Last season was the first year under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Davis has since given himself the difficult task of turning a long-time 4-3 defense during Andy Reid’s tenure into a 3-4 scheme.
The problem is that under Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted several players who fit directly into the 4-3 defense. Davis and his staff are now faced with the challenge of trying to convert some of these players to be able to play proficiently in the 3-4.
Some examples of players who are slightly out of position in this defense are Vinny Curry, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. All three of these players are naturally defensive ends but have been forced the move to outside linebacker position under the new defensive scheme. Graham, who was drafted ahead of Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas in 2010, has been the biggest disappointment of all. He has only accumulated 11.5 sacks through four years.
The Eagles’ Front 7 drastically improved over the course of the 2013 season; they even went on a nine-game streak where they held opponents to 21 points or fewer.
This offseason, the Eagles made a few key defensive acquisitions. They signed veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins from the New Orleans Saints, and drafted Marcus Smith and Beau Allen. The two rookies are who I have really had my eye on.
Smith, an outside linebacker, was the Eagles’ first round draft choice in 2014. The problem with Smith is that he is more of the project than a player who is going to make an instant impact, which is not ideal for your first round selection. Smith is a very fast, pass rushing linebacker who is actually a perfect fit for this type of defense. Although he has been a bit of a let down so far, he will have a lot of time to improve his game and adapt the NFL speed.
Allen is a nose tackle who was taken in the seventh round of this year’s draft. He has done nothing but shine thus far through training camp and is looking like a potential steal. A solid nose tackle is essential in running an effective run-stopping 3-4. Allen could put some pressure on starting nose tackle Bennie Logan, as Logan is coming off of a hamstring injury.
Tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be a good test for Davis and his defense. They really need to focus on keeping the defense off the field after allowing conversions on 62.5 percent of 3rd downs in the first two preseason games.
This defense still needs time to mesh and adjust to the new scheme. With a year playing the 3-4 under their belt and some new exciting acquisitions, I hope that they can get back to way they played the second half of 2013 as soon as possible.