John Smallwood: McDermott, Eagles defense already under the gun

Sean McDermott: early tests
Sean McDermott: early tests
Posted: August 24, 2009

SO MANY THINGS to fix, but so little time to get them all corrected.

To be honest, right now, you can apply that to all phases of the Eagles - offense, defense and special teams.

Still, while no unit has distinguished itself during the first two preseason losses, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is being watched by Bird backers with a little more scrutiny.

He's the rookie coordinator charged with replacing the iconic Jim Johnson. He's the one with no track record. He's the one whose unit has been toasted for 38 points when, presumably, most of the starters were on the field against New England and Indianapolis.

Think what you want about head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but past results have shown that once they get all the players they're counting on healthy, they'll figure a way to get this offense working efficiently.

And whether it's fair or not, if the late Johnson were still the Eagles defensive coordinator, we'd think much the same way about the defensive side of the game.

But we don't know what McDermott is yet. We can believe that he has been properly prepared for this role, but we don't how he's going to perform.

We don't have enough empirical evidence to know if the Eagles' defensive lapses in the first two preseason games are easily correctable with proper adjustments and execution or a sign of something more troublesome.

"I do," McDermott said yesterday when asked if he thought he is where he needs to be as a defensive coordinator at this stage. "I feel like I'm on schedule in terms of my development.

"It's important that, just like the players, we need to make progress and that includes me, that I develop continually with each week and with each game. As I mentioned before, my second call is better than my first, and my third game is better than my second."

That all may be true, but the problem is that whatever McDermott and his defense have been doing, it hasn't been good enough. And if it doesn't get better in the next few weeks, this defense is going to be in for a lot of hurt come Sept. 13 when the Eagles open the regular season at the Carolina Panthers.

You can say what you want about the insignificance of preseason games. You can even point out that the Eagles faced future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in those first two games.

The facts, however, remain that the Eagles defense has not looked impressive, and that adds more emphasis on the notion that McDermott wants to see his unit play significantly better in Thursday's game against Jacksonville at Lincoln Financial Field.

Considering the primary goal of the last preseason game is to ensure your starters come away healthy for the season opener, the game against Jacksonville will be the final chance for the projected starters to clean up the messes they have left thus far.

"On an individual basis and play-by-play basis, there were some outstanding efforts," McDermott said of the Indianapolis game where the starters surrendered two first-quarter touchdown passes to Manning. "Obviously as an overall defense, generally speaking, it wasn't where we needed to be from an execution and fundamental standpoint. We have a long list of items where our focus is right now on areas where we can get better."

I find it a bit discouraging that after a full training camp and two preseason games, McDermott's emphasis has to be on the execution of fundamentals.

I don't expect the Eagles running on all cylinders right now, but I'd at least like to see them be able to shift out of first gear.

"You want to see the ones come out and start fast, No. 1," McDermott said of what he wants his defense to show him against Jacksonville. "You want them to come and establish an attitude and mentality of this defense and execute the defense from pre-snap until the whistle blows."

McDermott sounded like a guy confident that the issues have been identified and can be corrected.

"We've gone back to the drawing board to make sure that we understand what's going on there," McDermott said. "We hope [the problem have been corrected].

"That's what you do as a coach. You come back and it provides a learning opportunity and a teaching opportunity. So, we'll treat it as such."

The thing is that this is a timed test, and the clock is rapidly winding down before a crucial pass or fail exam will be taken.

"We have a long way to go until we are where we need to be," McDermott said. "Even when we are where we need to be, we will still have a long way to go.

"[The final preseason games better be enough time] because in 2 weeks from now we'll be kicking off against Carolina. That's a formidable opponent down there. There won't be any time for it not to be enough time then."

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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