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Pressure is on Bill Davis to improve Eagles defense

Tim Tebow is in, and the Eagles' schedule is out. Offseason workouts have begun, and the team with the most hope in this town and perhaps the most intrigue in the entire NFL is a week away from making its first-round draft pick.

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Tim Tebow is in, and the Eagles' schedule is out. Offseason workouts have begun, and the team with the most hope in this town and perhaps the most intrigue in the entire NFL is a week away from making its first-round draft pick.

That's as good as the news gets for the suffering sports fans of Philadelphia these days.

Sure, it might be a bit premature to start the countdown to opening night in Atlanta, but it is better than rehashing the recently completed seasons of the Flyers and 76ers, two teams that gave new meaning to the dead of winter.

Yes, we are ready for some football.

The question is this: Are the Eagles ready to end the city's playoff drought in major sports, which will be at six completed seasons once the Phillies mercifully cross the finish line in early October?

While the focus right now is on Tebow and the impossible dream of Marcus Mariota, it needs to be on the defense.

There's no question the sports figure under the most scrutiny in this city is Chip Kelly. He wanted all the power, he got it, and he proceeded to perform a massive roster makeover. He is either going to become the most revered or the most reviled coach in franchise history. Given his hubris, there can be no in between.

With the state of the other three major sports franchises in disarray, the second biggest microscope in the city is focused on Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. In both a good and a bad way, Davis can thank Kelly for that distinction.

Kelly has given Davis the autonomy to run the defense in the way he sees fit. That means it was on the defensive coordinator last season when Bradley Fletcher became a rubbernecking cornerback who watched helplessly as opponents lit up the scoreboard.

It was not Davis' fault that Fletcher lacked the talent to get the job done, but it was Davis' decision to stick with the cornerback until the season was lost during a road defeat against Washington. It was also Davis' decision to leave Fletcher and fellow departed cornerback Cary Williams on islands at times, when they needed safety support.

The only defensive area in which the Eagles got significantly better last season was the sack department, but the increase from 37 to 49 did little to help the pass or the overall defense.

The defense allowed 18 more points than the year before and jumped one spot, from 29th to 28th, in total yards allowed. It slipped five spots in rushing yards allowed, from 10th to 15th, and improved one spot, from 32d to 31st, in passing yards allowed.

The Eagles allowed 30 touchdown passes - five more than in 2013 - and a league-high 72 pass plays of 20 or more yards.

Super Bowls are not won with that kind of defense, and coordinators have been fired after consecutive seasons better than that. Kelly opted to stick with Davis and even complimented his work.

"I thought Billy did a really good job," the head coach said two days after the season ended. "I thought our defense improved in a lot of categories. There are still things we need to clean up."

Kelly's first bit of cleansing came when he made coaching changes in the secondary. Fletcher and Williams were shown the door, and free-agent cornerback Byron Maxwell was lured away from Seattle with a six-year, $63 million deal. That's nice money for the fourth-best member of the Seahawks' vaunted secondary.

Kelly the general manager also sacrificed his best offensive weapon (LeSean McCoy) to acquire inside linebacker Kiko Alonso from Buffalo. This has been an important week for the Eagles, because it is their first extended look at Alonso. That should give them a clearer picture of how well he has recovered from the torn left anterior cruciate ligament that cost him the entire 2014 season.

Maxwell and Alonso have been the only two significant additions to the defense. We still do not know who will play opposite Maxwell at cornerback or opposite Malcolm Jenkins at safety. We do not know how the linebacker mix is going to shake out, either. Mychal Kendricks' absence from the first week of voluntary workouts could have deeper meaning, but we shall see.

The most devastating injury loss last season involved inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, and it would seem foolhardy to go into the season counting on two inside linebackers coming off major injuries and surgeries.

The secondary is what needed the most fixing, and it remains a huge question mark. If Kelly really wants to help Davis, he will spend his first two draft picks on players he believes can have an immediate impact as defensive starters. One of the two, preferably the first one, has to be plugged into a secondary spot.

There is a need at wide receiver, but if Kelly truly believes in his offense and the additions of DeMarco Murray and Sam Bradford, then he should make sure to do as much as possible in this draft to give Davis a fighting chance to build an elite defense.

If it doesn't happen in 2015, then somebody else will likely be in the coordinator's role a year from now.