One in an occasional series
By now, Juan Castillo should have been back on the field, shouting instructions, teaching rookies, and noting how much progress his second-year players have made after their first seasons.
By now, he and an overhauled defensive staff should have had a chance to install some of their scheme, to prep the Eagles for the real hard work of training camp.
Instead, Castillo pulls into the team's NovaCare Complex every day at 4 a.m. to pick at the playbook, refine terminology, and scout for games that are still four months away - and threatened by the same lockout that has prevented the new defensive coordinator from doing much coordinating with players.
Up until now, coaches didn't have much to lose from the lockout. Many were tied up in draft evaluations and self-scouting, just as they had always been after the season.
But with the draft over, minicamps would normally follow. They haven't, leaving new coaches and coordinators unable to instill their philosophies.
Castillo, however, refuses to concede that there is a downside.
"It allows us to be more thorough with our playbook and our defensive plan," he said.
This week, for example, he and his staff hashed over what blitzes to use on third downs and how to make the concepts easier to teach - using two different names that can be used for eight different varieties of a given blitz, for example.
"Jim Johnson got some great blitzes. I want to have them all in the package, but how can I do it here so that it's simple for my guys so that everybody can understand," Castillo said. "To play fast, you can't be thinking."
Castillo was careful not to criticize departed defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, but the shift seems to be a reaction to whispers that McDermott's plans were too complicated.
But changing the verbiage isn't the same as teaching on the field. As the lockout drags on, new coaches will face some of the biggest challenges, said former quarterback Rich Gannon.
"The coaches want to install as much as they can in minicamps, see what the new players can retain, then have them come back for other minicamps and offseason workouts. So by the time they get to training camps, they have seen what they need to do a few times," Gannon, now a CBS analyst, told the Associated Press. "If the first time they do any of that is in training camp, that's not going to get it done."
While Andy Reid is still at the top, the Eagles have a new coordinator and new leaders at every position group, and the Eagles defense needs to improve on third down; against the pass; and, most glaringly, in the red zone.
Castillo said the time spent simplifying things will help whenever practices resume.
"What we're trying to do is prepare ourselves so that we can teach our concepts as easy as possible," Castillo said. "We might not have that much time. Everything we teach, it has to be a simple concept."
Castillo added, "We're a new staff, but we're not bringing a whole new defense." Much of the terminology will remain the same, as will the overall philosophy.
Castillo's days begin before dawn. Staff meetings start at 8 or 9. (Castillo said he gets to work so early so he can leave by 6 p.m. and help his 13-year-old son, Andres, lift weights).
With time on his hands, Castillo is reviewing specific situations and packages used by other successful defenses. He's looked at varied down and distances, recently focusing on how defenses approached third-down plays with 2 to 5 yards to go for a first down. Castillo said he watched tape on six or seven teams, reviewing every play they ran in those situations.
On another day, Castillo and his defensive staff came together in a meeting room, where each position coach hosted a mock-player meeting - with the rest of the staff trying to absorb the lesson.
It will be some time, though, before he gets the chance to see if what he's learned works in practice.
In the meantime, Castillo said he expects to soon start looking at the Eagles' first opponent, the Rams, for a game Sept. 11.