New mantra for Eagles' D: Keep it simple


Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Posted: 3:10 p.m.

By Reuben Frank

Jim Washburn is trying to explain why a simpler defense is a more effective defense. Why the less there is to think about the easier it is to make plays.

Washburn, a self-deprecating, old-school defensive line coach from the North Carolina farmland, figures he cant coach something thats so complicated he cant explain it.

Ill tell you thisyou want me to take the Wunderlic test? Washburn said, referring to the controversial intelligence test administered to college seniors hoping to be drafted. Im not kidding you. I dont read well. I told Andy, Im a dumbass.

If its complicated, if I have to think too much, I cant do things. I cant do two things at once. Give me a task to do, I can do it. And these linemen arent much different mentally than I am.

And right there, in a nutshell, you have the defensive philosophy of Juan Castillo, Washburn and the rest of Andy Reids new defensive coaches.

Keep it simple.

Remember all those times the last year or two when you saw 14 guys on the field and half of them were waving their arms in their air in confusion and yelling at the sideline trying to figure out if they were supposed to be out there or not? Remember all those times that you saw a defensive end trying to play tackle or drop back in coverage? All the times you saw the offense snap the ball while the defense was either out of position or just not quite ready?

That is what this coaching staff is planning to eliminate.

Strip it down. Coach it up. Free their minds of the clutter. Just go play.

Just make it to where players can understand it and not think about what they have to do, just think about attacking, said Mike Caldwell, promoted by Reid to linebackers coach. Hey, the defense will still be complex. Were going to have enough in it. But were going to simplify it and teach it to where theyre not thinking about what they have to do on the defense, they can just think about what the offense is trying to do to them, and they can just go out and play fast.

For example?

If you can have one check that handles a bunch of different coverages and theres not a check for every coverage, that simplifies things, Caldwell said. Now guys can anticipate and they can react, and when you do that, you play faster, and when you play faster, you make plays.

Reid has overhauled his coaching staff since the season ended with a second straight wild-card playoff loss, and in a rare departure from policy, the team made several of the new position coaches available to the media Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex.

With virtually no exceptions, Reid does not allow position coaches to speak on the record to the media.

On Wednesday, Washburn, Caldwell, safeties coach Mike Zordich and cornerbacks coach Johnny Lynn were all available, as was new offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

The availability was a great chance to pick the new coaches brains about what kind of defense this will be, and the answer was unanimous.

Were trying to cut some things back and make it easier for them to understand what were trying to do, Lynn said. We all have struggles, and I think right now were trying to make it so its a little bit easier for guys to play and do their job.

Reid fired Sean McDermott on Jan. 15 after just two years and replaced him with offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

To play fast, things have to be easy, Castillo said. Jim Washburn was brought here so our defensive line can play fast and attack, so its our job on the back end to make everything as simple as possible so people can just run and play.

People talk about the Bearstheyre not really very complex, but they do a great job playing defense, playing fast and physical and fundamental and they attack. Thats what we want to be like.

A lot goes into simplifying a defense. Part of it is formations. Part of it is terminology and checks. Part of it is just reducing the responsibilities of some of the players.

If Trent Cole is a great pass rusher, then turn him loose and let him rush the passer.

Sometimes, I think we make it too complicated, Washburn said. I dont think, I know. I think we want to let the players play.

Trent Cole, guys like that, when they drop back in coverage or do all this other stuff, it disheartens them sometimes. They just want to do what they do. They just want to play, you know?

Now, this doesnt mean the Eagles are going to go out and play base defense all the time. The playbook will still be thick, substitutions will still depend on offensive formations, and many of the guys on the field will still have numerous responsibilities.

But the philosophy is changing. The Eagles are hoping that less is more. That a less complex defense is a more productive defense. And that players who were overwhelmed by what they were asked to do the past year or two will respond to a system thats designed to play to their strengths.

If they have three wide receivers, we still want to get our nickel packages in, that obviously wont change, Caldwell said. But if teams are trying to mess with you by running guys in and out of there, just leave your guys out there and have them do what they do well. Even if its not the perfect matchup, just let them go out and play free and not think about it. If you can do that, youre going to make the plays.

We got the guys. Weve definitely got the guys here. Its just freeing them up and letting them play. If we attack and be aggressive, well be fine.

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