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Eagles' Doug Pederson will give Jim Schwartz free rein on defense

BOCA RATON, Fla. - It was clear from Doug Pederson's 69-minute session with reporters at the NFL meetings that Pederson will leave his defense in the hands of coordinator Jim Schwartz, won't try to get involved with how, say, Schwartz deploys his safeties.

BOCA RATON, Fla. - It was clear from Doug Pederson's 69-minute session with reporters at the NFL meetings that Pederson will leave his defense in the hands of coordinator Jim Schwartz, won't try to get involved with how, say, Schwartz deploys his safeties.

"I wanted to find that guy I could trust, that head coach of defense," said Pederson, who has gotten high marks around the league for hiring Schwartz, the former Lions head coach. "He's a guy that you can kind of turn the keys over to and say, 'This is your deal.' "

But it was also clear that Pederson chose Schwartz for a specific reason, and it wasn't just because he has produced highly ranked defenses in previous NFL stops.

Pederson's mentor, Andy Reid, owed a lot of his early success to the late defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Johnson ran the Eagles' D when Pederson was the team's quarterback in 1999; he passed away in 2009, the year Pederson joined the coaching staff. Johnson's forte was the blitz - bringing pressure in sometimes unconventional ways that were hard to prepare for. Former Eagles corner Sheldon Brown once joked about Johnson drawing up ways to send the Eagles cheerleaders after the opposing quarterback.

Schwartz is not known for blitzing. A cornerstone of his philosophy is bringing pressure with the front four, not compromising pass coverage.

The blitz was a big part of the Kansas City defense, when Pederson was Reid's offensive coordinator there the last three seasons. Why did Pederson pick a guy who tries not to blitz a lot?

"These quarterbacks are smart today. They're coming in and understanding blitz packages, understanding where open zones are. They get the ball out of their hands so fast," Pederson said. "Our guy in Kansas City (Alex Smith) got the ball out of his hands relatively fast, the blitz didn't affect him."

Reid's only advice about defense, Pederson said, was to "find that guy you trust." Pederson did.

"Going against him for so many years, it's an attack style of defense," Pederson said, when asked what impressed him about Schwartz. "He's done a great job over the years, he's developed pass rushers. You look at guys like (Cliff) Avril, you look at (Ndamukong) Suh, guys that were impact players for him in Detroit. You can go, Kyle Williams in Buffalo and Mario Williams in Buffalo. Guys that come off and really attack the passer. That's what's intriguing, when you can put pressure with four, instead of five or six, and you don't have to blitz all the time, it makes it a better defense."

Pederson acknowledged he hired Schwartz without an extensive knowledge of exactly how Schwartz's D works. "I'll be trained in his philosophy this spring," Pederson said.

One thing Pederson already is clear on - presumably, he and Schwartz have discussed it - is that impressive 2015 rookie Jordan Hicks is the 4-3 middle linebacker.

"I think Jordan is smart enough. He's going to understand the scheme. Jim has talked about how simplistic his scheme will be, keeping it fast for the guys. Jordan will be good," Pederson said. "It's a comfortable position for him. He communicates well in there. Right mindset, right size to fill that spot."

Speed kills

Doug Pederson was asked about mistakes he's learned from. He said he and Andy Reid tried to install too much offense, too fast when they got to Kansas City three years ago.

"We eventually streamlined the offense a little bit more. Pulled back a little bit more," Pederson said. "Kept it a little bit more user-friendly, so to speak. That has really benefited me going forward."

But Pederson doesn't necessarily want to go slow when it comes to calling plays. He said he's been thinking about how to make use of the fact that most of his offensive players are accustomed to Chip Kelly's frantic pace.

"The one thing this group has learned the last couple of years is how to play fast. The tempo of the game. I think that's a benefit for any offense, to be able to play fast. I want to use some of that," Pederson said. "There's a time and a place for it. And then incorporating that with what I'm going to bring. We're going to get in the huddle, we're going to break the huddle, we're going to attack the line of scrimmage that way, also. But again, there's a time and a place for (tempo) and I look forward to utilizing that."

Seeing Red

The Eagles' offense ranked 15th in red-zone scoring last season, an even less impressive 28th at home. Pederson was asked about red-zone priorities.

"Turnovers, field position, sacks. You're losing yards, your field position. It's got to be an attack, aggressive mentality down there," he said. "Quarterback's got to be smart with the football. You have to take shots to the end zone. Defenses are playing their 'field' defense down to about the 12-, 13-yard line. They do make it a little bit harder, because then they do start blanketing, and covering that goal line pretty well, keeping everything in front. You have to be smart, have that aggressive mentality down there."