PHILADELPHIA – The mystery of Chip Kelly’s offense -- what it will look like and how he will adapt it for the NFL -- is the dominant storyline for the Philadelphia Eagles.
There is an equally mysterious aspect of the Eagles’ makeover. So mysterious, in fact, that even the man behind the curtain has no idea what it will look like.
If the world is wondering how Kelly’s offense will look when the Eagles debut at Washington on Monday night, Bill Davis is wondering how his own defense will look.
“Yeah, I'm very anxious for the Redskins to show us who we are and where we are,” Philadelphia's defensive coordinator said. “I don't know what's coming. The truth will be, at the end of that game, we will know defensively how far along we are. … No matter what I wish for or what I want -- doesn't matter. The game will show us who we are.”
At some level, Davis is probably trying to keep the expectations of a very demanding fan base low. But there is some real candor there, too. The Eagles' defense was terrible last season. Davis was Kelly’s choice to rebuild it. He is moving from a 4-3, “wide-9” base defense to a 3-4 hybrid with personnel who don't fit well in either scheme.
So what do those mischief-makers at the league office give him? Robert Griffin III, arguably the most dynamic young quarterback in the game, and the league’s No. 1 rushing offense from last season, led by Alfred Morris. All on "Monday Night Football," with the whole world watching.
So yes, Davis will get a merciless assessment of his squad’s progress.
“They are very talented across the board,” Davis said of Washington's offense. “They played all 16 games together last year -- which is a huge advantage, to play in a system -- and we have to face that, and we have got to face it using an overhauled defense with new techniques that we have taught.”
Davis can take some consolation in the fact that there is nowhere for this defense to go but up. Griffin and Morris destroyed the Eagles last season, sweeping the season series and helping grease the skids for Andy Reid’s exit.
Connor Barwin was with the Houston Texans when Wade Phillips was brought in as defensive coordinator and installed a 3-4 scheme. Barwin, an outside linebacker who signed with the Eagles as a free agent, said it took until about Week 6 for the defense to run smoothly.
“It’s not unsettling at all,” Barwin said. “This is just the position we’re in. At one point, the Patriots were in this position. At one point, the Bengals, the Niners, the Texans were all in this position. You have to go through it to get where you want to be.”
Barwin said it was reasonable to believe the Eagles could be a “top-10 defense” this season. That might be a little ambitious, but there’s no harm in aiming high.
For Davis, the man charged with building this thing, it’s all about the process. And the first real game is a major stepping-stone.
“Wherever we start against Washington, good or bad or somewhere in the middle, it has to continue to get better by the 16th game,” Davis said. “This season has got to be about this defense getting to where everybody wants it to be. The Washington game is our starting point. I don't know where along the scale we are, but wherever that is, that's the ground level, and we have got to take it a lot higher than it is.”