of the whole process. With the outside linebackers, they have to be able to rush the passer, set the edge and drop into coverage, but we need to evaluate them rushing the passer, setting the edge and dropping into coverage, so that’s what this whole process is about.”

Cole and Graham’s transition will go a long way towards just how quickly the over all defense recovers from finishing 15th overall and allowing 343.2 yards per game a season ago.

Matt Lombardo is also an on-air personality on 97.5 FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia. Join the conversation and follow Matt on Twitter

*All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.

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