There's an Oregon impact on Eagles defense, too

Eagles assistant head coach Jerry Azzinaro instructs players during training camp. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eagles assistant head coach Jerry Azzinaro instructs players during training camp. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 12, 2013

It wasn't just the Oregon offense that Chip Kelly brought to the Eagles.

While significantly more time has been spent dissecting the up-tempo offense he installed, Kelly's and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro's influence over the Eagles' defense has gone virtually unnoticed.

When Bill Davis interviewed for the defensive coordinator opening in January, nonnegotiable was that the Eagles would transition to a 3-4 front and that the terminology and signaling would be based on the system used at Oregon.

Davis had worked primarily in 3-4 defenses over his career, so scheme was never issue. And as far as the terminology Davis had in place after his last stint as a coordinator in Arizona, he said he knew it was time for a change.

"It was actually something I thought I didn't do very well," Davis said this week. "I had it too wordy."

The Eagles, using Oregon's terminology, now send in plays in one- or two-word phrases. There are several reasons for this, but most prominently to simplify the scheme for the players and to shorten the calls in case an offense goes up tempo.

"With Azzinaro coming in, a lot of it initially, like all the verbiage and the way we call things, was built to practice against Chip," Davis said.

When Kelly was promoted to head coach at Oregon in 2009, he hired Azzinaro, whom he had known from his Northeast college football days. A former coordinator at Duke and veteran D-line coach, Azzinaro arrived at Eugene and brought a new way of doing things even though Nick Aliotti had been the Ducks' coordinator for over a decade.

"He would run the show a lot out there," said Eagles practice squad defensive end Brandon Bair, who played for Kelly and Azzinaro at Oregon. "He came in. He simplified things. He brought a lot to the table.

"Aliotti is a better man than me in that he was willing to let somebody else come in and they worked together and changed it for the good of the team. It's the same with Billy."

Schematically, there is little difference between Oregon and the Eagles' base defense, according to Davis. Both are modeled after the Pittsburgh Steelers' two-gap 3-4 front. Davis' influence could be seen most dramatically in the coverages, blitz packages and nickel front which often looks like a 4-3.

But the base defense is similar to most 3-4 schemes, including the one used at Oregon.

"A lot of it is really similar, really similar," Bair said. "There's hardly anything different. It's the same movement, same motions. But the biggest thing is that it's just called differently."

Davis calls the game and plays are sent in three ways - via the headset to linebacker DeMeco Ryans, hand signaling assistants on the sidelines and pictures of iconic Philadelphia images that relay one of three messages.

"Some of the signs mean, 'Go to the microphone.' Some of the signs mean, 'This is the call.' Some of the signs mean, 'Go to the signal,'" Davis said. "We're trying to keep [offenses] off-balance as much as we can."

Roseman: Always looking for young QBs

The Eagles and Chiefs had informal discussions about a trade involving quarterback Nick Foles this offseason but nothing ever materialized into an actual offer, sources close to the situation have said.

As most NFL executives will say, any player is available for the right price. The Eagles' price was steep - at least a second-round pick, according to some estimates. But it was steep because they really had no intention of parting with their 2012 third-round draft pick.

General manager Howie Roseman said earlier this week that the Eagles did not keep Foles because of Michael Vick's injury history.

"We kept Nick was because we liked Nick's skill-set," Roseman said.

The Eagles will likely get another opportunity to evaluate Foles this Sunday in Tampa. Vick is expected to be sidelined by a hamstring strain.

Aside from their favorable opinion of Foles, coach Chip Kelly and Roseman also weren't willing to part with a young quarterback because they still didn't know exactly what they had.

"You better be sure exactly what you have before you get rid of young quarterbacks," Roseman said, "because that's what you're looking for every year."

There is the possibility the Eagles will be looking for another quarterback next offseason. Even if Vick, Foles, or by some chance, rookie Matt Barkley, performs well enough to be deemed next season's starter, Kelly and Roseman will likely select a quarterback at some point.

Ron Wolf drafted seven quarterbacks in nine seasons as the Packers GM. The obvious objective was to hit on a franchise quarterback, but also because no other position has as much value. Like the Seahawks and 49ers, teams that drafted quarterbacks even though they seemingly had starters in recent years, the Eagles will keep firing until they find their next future quarterback.

Poyer to safety?

It's unlikely the move will happen this season, but the Eagles have spoken to cornerback Jordan Poyer about switching to safety.

Poyer said that assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght approached him about the idea just before the season.

"After cuts he asked me if I ever played safety before," Poyer said. "He said that could be a position you should learn. I think the more positions I learn in this defense, it will just help me out in every other position I play."

Poyer played safety as a freshman at Oregon State. He said he now weighs only 190 pounds but could add 10-15 pounds to his 6-foot frame. Poyer led the Pac-12 conference with seven interceptions as a senior, but he wasn't drafted until the seventh round because of concerns about his speed.

After playing 17 snaps in the opener, the Eagles have been reluctant to insert the rookie on defense. He was active for three of the next four games, but played only on special teams in the first two games and never left the sideline Sunday against the New York Giants.

Starting corner Bradley Fletcher instead has taken his special-teams snaps. Poyer has dressed the last two weeks because the Eagles have needed a backup slot cornerback to Brandon Boykin with Patrick Chung injured.

Inside the game

Kelly revealed earlier this week that third-string tight end James Casey was his emergency quarterback on game days.

If Foles went down after Vick's injury against the Giants, Casey would have been called on to lead the offense. Jason Avant had been former Eagles coach Andy Reid's emergency quarterback in recent seasons.

"You want to have a guy that has enough time to look over some things just in case," Casey said.

Casey said that he spends a little time during the week in preparation - like taking snaps - should he be called on. He had the same role with the Texans before he signed with the Eagles this offseason.

In college, Casey played some Wildcat and threw three jump-pass touchdowns. He was a full-time quarterback in high school and spent three years in the Chicago White Sox minor league system as a pitcher.

Casey, who has played only 20 snaps on offense this season, said that he was willing to take on any job that increased his chances of playing.

Before the Giants game, the Eagles averaged over six yards a carry on their inside zone read run, according to center Jason Kelce.

"It's been a tremendously successful play for us," Kelce said.

But the Giants figured out a way to stop the play and it involved the 1-technique defensive tackle - lined up just outside the center's shoulder - running what the Eagles called a "nut stunt."

Because Giants defensive tackles such as former Eagle Mike Patterson had success beating Kelce off the snap, the center then started to compensate by lunging to block that gap. Adapting to this tendency, Patterson and company then started to run the nut stunt, which had the defender jumping to the other side of the center with a move.

The Giants penetrated straight into the backfield and dropped LeSean McCoy for significant losses. The Buccaneers, who stunt as much as any team, are likely to take a similar approach. Kelce will have his hands full trying to block Tampa's Gerald McCoy.

One thing, though: If the defensive tackle can't get by the center it does open up a giant hole.

Inside the locker room

After three games in which he allowed 10 quarterback hurries and four sacks, per Pro Football Focus, Lane Johnson pitched a near shutout against the Giants. The rookie right tackle said he tinkered with his pass protection technique and was more aggressive off the snap. "Coach Stoutland likes the vertical step," Johnson said, "but I think this way suits me more." . . . Poached from Houston's practice squad three weeks ago, cornerback Roc Carmichael has played the gunner position on punts opposite Brandon Boykin. Carmichael said he never played the position until coming to Philly. And yet, he already has two tackles in two games. . . . Cedric Thornton is one of seven veterans - Vick, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson are the others - that will be free agents next offseason. But the third-year defensive tackle is the only one that will be restricted, meaning the Eagles have exclusive rights to retain Thornton if they tender him. The Eagles could be looking to sign him to a long-term contract, however, considering how well he's play so far this season. . . . Jason Avant did not rank his one-handed catch last year in Tampa as the best of his career. He ranked a few grabs in pivotal games as more important, but in terms of sheer acrobatics, Avant said the one-handed diving catch for a touchdown he made in the 2003 Michigan-Northwestern game was the finest of his career.

By the numbers

90%

Riley Cooper is the most unproductive NFL wide receiver in terms of catches (eight) and receiving yards (93) among those that have played more than 60 percent of their team's offensive snaps. He has played 329 of 369 snaps (90 percent). T.J. Graham of the Bills has six catches for 66 yards, but has played only 260 of 389 snaps (67 pct.).

432

The Eagles are on pace to score the second most points in franchise history behind 2010's 439 points. Unfortunately, they're also on pace to set a team worst in points allowed with 509, significantly more than last season's franchise low of 444 points.

11

Number of false starts by the Eagles offensive line - more than any other NFL team.

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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