Cary Williams changes his tune about Patriots

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams (right), walking off the field with New England's Daxton Swanson after practice, drew some jeers from Patriots fans.
Eagles cornerback Cary Williams (right), walking off the field with New England's Daxton Swanson after practice, drew some jeers from Patriots fans. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 14, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - A year ago, Cary Williams was benched by Chip Kelly.

The Eagles were getting embarrassed by Tom Brady and the Patriots on their home practice field, and the Eagles cornerback wasn't pleased with how a team he considered a rival from his days with the Ravens had taken advantage of his new team with a new coach and a new defensive scheme.

So he picked a fight. It didn't help matters. Kelly pulled him from practice and Brady kept picking the Eagles apart over two days. He continued to do so in the preseason game a few days later.

A year later, Williams and the secondary put up a fight, but they did so within the rules, and Brady wasn't as successful. The future Hall of Fame quarterback had his moments Tuesday - he's Tom Brady, after all - but the Eagles secondary, in particular, held him in check.

"We knew we had to come out and respond to what we did last season against those guys," Williams said Tuesday. "They basically came out and punched us in the mouth last year and we definitely wanted to be ready for that."

Williams had stirred the pot again recently. Asked about these scrimmages two weeks ago, he said he didn't see the point of practicing with a team he said he "hated." He also called the Patriots cheaters.

The cornerback was the target of jeers from some Patriots fans who made up the large majority of 20,000 spectators. But Williams said he didn't hear any negative comments from the players, and he sounded more congenial than he had before.

"I've got a lot of respect for this organization, especially the players that play within it," Williams said. "They have a rich history. It is what it is. I can't knock that. They've got great players that play at an elite level.

"They're a well-known playoff team. So as far as I'm concerned, we're trying to work our way into those ranks."

Maybe Williams' turnabout had something to do with measuring up to the Patriots - at least for one day. The Eagles didn't look so hot in the preseason opener Friday against the Bears, primarily the pass defense. The sample was small, but it's a reminder that they aren't to be mistaken for the Seahawks.

Bill Davis' defense improved as last season progressed, however, particularly after a disastrous four-game start. The Eagles allowed 446.8-yard and 32-point averages in the first four games, and 376.4 yards and 20.3 points in the final 12.

The pass defense wasn't as night-and-day as the rushing defense, but the averages for the first four games vs. the next 12 - 325 yards to 281.5 and 7.7 yards per attempt to 6.7 - showed progress.

And with four of five returning in the starting secondary - outside cornerbacks Williams and Bradley Fletcher, slot corner Brandon Boykin, and safety Nate Allen - Davis expects more this season. He said their experience in the scheme showed Tuesday.

"I think it is comfort," Davis said. "It's a matter of technique now and playing the game as opposed to thinking about assignment. If you can clear an athlete's head, he plays faster. When you give him a new scheme, you can't clear his head."

The one new piece in the back end won't need much time to adjust, if you ask his teammates and coaches. Safety Malcolm Jenkins might have been the best Eagles defender on the field. There were several times when Brady looked to throw to a spot and held back, and a check of the defense showed Jenkins somewhere in the vicinity.

"The key element is having Malcolm Jenkins come in," Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "He's really added a lot to our defense as far as the leadership he is bringing to the back end."

Neither Brady nor Eagles quarterback Nick Foles tossed an interception during team drills, but plenty of balls hit the ground. Brady still doesn't have the greatest complement of outside receivers and he was without tight end Rob Gronkowski.

But crafty, small receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were mostly held to check-down receptions. Boykin, who had complained about the Patriots' aggressiveness during last year's scrimmages, policed the middle, several times breaking up passes.

"That was my first time ever having a joint practice, so it kind of let you know what it's about," Boykin said. "You're definitely ready that second year and I think the defensive backs did a good job of coming out early in the one-on-ones and setting the tone for the practice."

Edelman actually beat Boykin on a deep post during one-on-ones, drawing perhaps the loudest applause of the day. But Boykin blanketed receivers on his other chances, once violently pumping his fist after he slapped a ball away.

As for Williams, he had his moments - both good and bad - and he never responded to the hecklers.

"If you don't get booed at some point," he said, "you're not doing your job."


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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