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Eagles' Plans Won't Change

September 07, 2003|Rob Maaddi | From Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — While the Philadelphia Eagles change players on defense each year, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's philosophy stays the same.

When the Eagles open their season against Tampa Bay on Monday night in a rematch of last January's NFC championship game, they'll have four new starters on a defense that finished fourth in the NFL last year.

N.D. Kalu replaces defensive end Hugh Douglas, a three-time Pro Bowler who left for Jacksonville. Derrick Burgess was supposed to start at the other defensive end spot, but he tore his Achilles tendon in practice Friday and is expected to be out for the season. Brandon Whiting, a starter last year, will replace Burgess. The Eagles also signed 12-year veteran Marco Coleman to add depth.

Mark Simoneau replaces Levon Kirkland and Barry Gardner at middle linebacker, Nate Wayne takes over for Shawn Barber at weakside linebacker, and Michael Lewis fills in for Blaine Bishop at strong safety.

"We have our scheme and we always add new wrinkles," Johnson said. "There's hasn't been a lot of adjusting."

Johnson's scheme is an aggressive, attacking defense, featuring many blitzes from anyone on the field, even the cornerbacks.

"It's unpredictable, attacking, exciting," said Wayne, who led the Green Bay Packers in tackles last season. "It's challenging as a defensive player. It keeps you thinking."

The biggest changes are the additions of Wayne and Simoneau. Kalu and Lewis have played in Johnson's defense as backups.

Simoneau, acquired from Atlanta for draft picks, adds speed in the middle. Kirkland, last year's starter, was a solid run-stopper, but was replaced by Gardner in passing situations.

"He's a better cover guy," Johnson said of Simoneau. "He has good quickness, excellent quickness. We'll see how he plays the run. He did well in the preseason."

Barber emerged last season as Philadelphia's top linebacker. But he departed for Kansas City through free agency. Wayne doesn't have Barber's playmaking ability, but is a solid tackler.

Strongside linebacker Carlos Emmons now has played with six different starters in three seasons. Jeremiah Trotter and Mike Caldwell were starters with Emmons in 2001.

"Faces change every year. It's the business," Emmons said. "But they've adjusted well. They've been here since minicamps so they've picked up the defense."

Kalu flourished last season, finishing with eight sacks in limited playing time. Coleman will be the primary backup, but could eventually take over as the starter. First-round pick Jerome McDougle will miss at least two games with knee, hip and ankle injuries.

"We don't think about all the new faces," Kalu said. "Some of us have been here, but now we have new roles. Jim is half the reason for our success. It's his defense."

Lewis started a few games last season when Bishop was injured. A second-round pick last season, Lewis is a hard hitter with a penchant for making big plays.

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