TOMMY BRASHER had to acknowledge he has never been in a situation anything remotely like this, in his nearly 72 years.
How will the Eagles' defensive linemen Brasher began coaching on Wednesday embrace his new strategy, in Sunday's visit with the Tampa Bay Bucs? Will they be confused, hesitant? Will they forget Brasher's plan and play the style they played under deposed line coach Jim Washburn?
"I don't know," Brasher said in a brief Thursday meeting with reporters at NovaCare. "I can't answer that."
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles took a stab: "Well, the football instinct will be there. It's not going to be overnight, because it's a different teaching from what they've been learning . . . I think they'll grasp it pretty quick."
Bowles also said, by the way, that he was not consulted on Washburn's firing early Monday morning, that he found out what Eagles coach Andy Reid had done "when everybody else found out."
Washburn, you might have heard, typically lined up his defensive ends on the tight end's outside shoulder - the "nine technique" in the "wide-nine." Brasher's ends will be closer to the defensive tackles. Players said they are being told to "read and react" now, instead of taking a step upfield when the ball is snapped, but Brasher bristled at that description.
"I don't have 'em doing any read-and-react. It's react off the [opponent's] first step," Brasher said.
It would have been good to delve further into that distinction, but the session was being hurried along by an Eagles spokesman; Brasher had a meeting to attend.
When the Daily News talked to a group of d-linemen for Thursday's paper, most said they'd done something like what Brasher wants before, would just have to relearn it. But the jewel of the group, first-round rookie Fletcher Cox, who doesn't turn 22 until next week, was drafted in part because he was such a great match with Washburn's attacking philosophy; Cox said Mississippi State played that style, as well.
Cox said he would have an adjustment.
"He can play any scheme," Brasher said. "He's a big, quick guy. He can play 3-4, he can play the scheme I'm teaching, he can play the scheme anybody teaches, he's got that much physical ability."
In a 3-4, Cox, 6-4, 298, would be "an end, and a damn good one," Brasher said.
Of course, Cox could end up in a 3-4, or almost anything else (probably excepting a wide-nine) next season, under a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator and yet another defensive- line coach.
That's part of the strange atmosphere that surrounds this move; it's extremely likely Brasher is coming out of retirement for less than a month. An Eagles defensive lineman might be excused for wondering how seriously he needs to take this substitute teacher, who almost certainly isn't going to be around next spring.
"They're an energetic group. A talented group. I think over time, they can be something special," Brasher said, as the reporters around him wondered how much time Brasher might be talking about, given the circumstances.
"I don't know," Brasher said, when asked about the future. "I don't know what's beyond this day. I agreed to come back because I'm a coach, first of all. Andy wanted my help, and whatever Andy wants, I'll give Andy, whatever. Let me say this, though - the last 7 years I've always been under contract with the Eagles, and I've always acted in a consulting capacity. And I'm always in touch with Andy."
So Reid had a pretty good idea, when he awakened Brasher with a phone call early Monday in Seattle, he wouldn't have to do a lot of selling.
"In the bed," Brasher said, when asked where he'd taken the call. "He called me and told me he was going to make a change and he wanted me to come and coach the line.
"I wasn't looking for it, necessarily, but Andy wanted me to, and it's a great opportunity, and like I said, I'm a coach, so I'm taking advantage of an opportunity.
"Yeah, I was [surprised]. It wasn't something we'd talked about. I was kinda surprised, but I wasn't sorry. I told Andy I'd have to talk it over with my wife [LaNell], but I really didn't; she's been a coach's wife for 51 years. She's one of the best.
"I can say it was kind of like riding a bike, but there is a groove that you get, day after day, week after week, year after year, that I'd lost. But it's kind of like reconditioning an athlete."
Since Brasher has stayed in Reid's loop since retiring, what did he make of the dramatic collapse of the defense this season? Washburn delivered 50 sacks last year, tied for the league lead, even if the overall defensive product wasn't what you'd expect from such a stat. This year, the Eagles have 20 sacks in 12 games, and the last 6 weeks have featured the most toothless defense in modern memory.
"They had a reputation of going up the field and getting after the quarterback. People kept more [blockers] in, maybe they've got a little more solid protection," Brasher said. "Then, the coverage hasn't been tight, they've said, sometimes, so it's just been kind of an inconsistency."
How do you go about your task, parachuting into a mess like this?
"When I came in on Monday, we called each player and I asked them to come in and I met with them individually just to get acquainted with 'em so that when they came to work on Wednesday, they didn't wonder who the coach was and all that stuff," Brasher said. "We all sat down and had a conversation, broke the ice, and then Wednesday, everything was ready to go.
"I didn't really have a speech, a programmed speech, I just sat 'em down and got acquainted with 'em."
Bowles said Thursday he "had a good relationship" with Washburn, deepening the mystery of why a change was needed so close to the end of the year.
With the Eagles 3-9, there's an excellent chance Bowles (and Reid, and most of the rest of the staff) will join Washburn in unemployment next month.
"My name being attached to it first makes me lead dog, scapegoat, and everything else, and that doesn't feel good," Bowles said. "But as a warrior and a player and a coach, you fight. You try to make it better, and you move forward."