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Eagles' interest in Buchanan could mean change to 3-4

geoff mosher csnphilly

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 12:06 AM

Mosher

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Eagles' interest in Buchanan could mean change to 3-4

January 23, 2013, 9:28 pm

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MOBILE, Ala. – The strongest indication that the Eagles are scrapping their longtime 4-3 defensive alignment in favor of a 3-4 scheme came Wednesday morning when several of Chip Kelly’s assistants huddled around former Illinois pass rusher Michael Buchanan.

A small contingent of Eagles staff members who have yet to be officially announced by the team spoke to Buchanan for several minutes on the field after the North Team had wrapped up its morning practice.

Among the group were Bill McGovern, most recently a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Boston College, and Josh Gibson, who was Kelly’s assistant director of football operations at Oregon. The Eagles haven’t announced that either one has joined Kelly’s staff and in fact they haven’t announced that anybody has joined Kelly’s staff.

But McGovern and Gibson were both wearing Eagles’ coaching credentials during Senior Bowl practices this week, indicating that they were representing the Eagles when they met with Buchanan.

Afterward, Buchanan told CSNPhilly.com that the coaches not only expressed interest in him but also discussed his fit into a 3-4 scheme.

“It was definitely good to meet with the coaches and talk with them,” the Chicago native said. “I didn’t get a chance to meet with the head coach, but they just said they were interested me.”

For 14 years under head coach Andy Reid, the Eagles assembled their defensive roster to fit the 4-3 scheme Reid’s defensive staff employed, although the team had started to draft more scheme-versatile players over the past several years.

Not since 1985, the last year under head coach Marion Campbell, have the Eagles structured their defense in a 3-4 alignment.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Buchanan, a second-team All-Big Ten defender and projected mid-to-late round pick, said he could play in either scheme but would need to pack on some pounds to play end in a 4-3.

At Illinois, he rushed the passer from a variety of alignments and formations. He led the team with 4.5 sacks this past season and racked up 14 in 32 career starts

“Our defense changes. I change [positions],” Buchanan said. “I play with my hand up. I play with my hand down. So I’m very comfortable doing both. I feel like I’m very versatile, so either one is fine for me.”

Kelly on Monday had said he hadn’t yet watched enough tape on current Eagles players to form an opinion of whether he has the personnel to fit the 3-4 that he ran at Oregon.

General manager Howie Roseman said the team has drafted adaptable prospects over the past few years for the purpose of scheme flexibility.

“You’re talking about a guy like [defensive tackle] Fletcher Cox. He can play in any scheme,” Roseman said of the 12th overall pick from the 2012 draft. “He’s going to be a good player. So that’s what we’re trying to do as we added players.

“Same thing when you talk about [weak-side linebacker] Mychal Kendricks. In college he played in a 3-4. He can play in a 4-3. The more players you have like that, the easier the adjustment it is. Now, that doesn’t mean everyone is a perfect fit for it, but I think wherever it goes we have players who can match more readily.”

The Eagles also have third-year linebacker Casey Matthews, who played inside linebacker under Kelly at Oregon (which really became an outside spot when the outside ’backer rushed), but Matthews last year mainly served as the backup to middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Defensive ends Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have spent their college and pro careers in a 4-3 but several coaches and scouts here in Mobile believe Kelly and his staff can figure out ways to get both on the field in a 3-4 without hampering the defense.

The Eagles don’t yet have the conventional defensive tackle for a 3-4, which is usually a 340-pound space clogger in the middle, but free agency, the NFL Draft and trade market are all avenues the team can explore to fill that void.

Asked on Monday whether he had enough personnel right now to fit the 3-4, Kelly said, “I haven’t studied enough film yet to say, ‘Can they or can’t they.’”

But their interest in a prospect like Buchanan is further proof that change is imminent. Buchanan would need an incredible boost in draft stock to follow in the footsteps of former teammates Corey Liuget and Whitney Mercilus, two Illinois defensive standouts who were each first-round picks in the past two seasons and landed on 3-4 teams.

Two years ago, the Chargers drafted Liuget with the 18th overall pick to play defensive end in their 3-4 front. Liuget has eight career sacks. Last year, the Texans used the 26th overall pick on Mercilus, a pass-rushing outside linebacker who had led the nation his junior season with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles.

“I played right next to Liuget and right across from Whit,” Buchanan said. “I learned a lot from both of them. I think I was pretty lucky to play with great talent like that.”

Buchanan said his skill set compares more favorably to Mercilus’.

“Obviously, him being an edge rusher and him playing outside linebacker now in the NFL, I would probably say I learned more from him,” Buchanan said. “Because I believe we’re going to play the more similar position in the National Football League.”

Buchanan has modeled his game after two of the sport’s most iconic outside rush linebackers. He grew up trying to emulate DeMarcus Ware and Jason Taylor, two locks to make the Hall of Fame who both played all or most of their NFL careers in a 3-4 front.

Ware will move into a traditional 4-3 defensive end role this season under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the godfather of the Tampa 2 defense.

“I see myself as [someone] with a similar body type, attributes,” Buchanan said. “I definitely model myself after guys like that.”

Buchanan’s agent, Fletcher Smith, represents former Eagles Donovan McNabb and Darryl Tapp, whose contract expired after 2012 and isn’t expected to come back. Buchanan has met McNabb, but the coaching change in Philadelphia left him with few clues about Kelly’s defensive philosophy or interest.

Buchanan said he expected to meet with the Eagles again at next month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“They have a new coaching staff so it’s pretty much anything [goes] right now,” he said. “It’s kind of up in the air.”

E-mail Geoff Mosher at gmosher@comcastsportsnet.com