Earlier today, the Eagles announced that they had finally filled their vacant defensive coordinator position with – gasp! – offensive line coach Juan Castillo. This move comes as a total shock to everybody in the Eagle community, and it’s also worth noting that the Eagles have brought Howard Mudd out of retirement to coach the offensive line. Rarely is an offensive position coach considered for a promotion on the opposite side of the ball, so a candidate who has not coached defensive players in over two decades normally does not stand much of a chance. After my initial impression of shock, I believe that the Castillo hiring was a pretty good one, although nobody outside the Eagle locker room can really say for sure.
I watched Andy Reid’s introduction press conference this evening, and I must say that Big Red hasn’t seemed this excited about anything for a very, very long time. Both Reid and Castillo absolutely exuded confidence, and they look like they work very well together. Castillo, of course, has been the Eagle offensive line coach since 1998, so his partnership with Reid has taken a long time to strengthen to where it stands at the moment. What surprised me was Castillo’s defensive background. He played linebacker semi-professionally and considers himself as more of a defensive guy than an offensive guy. He claims that his heart has always been on the defensive side of the ball, but has been historically willing to coach any position in order to increase his chances of getting hired by a team. Nobody really asked Castillo any tough x’s and o’s questions, so I have no idea how much Castillo really knows about how to run an NFL defense. The only people who know that are currently employed by the Philadelphia Eagles, and I feel pretty inclined to trust them.
Castillo certainly understands Philadelphia, from the expectations all the way down to the blue-collar nature of its citizens. He is sure to be a fan favorite here because of his toughness and attitude. On the hoof, he appears to be the perfect man for the job. However, as I said, his lack of experience coaching defense at the highest level is troubling to say the least, and somebody as unproven as he is not yet worthy of blind faith from this fan base. He has spent a ton of time around Jim Johnson, and designs blitzes for his offensive line to pick up in practice. So, the interest has always been there, but is the intricate strategic knowledge of the game? That remains to be seen. If he is such a perfect successor to Jim Johnson, why was Sean McDermott given the first crack at the apple? That is a question that I cannot come up with any answers to, except for the one that lies in Howard Mudd.
In the press conference, Reid informed the media that the reason that Castillo had not been coaching defensively these past few years is because Castillo was not expendable as an offensive line coach and that once a proper replacement at offensive line coach could be found, Castillo would be moved back to a defensive position. Enter Howard Mudd. Mudd has been an offensive line coach for various NFL teams from 1974 to 2009, most recently helping Indianapolis reach the Super Bowl twice in his final four years with the team. He is regarded as the premier offensive line coach in the game, and is great friends with new assistant coach Jim Washburn, which is one explanation for why Mudd decided to come out of retirement. In Washburn and Mudd, the Eagles have two elite position coaches at critical areas where improvement is needed. Great job Eagles.
Regardless of why Andy Reid chose now as the time to move Castillo to the defense, he’s here, and I want to discuss what the Eagles defense will look like next year. Castillo emphasized three words in his press conference to describe the Eagle defense under his control: speed, physicality, and fundamentals. Castillo is a very high-energy coach who players have a deep respect for within the organization. He will preach tackling and physicality above all else, and restore the attitude that the Eagle defense was once feared for. He will keep the Eagles in a base 4-3 defense and build the unit around the defensive line. He expressed his desire to allow Jim Washburn to mold the defensive line into up-the-field, attacking players that will force both opposing offenses and the remaining components of the defense to conform to their disruptive play. The Eagles are a team that will stress the pass rush and will stop the run on the way to the quarterback. This is a coaching staff that free agents will flock to. Former Washburn players Jason Babin and Albert Haynesworth (although he’s not a free agent, he can be had in a trade) come to mind. This style of play suits players like Brodrick Bunkley and Juqua Parker, who are at their best when they can pin their ears back, penetrate, and hunt some quarterback. I’m all in favor of adopting this style of defense, but again, the concerns about Castillo’s inexperience are real. It’s very possible that he will struggle with situational playcalling or that a glaring weakness in his expertise will be exposed. So, Castillo could make Reid look brilliant like Michael Vick did this past season, but he could almost as easily be a failure of epic proportions. The average fan, such as myself, simply does not know enough about Castillo to determine whether or not he is up to the massive challenge. He does pass the gut check and has the swagger that the Eagles defense sorely needs.