TRAINING CAMP and preseason games are when you work on stuff, Bill Davis reminded us yesterday. So the defensive coordinator certainly didn't like the fact that his Eagles defense gave up 10 conversions on 17 third downs in the preseason opener Friday night in Chicago, but Davis said the struggles against Jay Cutler were part of getting better - much like the practices against Tom Brady and the Patriots that begin this afternoon in Foxborough, Mass., continuing for 3 days until the preseason game against the Pats on Friday.

"Going against Jay Cutler and that group in Chicago is one of the top offensive talents in the league," Davis said. "We back that up with New England and Tom Brady . . . You really do know where you are against the elite of the elite when you get to play and practice against 'em a couple days in a row. We're all real excited about going up there and challenging ourselves and going against the best."

Davis said he even wants to get his twos and threes in against Brady and New England's starting offense.

"Against New England in practice, we'll definitely be moving the roster around for evaluation purposes," he said.

Davis agreed that his starting group, in particular, didn't get very good pass rush pressure Friday, and the Birds really didn't get enough pressure overall, as the Bears threw for 399 yards. Third down, especially third and long, is when you see how effective your rush really is.

"Third down really wasn't a good night for us," Davis said. "It's harder than you think to hold to base four-man rushes and coverage calls, to evaluate our four-man rush and evaluate our coverage. I knew halfway through that we were struggling on third down and we were losing different one-on-one battles.

"You can go to the pressure package if you want, but it takes you away from the evaluation process. The goal is to evaluate and grow the players, and that's what we're working on right now. It hurt a little bit on third down.

"I want an inside rusher or an outside rusher to have a couple of opportunities to set up some moves on that tackle. So there's a lot of thinking that goes into staying basic in the preseason, believe it or not . . . Every play helps us to evaluate and grow, even if it's a young player learning what not to do, which hurt us a few times, at least he grows from that point."

Linebacker Connor Barwin said: "The ball was getting out kinda quick, but we can do a better job up front getting to the quarterback on those third downs."

Barwin noted that Brady really tore the Eagles up last year when the teams practiced at NovaCare, and then in the ensuing preseason game, a 31-22 Eagles loss in which Brady casually completed seven of eight passes for 65 yards and touchdown before bowing out.

"Hopefully, it's a little bit better this year, and we'll be able to see where we're at, compared to last year," he said. "I'm really excited about this; this is awesome. I love practicing against another team; I've done it for most of my career. We used to do it against the Saints [when Barwin was in Houston]. I think it's a lot of fun. It's perfect timing for us . . . We'll get good work in against those guys."

Safety Malcolm Jenkins said third-down defense entails "just an awareness of the situation, an awareness of where the sticks are, where they need to get to, what the call is, and how to play that call accordingly. That's all the things that we're trying to learn now - teaching some of the younger guys, 'You might play this zone different on third-and-3 as opposed to third-and-10,' and how your technique changes within the same call."

Like Davis, Jenkins noted that against Chicago, the Eagles were "really vanilla, just a four-man rush, we didn't really have too many games with the front, it was just see who can rush the passer and see who can cover. It's all about evaluation right now. I'm sure as we move forward, we'll begin to gameplan a little bit."

Of course, the problem there is that you don't want to have to blitz to get pressure, which was the Eagles' situation last season. It makes you predictable, takes defenders out of coverage. Davis talked last week about wanting to use his base package more; that won't happen if he has to manufacture a pass rush.

Like Davis and Barwin, Jenkins said he looks forward to the New England sessions. In camp, it can seem as if your "team" is the offense or the defense, and the other unit is the enemy. For 3 days of workouts this week, there will be a "real" enemy.

"It's great for team bonding. I'll find out very quickly who has my back, and they'll find out whose back I have," Jenkins said. "And then when you go against quality teams like the Patriots, you get really good looks, you learn a lot of different things, especially when you talk about situational football - you go third down, you go 2-minute against a quarterback like that, you learn a lot and you can get a lot from the practice film as well as the preseason game."

Cornerback Cary Williams has been critical of the joint practices, calling the Pats "cheaters" and saying he doesn't like to show opponents his technique.

Williams didn't want to revisit those sentiments on the eve of the first joint practice.

"Y'all are not gonna get a story out of Cary Williams, I'm sorry," Williams said, after saying the mentality of the Eagles' defense is "way different" this year. He did not wish to expound on that, but after the loss to the Pats last year, Williams talked about the tough attitude of the defense he'd won the Super Bowl with in Baltimore, and how he didn't see a similar attitude here.