Initial Thoughts on New Eagles Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis

Initial Thoughts on New Eagles Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis
February 7, 2013, 9:29 pm
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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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