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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Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

The timetable for Joel Embiid's return to the court keeps getting murkier.

Embiid was ruled out indefinitely on Monday and will now have an MRI on his injured left knee (see story). He initially suffered a bone bruise on Jan. 20 and it was revealed on Feb. 11 that he had a minor meniscal tear.

The Sixers previously had a plan of rest and rehab in place and targeted a March 4 return for the big man. 

"With respect to what's developed over the last couple of days, it's quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday's edition of Philly Sports Talk. "We're reacting in a way that's proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there's less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely."

That's a quick change of events. As recently as Friday, Embiid was on track to be back in uniform this week.

"I was in a situation where the latest update on Friday was that he was doing well through his planned progression toward returning to play," Colangelo said. "In recent days, his training has developed a reaction with swelling and soreness, and thus we wanted to take a step back, put him on ice for a minute and make sure that we do everything possible, including getting another scan done."

Embiid initially suffered the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20. The rookie sensation missed three games before coming back vs. the Houston Rockets in a national TV matchup on Jan. 27. He has missed all 13 games since facing the Rockets.

Even with Embiid’s diagnosed tear of his meniscus and recent flaring up of the knee after rehab sessions, the Sixers are being supremely cautious when it comes to any potential procedures. The team is not in a rush to put the center back under the knife after he missed the first two seasons of his career because of a pair of foot surgeries.

"With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention," Colangelo said. "When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone's knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he's reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors."

The quick decision to label Embiid out indefinitely is a sharp contrast to prior updates on the phenom. Just last week, Embiid lamented how the Sixers never announced a true timetable for his return (see story).

Now just days later, Embiid has a prognosis that could technically keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. 

Embiid has proven his worth in 31 games this season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes a night. But with only 23 games left on the schedule, will he suit up again this season?

"Out indefinitely means just that. It's indeterminate at this point," Colangelo said. "I think we're all hopeful to get him out there. It would be beneficial for the fans to see him again. It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive toward winning as the season concludes.

"But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost. We don't want to jeopardize the long-term health."

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B