Initial Thoughts on New Eagles Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis

Initial Thoughts on New Eagles Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis

After several weeks of radio silence, Chip Kelly and the
Eagles finally hired a defensive coordinator on Thursday, and naturally the Philly
faithful were not inspired by their choice – not that anybody can blame them.
Billy Davis is not a sexy pick no matter how the team tries to dress it up.

Of course part of the problem is there weren’t a lot of
attractive matches out there in the first place, which in this case meant a
coach who possesses instant name recognition, but is also still considered a star
in their profession. In other words, most fans weren’t going to be happy no
matter who the Eagles wound up with.

Let’s face it: the general public probably wasn’t going to get
excited for 49ers defensive backs coach Ed
Donatell or Ravens linebackers coach Ted
Monachino, perhaps least of all for Georgia defensive coordinator Todd
Grantham. Those were the other candidates the Eagles reportedly were to be
interested in though, which should tell you something about the availability of
renowned defensive assistants this offseason.

None of which amounts to much of a sales pitch for Davis,
either. The best anybody can really tell you is essentially the same we said for
Kelly after he was tabbed for the head job, which is every important coaching
hire in the NFL carries some risk. We can attempt to put minds at ease however
by answering a few of your burning questions.

Why did the Eagles
wait so long?

Obviously there was legitimate interest in one or multiple
staff members for either of this year’s participants in the Super Bowl. We can
confirm Donatell at least was not given permission from the Niners to interview
with other teams, and he sounded an awful lot like the favorite at one point.
Whether or not Monachino or anybody else was contacted is unclear.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Davis wouldn’t have been
awarded the job anyway, it just means there was somebody else the Eagles would
have liked to speak to.

Why did the Eagles
assemble the rest of the staff first?

For the most part, they haven’t. Only one position coach has
been hired thus far – Jerry Azzinaro at defensive line coach – and he comes
from Oregon’s staff. Naturally the head coach has some say in the defensive
coordinator’s staff.

No, this isn’t anything like Andy Reid hiring Jim Washburn,
an apparent crackpot who ran his own scheme entirely independent from the rest
of the defense. Azzinaro presumably will answer to and work amicably with Davis,
and I seriously doubt his presence had anything to do with any candidates who
may have turned the Eagles down.

Openings remain for linebackers and defensive backs coaches. Update: Reports now saying Kelly's staff complete as of Friday.

Why did the Eagles
hire somebody with Davis’ track record?

As was already alluded to, the apprehension over the Davis
hire is completely understandable. He spent the past two seasons as a
linebackers coach with the Cleveland Browns – not exactly a model of defensive
or organizational stability – and his two prior stints as a defensive
coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals were both
abysmal.

As for his tenure with the Niners, it’s important we take into
account the time period during which Davis was with the organization. His first
season there was 2005, the same year San Francisco owned the first overall pick
in the draft. This was a depleted franchise in terms of talent, and no
defensive coordinator could have changed that, so it’s probably fair to give
him a pass for those seasons.

What happened in the desert is a bit more of a mystery, as Davis
enjoyed the luxury of several of the key pieces that formed a solid Cards
defense in 2012. Then again, when Kurt Warner retired following their ’09
run, Arizona regressed to the 31st-ranked offense in the NFL, and also finished
31st in time of possession. Those numbers tend to reflect poorly on defenses as
well, as opposing offenses gain additional opportunities. Up until then, it was
a middle-of-the-road unit.

It’s best to practice caution when judging coaches based on
their earlier work. After all, when Reid hired Jim Johnson to take over the Eagles
defense back in 1999, he was just a linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks,
coming off an unsuccessful stint as a defensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

What type of defense
will Davis run?

That remains to be seen, but it’s widely assumed any
standard 4-3 scheme is out the window. Kelly has always been a 3-4 guy, and
given he brought with him a defensive line coach versed in the alignment, it
seems he tipped his hand in this regard. Most of the candidates the Eagles were
rumored to be targeting had 3-4 experience as well, Davis included.

However, there is already a great deal of speculation Davis
could utilize a hybrid defense known as the 4-3 under. To the naked eye this
alignment might look like your typical 3-4, but it’s played with four defensive
linemen and three linebackers nonetheless. Simplest terms: it’s not as
predictable as a typical 4-3 defense, but may not require quite as much specialized
personnel to operate. More on that later.

One thing is for certain though, and that is the Eagles’
defense will take on a vastly different appearance beginning this season. That
literally cannot be a bad thing.

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Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

NEW YORK — Phillies players were greeted by a message from Carlos Ruiz when they entered the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field on Friday.

“I will miss all of you guys. Good luck the rest of the season. Love you all, Chooch! Gracias,” (see story).

Ruiz did not actually write those words on the whiteboard by the entry to the clubhouse, but they were his. He reached out to visiting clubhouse manager Tony Carullo and asked that the message be written in just that way.

Ruiz, 37, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, ending an 11-season run with the Phillies that included five NL East titles, a World Series championship, an All-Star Game, a slew of clutch hits, many words of praise from the pitching staff and a million calls of Choooooch from fans in the stands (see story).

“Everybody loved Chooch for a number of reasons,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s the kind of guy you loved seeing every day, a hard-working, humble and appealing human being.

“I’d like to think when he’s done playing, the Phillies might have a place for him.”

Mackanin paused and laughed.

“As long as they don’t make him manager and he takes my job.”

Ruiz’s exit leaves Ryan Howard as the only member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club. Over the last few seasons, Howard has seen Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley depart.

It’s a topic that Howard seems to have grown weary of talking about.

“I've had to hear about it every year,” he said. “It's again the same thing. You play with guys your entire career and now you see them in different uniforms. It's definitely going to be something to get used to but that's baseball. That's the business aspect of it. Teams make moves and that's what happens.”

Like the rest of the core of that team, Howard, 36, has been available for trade the last few seasons, but there has been no real interest because of his decline in performance and huge salary.

So he will play out the final six weeks of his contract and try to hook on elsewhere next season.

Howard saluted his former teammate, Ruiz.

“I'm trying to think of the right words,” he said.

“The thing about Chooch — he was the quarterback in a sense. The way he handled the pitching staff, the way he prepared himself for games with the pitchers, from the defensive standpoint knowing different situations, knowing what guy you want to beat you, what guy you don't want to beat you. Just the way he played the game, he was a fireball. He was a fireball out there. I'm definitely going to miss him. I hit him up yesterday a little bit after I found out. I was happy for him and wanted to wish him the best.

“Chooch, he was always very, very positive. Always trying to help guys out, trying to pick guys up when he can and it carried over onto the field. That was his mentality.”

The Phillies acquired veteran backup catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later for Ruiz (see story). Ellis is due to join the team Saturday. In the meantime, the Phillies added prospect Jorge Alfaro from Double A (see story). He will be the backup catcher Friday night, then return to a talent-rich Reading club that has the best record in minor-league baseball and a date with Eastern League playoffs.

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews is probably the only Eagles wide receiver you feel remotely good about right now.

Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff are draft picks who haven’t accomplished much yet. Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are veteran offseason pickups who’ve shown little this preseason (see story). Dorial Green-Beckham is a former second-round pick whose first team gave up on him after just one year.

It’s not a group that inspires a whole lot of confidence right now. 

Potential? Sure. But opening day is 16 days away, there’s only one preseason game left for the starters to play, Sam Bradford has two guys to throw to — Matthews and Zach Ertz — and potential is a scary word at this point.

Matthews isn’t a superstar at this point. He’s a solid pro who seems to be getting better. His 1,862 yards are 10th most in NFL history after two seasons. 

But compared to the Eagles’ other receivers, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He's got credibility and because of that the 24-year-old Matthews has become a spokesman for the entire group. And this past week, two games into the preseason, he found himself in the position of having to defend this entire beleaguered bunch of wide receivers the Eagles have put together.

“The funniest thing is last year [the receivers] played extremely well in the preseason, got into the season, didn’t play well, and everybody’s like, 'Preseason doesn’t matter,'" Matthews said.

"Then the first preseason game we don’t play well, everybody’s like, 'The preseason matters, you guys suck!' Hold on … I thought it didn’t matter. You know what I’m saying?”

What he's saying is it's too early to write this group off. Maybe Huff and Agholor and Randle and Givens — or whichever among them makes the team — will turn it on once the regular season begins.

But going into the Colts game Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, the numbers are not pretty.

Huff and Randle both have three catches for 13 yards. Agholor has two catches for 30 yards. Givens is 0 for 0.

Matthews hasn’t played yet in the preseason because of a knee injury, and the next four receivers have a combined 56 receiving yards in two preseason games.

Paul Turner, an undrafted rookie, leads the group with nine catches for 78 yards. 

Improvement? Matthews sees it.

“I take this approach,” Matthews said this week. “Every rep counts. And so if every rep counts, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to do better the next rep, and I felt like guys took steps forward for the next rep. And that’s the main thing you always want to see, that improvement.

“I understand it’s the NFL, I understand obviously people are going to say you get paid a lot of money to do one thing, but I’ll tell you what, I know the guys in that room, they want to do well. None of those guys went into that game wanting to mess up or not put their best foot forward.”

Probably no recent draft pick has infuriated Eagles fans as much as Agholor. Well, other than maybe Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins. And Lane Johnson maybe.

But it’s tough for some to be patient with Agholor when Jeremy Maclin had 773 yards as a rookie, DeSean Jackson had 912 and Matthews had 872.

Heck, even Reggie Brown (571 yards) and undrafted Hank Baskett (464) were factors as rookie wideouts.

Agholor’s 283 yards last season rank tied for 27th out of 32 wide receivers drafted in the first round over the past 10 years.

But he has a big-time supporter in Matthews.

“I felt like the jump he made from the first game to the second game [was significant]," Matthews said "Even the stuff you don’t see. Blocking? [Darren] Sproles caught a short pass and Nelson turned his route around … he ran a great route, got open, turned around, blocked and probably sprung Sproles for another 10, 15 yards.

“He had another bubble situation where he had to block for Josh and he did. Definitely better than the first game, and that’s what you want to see. That’s the biggest thing. And it gets lost in the shuffle.”

That Sproles play, a 21-yard gain, was called back because of a penalty on rookie guard Isaac Seumalo.

But Matthews is passionate when he talks about how Agholor’s lack of production as a rookie doesn’t mean anything moving forward.

“I don’t know if y’all know this, but I love Jordy Nelson (Packers Pro Bowl receiver),” Matthews said. “I love him. One of my favorite receivers. Jordy Nelson didn’t have 1,000 yards till Year 4.

“Let’s put it in perspective. Guys get better. And I feel like that’s what I want to see from my group. Are guys getting better?

“There’s two things that I really look for from my group — attitude and effort. And do Nelson and Chris and Josh and those guys bring great attitude and effort?

“Yes. That’s what I want to see, and I feel that’s what we’ve shown.”

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

For the third time in five seasons, the Soul and Arizona Rattlers will compete in the ArenaBowl. Prior to Friday night's 7 p.m. matchup, the leaders of both squads, Soul coach Clint Dolezel and Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, were each named Marcum Moss Coach of the Year.

Dolezel and Guy will share the award but not the ArenaBowl trophy, which the Soul haven't won since their lone triumph in 2008 over the San Jose Sabercats. Dolezel, who has been at the helm since August 2012, led the Soul to the ArenaBowl in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Rattlers on both occasions.

This season, Dolezel, who spent over a decade as a quarterback in the AFL, coached the Soul to a 13-3 regular-season record. The team advanced to the ArenaBowl with a dramatic win in the American Conference championship game over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Dolezel also earned the Coach of the Year award last season for guiding the Soul to a 15-3 overall mark and a conference championship game appearance.

“Without a question, Clint is one of the best offensive minds in AFL history,” Soul owner Ron Jaworski said in a press release. “His success is attributed to a great deal of preparation and hard work. To make a playoff appearance every year as a head coach shows his dedication and willingness to win.”