Eagles defense growing in Year 2

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t made a lot of changes on the defensive side of the ball. With one preseason game left, it appears 10 of 11 starters will be the same in 2014 as in 2013.

The real question is whether great improvement can come from continuity. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Sunday that he believes it can for two reasons. First, the players will improve as they become more comfortable with Davis’ 3-4 scheme. Just as importantly, though, Davis and his staff have already added plenty of new twists to the relatively simple defense the Eagles played in 2013.

“You can't put it all in and have it all in Year 1,” Davis said. “That is the hardest part of Year 1, is that you have to just have a foundation. Your foundation's usually small, but you need it sturdy so you can start stacking these other things on top of them. In Year 2, we're slowly starting to stack some other defensive tools that we can use to stop the offenses coming at us.”

One example: a dime package that can have more than five defensive backs on the field. The Eagles were in their dime personnel when cornerback Nolan Carroll intercepted Ben Roethlisberger during Thursday’s preseason game.

“I think it makes it easier for us defensively and harder on opposing offenses,” Davis said. “They have to now say, 'Here's this other package they have, and let's identify who is who, and where they blitz from and what coverages and formation structures are coming at us defensively?' So it's another tool for us that grows our package.”

Listening to Davis now, it seems remarkable that the Eagles defense was playing as well as it was by the end of last season. Clearly, the coaches and players were more limited by the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 than they appeared to be.

“I think we've grown in some coverage concepts,” Davis said. “We've added three or four coverage concepts that we've worked a lot on in the preseason that we didn't have last year. There were routes that were beating the coverages we had in place last year and these coverages take away those routes. … We were lacking a couple coverage concepts last year because of what I talked about earlier. It just would have been too much, too early. So we took what we had last year and we built on and filled in the holes that we needed.”

The Eagles added safety Malcolm Jenkins in free agency. He may be the only new starter on defense. But the entire unit may be improved because the players understand the system better and the coaches know the players better.