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How Will the Philadelphia Eagles Fare on Defense?

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COMMENTARY | We can continue to hash and re-hash the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback competition, but if I learned one thing from observing Chip Kelly during his time as Oregon Ducks head coach, it is this:

If Kelly says a starting job is up for grabs, then it's really up for grabs. And if he says a starter won't be named until the competition plays out in camp, then you won't get even a hint of who's leading the race in the meantime.

We can speculate all we want -- Michael Vick or Nick Foles? (my money's on Vick) -- but the new coach is gonna make 'em earn it, regardless of past performance and regardless of contract status. He did the same thing with Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota while coaching in Eugene, forcing each guy to compete and win his job in camp before handing over the reins.

As intriguing as a quarterback battle always is, I'm far more interested to see how the defense progresses this year. We all know the Birds simply have to take a step forward on that side of the ball this season if they're going to be even remotely more successful than last year. And if the defensive backfield is as hapless as it was at times in 2012 -- yep, talking to you, Nnamdi Asomugha -- it really won't matter much who's taking snaps on offense, because the Eagles aren't going to be in very many games.

Bill Davis takes over a unit that came into 2012 with high expectations but struggled mightily, ultimately leading to the October firing of coordinator Juan Castillo.

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans is the leader of a defense that will feature some new faces -- including linebacker Connor Barwin, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and safety Patrick Chung -- and a hybrid scheme that will vary from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

New coordinator, new scheme, new starters at key positions -- most fans will tell you that the changes couldn't come soon enough, but how well will the Eagles put it all together, and how long will it take for them to click on that side of the ball?

Back in May, Davis acknowledged that the road to success would be a rough one for Philly's defense, telling reporters that "This year is absolutely the hardest transition year we're going to have."

Just how hard?

"The learning curve in the first year, you have to understand it, it's a foreign language that you speak," he said.

Translation: keep your expectations tempered, especially in the early going.

Most Eagles fans will be happy with some improvement and added effort on defense in 2013, and I'll be surprised if we don't see both.

Whether that equates to wins will depend largely on if -- and just how quickly -- it all comes together.

Adam Sparks has followed the Philadelphia Eagles since the 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2010.

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