The Philadelphia Eagles will have a new voice entering the defensive back room entering the 2020 season. The team announced in February the hiring of former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator, Marquand Manuel, as the team’s new defensive backs coach.
The Eagles for the first time since 2015 will no longer have Cory Undlin at the head of the group, as the former coach departed to become the Detroit Lions, defensive coordinator. A change that Philadelphia should honestly welcome.
Enter Manuel into the picture, and you see a coach with success in the exact area of need the Eagles need to improve. Manuel is a former safety in the NFL after a stable college career at the University of Florida led to his selection in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL Draft to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The former gator was teammates with Eagles long-time cornerback, Lito Sheppard, who gave the perfect impression of Manuel to NJ.com’s, Mike Kaye, that should elate every Philadelphia fan.
“That guy knew the playbook probably better than the coach did,” Sheppard told NJ Advance Media. “He took on that type of leadership, even in college. To be that leader, to be that professor, to be that guy who gave every blood, sweat, and tears he had with 130 percent.”
Sheppard also went on to compare Manuel to a former Eagles’ legend.
“What I think he’s going to bring is a very Brian Dawkins-like inspirational mentality,” Sheppard said. “He’s a really pumped up guy, he’s a very exciting guy, he’s a very passionate guy about his craft.”
Undlin may have had some pull in Philadelphia. Still, Manuel appears to be precisely what the team needed to improve their defensive back group after finishing in the bottom 20 in pass defense the last three seasons.
Manuel comes in already possessing a repertoire with Jim Schwartz after playing the last of his eight seasons under him in 2009 with the Detroit Lions. Knowing the in’s and out’s of what the coach expects of his secondary, and how to manage them to Schwartz’s style of defense, gives Manuel the upper edge with the unit walking in the door.
Coaching was Manuel’s destiny, and that opportunity came quickly for him during his brief retirement when he returned to the league in 2012 as Seattle Seahawks’ assistant special team’s coach.
Manuel possessed defensive assistant roles during the Seahawks’ two-year Super Bowl appearances from 2014-2015, notably in the secondary when the unit had been crowned the Legion of Boom. Manuel followed his counterpart, Dan Quinn, to Atlanta when Quinn became the head coach. The former NFL veteran was tasked with handling the Falcons’ secondary.
Manuel’s impact on the defense made its presence known right away when taking over defensive coordinator duties mid-season in 2017. The Falcons ranked ninth in total defense for the first time in years under Manuel’s playcalling while also ranking eighth in scoring defense, only averaging 19.7 points per game. The team finished 12th defending the pass and 8th versus the run.
The former NFL veteran was rumored to be an up-and-coming head coach in the league after his early success in Atlanta. Those wheels were derailed in 2018, however, due in large part to the injuries the team suffered from the likes of linebacker Deion Jones, safeties Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen, which ultimately led to Manuel’s dismissal from the Falcons. There is a strong enough case to be made that the once-promising defensive coach was the scapegoat of the Falcon’s failures as the team continues to cycle through defensive coaching to date.
Manuel was credited with numerous successes in the secondary, with most notably being the transition of Allen and Damontae Kazee from cornerbacks to safeties, while also developing Neal during his tenure. Kazee tied the league’s lead in interceptions during the 2018 season, with seven total becoming a solidified starting safety in Atlanta’s secondary ever since. Allen made the transition to safety in 2015 while Manuel was the team’s defensive backs coach, and also has been a consistent starter for the Falcons ever since.
Manuel’s proven success with handling a defensive back’s transition from cornerback to safety bodes well for a player like Avonte Maddox. The Eagles are allowing starting free safety, Rodney McLeod, to test free agency and may not be able to retain the soon-to-be 30-year-old safety.
Maddox went back and forth from safety to cornerback during his rookie season in 2018 while McLeod was out for the season. Maddox only allowed 18 receptions on 33 targets for 218 yards (59 passer rating allowed) and one touchdown along with two interceptions during the 2018 season while playing 541 snaps.
The 2019 season was a bit of a sophomore slump for Maddox while he played full-time at cornerback. The fourth-round pick in 2018 gave up 42 receptions for 480 yards (95 passer rating) and two touchdowns without any interceptions playing 518 snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
A move back to the safety position could prove to pay dividends for Maddox, especially when adding Manuel into the equation. The newly anointed defensive back’s coach proven success with handling the conversion also benefits a potential move if Philadelphia entertains the thought.
The Eagles Achilles heel has been the cornerback position for quite some time. Philadelphia looks to bring in a top-flight cornerback this offseason, most notably being Byron Jones, to improve the group. The big free-agent signing will be a considerable part of the solution, but Manuel is in position to be the glue holding all the pieces together.
Given Manuel’s proven success in development, conversions, and familiarity with Schwartz, there are reasons to be excited about Philadelphia’s new defensive backs coach. Manuel brings a tenacity attitude the Eagles need from their new coach.
Time will tell if Manuel’s stay will be a success or failure, but from the outside looking in — the Eagles are in good hands.