New coach brings new approach to Eagles secondary
Corey Undlin won't mention the name of his former employer. (Hint: It's in Denver.) The Eagles' new defensive backs coach was fired from his previous job, but his refusal to look back had little to do with any ill will he may have toward, yes, the Broncos. Undlin is focused on the here and now in Philadelphia.
Corey Undlin won't mention the name of his former employer. (Hint: It's in Denver.)
The Eagles' new defensive backs coach was fired from his previous job, but his refusal to look back had little to do with any ill will he may have toward, yes, the Broncos. Undlin is focused on the here and now in Philadelphia.
So when comments from several holdovers that seemed to disparage his predecessor were relayed to him Wednesday, Undlin handled them with care and directed his attention toward how he intended to fix a secondary that was among the worst in the NFL.
The Eagles' pass defense finished 31st in yards allowed; surrendered a fourth-worst 30 touchdowns; and, most damaging, gave up a league-worst 72 passes over 20 yards and 18 over 40 yards. The big pass play - or "X play" - was probably the No. 1 reason the Eagles didn't make the playoffs.
"Obviously X plays - we do not want those," Undlin said. "I use the term all the time: 'We are out of the X-play business.' We're not doing that. I believe every X play that is given up . . . was a result of poor technique somewhere in the down. . . . My focus has been on, 'Here's how we're not going to give these plays up.' "
Changes in personnel should help. The Eagles let starters Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Nate Allen go, and replaced them with Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond, and Eric Rowe, among others.
But the 43-year-old Undlin was brought in, after previous defensive backs coach John Lovett was moved into scouting, to improve a unit that - with several returnees and many new faces - wasn't fundamentally sound in 2014.
Amazing as it may sound, several players said teaching technique hadn't been a point of emphasis during practice. Cornerback Brandon Boykin said that tempo may have had something to do with getting away from detail-oriented drilling.
"We were more worried about getting back," Boykin said of last season. "But you can do the footwork while the tempo's going on."
Undlin has completely revamped how the defensive backs practice, according to Boykin and others, so that every detail isn't missed. Cornerback Nolan Carroll said that many of the drills are mirroring-receiver drills, "because a lot of things they do we have to do, as far as dropping your hips and getting in and out of breaks, we have to match."
The defensive backs are now responsible for knowing what every defensive player is doing on any given play, to keep everyone on the same page and avoid confusion. Undlin has also instituted a points system that offers rewards for hustle plays or interceptions and subtracts for loafing, for example.
"He's intense. He's always got you on your toes," Carroll said. "He's asking us questions in the meeting for us to be alert. He's always demanding excellence."
Carroll, a star pupil, has been starting opposite Maxwell during the organized team activities. Boykin said that he's "gotten better in these OTAs than maybe I had in a whole year last year." Rowe, the Eagles' second-round pick, is raw but has already impressed his coach.
"I strongly believe the kid can be a top-level corner in this league," Undlin said.
The Eagles have their defensive backs play various ways both in man and zone defenses, like all NFL teams, but coordinator Bill Davis' scheme requires cornerbacks who excel in man-press defense. That means they have to get up on the line and in a receiver's face. But too often last season the Eagles didn't use their hands to knock receivers off their routes.
"We're looking for non-impostors," Undlin said. "The ball is snapped and then they open - I use the term 'open the gate' - and then they just let the guy run down the field. We don't want that. So my job is to get them to believe in themselves and believe in the technique."
Undlin spent the previous three seasons with the Broncos, the last two as the defensive backs coach. He followed Jack Del Rio from Jacksonville to Denver after three years as a Jaguars assistant.
The day after he was fired by the Broncos - along with all of John Fox's staff - Davis called. Undlin said he flew to Philly two days later and met with Davis and coach Chip Kelly for six hours. A contract was offered, and he "signed it on the spot."
Undlin said he had no idea about the talent on the roster at the time. Coaching is coaching and molding a mix of young and old, new to the team and old, he said, hasn't been the biggest challenge.
"The biggest challenge for me was getting comfortable in this organization with the way that we do things," Undlin said. "There's 32 teams in this league and there's 31 doing it the same way and there's one team doing it a different way."
Undlin represents a different way after two seasons of troubling play in the secondary.