By Joseph Santoliquito

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was a work in progress when Billy Davis took the reins of the Eagles’ defense. What started poorly shaped up into a decent unit by the end of the season. Davis thinks another year of the team’s familiarity with his system will mean marked improvement this year for the 29th ranked defense in the NFL in 2013.

Davis spoke about a variety of things Sunday before the Eagles practiced at the NovaCare Complex—one of which was the changing personality of the defense.

“I think the biggest thing you see is a year ago, you saw more assignment football,” Davis said. “Guys were studying hard to know their assignment, what was asked of them and they were trying real hard to get to their assignment and maybe not understanding their whole picture of how they exactly fit with their teammates and how it all came together. It’s a learning curve, and you’ve got to start at the bottom and learn yours first, and then you spread out and learn around yours.

“We’ve had an awesome off-season. Not only our attendance but the participation and effort that went into the meeting time and everything else; I think our guys have a much better understanding of not only their assignment. I think they feel the whole package now, the whole defense, how they fit, why their teammates rely on them to do a certain technique we are asking them to do or align in a certain way. I think all of that has grown and will make the package stronger.

“The personality of this group will show itself when we play games in the preseason and as we play games on Sunday. Every year your team takes on a different personality. Our goal defensively is to break the rhythm of an offense and to get them off the field as often as possible with turnovers and third downs. We have a lot of room to improve, and hopefully we pick up where we left off at the end of last season.”

A few things Davis likes is the emergence of free-agent defensive back Nolan Carroll, who could challenge Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher for one of the corner positions. Carroll played well again on Sunday, deflecting a number of passes away.

“He’s a very well-rounded talent,” Davis said about Carroll. “He’s got size, he’s got length, he’s got speed. He’s a real tenacious competitor. I love his attitude out there the way he presses and competes and puts his hands on the people, and he’s got a good knack for the ball. I think he’s a good asset to us, he’s a great addition and we look forward to seeing him in camp and how he fits into our system.”

A growing concern, however, is putting less wear on linebackers DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin. Ryans played in a team-high 1,157 plays, followed by Barwins’ 1,128. Kendricks would have had appeared in over 1,100 snaps had he played in 16 games.

“It’s something we are very concerned about,” Davis admitted. “We don’t want any of them to play all the snaps. It’s too many snaps for any one defensive player. We know we had, way too many. It benefits both us and the player and DeMeco or Mychal that we get a rotation in there, too. We’ll get that rotation all the time through different packages and with the addition like you touched on of some new players, it will give us a little bit more flexibility. We really ran last year out of two personnel packages, a base and a nickel and I think we can grow and add those personnel packages, maybe two or three more packages.”

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