Why Is Billy Davis a Good Choice for Eagles Defensive Coordinator? In a Word: Versatility

Why Is Billy Davis a Good Choice for Eagles Defensive Coordinator? In a Word: Versatility

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Will the Eagles utilize a 4-3 or a 3-4 defensive alignment
going forward? The answer is maybe.

The Eagles have had a 4-3 base defense since forever
basically, but it’s no secret new head coach Chip Kelly prefers the 3-4. The
problem with Kelly’s partiality is his roster currently appears to lack some of
the key elements required to operate a 3-4 effectively, namely a big presence
at nose tackle, and probably one if not two outside linebackers who have the
ability to rush the passer and drop
into coverage. We could even quibble over the inside backers.

Maybe some of those players are in the locker room already,
and we just don’t know it. The front office can harvest additional talent through
free agency and the draft as well.

Point being all signs point to the Eagles moving away from the
4-3, but clearly they could go through a transition period to get there. While remaining
coy over his specific plans for the unit, Kelly more or less admitted it will
be a balancing act, preaching his familiar sermon on “coaching to the
personnel.”

“One of the things about Billy's background is Billy's
versatility,” Kelly said at his Monday press conference. “I like the 3-4 better
when I first started at Oregon. Just philosophically, if you carry more
linebackers than you do defensive linemen, you help your team from a special
teams standpoint. But you can't just do that in a day. So it's a situation
where we're evaluating all of the personnel on our team, and we'll see where we
are.”

If the defense doesn’t have the pieces to run an effective
3-4 as their base, nor the means to immediately acquire them, we’ll probably
still see plenty of 4-3 is some form.

That’s where Billy Davis comes in.

Forget, if you can, that he was the linebackers coach on the
Browns the past two seasons – a more irrelevant critique I haven’t heard. Davis
has been coaching all over the NFL since 1992. He’s been in Pittsburgh,
Carolina, Green Bay, Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, and Arizona, too, and in
all those stops, he’s learned defense under many masters.

Davis has seen it all, and thus is equipped to coach whatever
the Eagles have for personnel. Head coach wants a 3-4? Davis can do that. Personnel
isn’t ready for a 3-4, is better suited for a 4-3? Davis can do that. Want to employ
a hybrid defense like the “4-3 under” that is all the rage? Davis can do that.

There is something to be said for this kind of versatility.

Sure, there were more well-known names such as Rob Ryan available
to coach the Eagles’ defense. Those high-profile coaches are often known for
having one set way of doing things though.

After the Dallas Cowboys canned Ryan, he was initially
thought to have found a home in St. Louis. The Rams quickly ended that marriage
however due to Ryan’s relentless affinity for a 3-4. The difference is Kelly actually
wants a 3-4 (the Rams apparently do not), but clearly some coaches are not the
type to be flexible with their schemes. (Ryan eventually landed with the
Saints.)

Which does nothing to change the fact that Davis is largely
an unknown with two unimpressive stints as a defensive coordinator already for
the 49ers and Cardinals – unimpressive perhaps being kind. Still, at least it’s
pro-level coordinator experience, which is more than could be said for Sean
McDermott, Juan Castillo, or Todd Bowles – the last three Eagles’ hires.

Basing an entire opinion around his previous jobs doesn’t
really do Davis justice, anyway. He took the San Francisco position when the
franchise was coming off of a 2-14 season and was depleted of talent, while
Arizona’s defense was in good shape under Davis until Kurt Warner retired and
the Cards’ 31st-ranked offense started putting his unit in impossible
situations on a weekly basis.

Any coordinator’s or coach’s success is dependent on how
much talent is on the field – if not entirely, certainly to some extent.

Jim Johnson was one of the all-time greats, but let’s not
forget he enjoyed luxuries such as the opportunity to coach multiple Pro-Bowl
players, and the Eagles always having stability at the quarterback position. He
didn’t exactly have the resume of a guru upon his arrival in Philly, either.

Which is not to say Billy Davis is the next Jim Johnson, or even
that everything will all work out in the end. Ultimately the onus is on the
Eagles’ front office to build a contender, and Chip Kelly believes the best
defense to do accomplish that is a 3-4. Since that might not happen overnight,
hiring a coordinator whose experience extends far beyond any one defensive
alignment actually comes off as wise.

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.