Changes inevitable, Eagles seek to test new secondary

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Changes to the Eagles defense were going to be made. It was just a matter of how drastic they would be.

Philadelphia ranked next to last in the league in pass defense and allowed more pass plays of 20 yards-plus, 30 yards-plus and 40 yards-plus than any team in the league. So there was no logical reason to remain status quo.

Three-fourths of that starting secondary and the nickel back from 2014 are gone. When the Eagles line up Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, the only remaining starter in the secondary from a year ago will be safety Malcolm Jenkins.

He'll be joined by free agent additions Byron Maxwell at cornerback and Walter Thurmond at safety; plus cornerback Nolan Carroll, who was a backup last year.

''I'm excited about the hand we're holding right now,'' Philadelphia defensive coordinator Billy Davis said after practice on Thursday. ''Now, Monday night will tell us our starting point. We have to grow it from there.''

Davis is also anxious to see how that new look responds to the passing attack of quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

Atlanta, in a 6-10 season a year ago, still finished fifth in the league in passing offense and Ryan was fifth in the league in passing yards.

''Their quarterback and their wide receivers (Julio Jones and Roddy White) are their strength,'' Davis said. ''And they're a deep ball team. So our whole thing we've been preaching about keeping the X plays (20 yards, or more) off us is going to get tested right away.''

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NOTES: Tight end Zach Ertz (groin) and linebacker Marcus Smith (hamstring) have been limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Ertz has been out since early August and did not play in a preseason game after having surgery. He was cleared to return to practice this week. Smith, out since mid-August, missed the final three preseason games and was also just cleared to return this week.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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