Tue, 21 Sep 2021

Jonathan Gannon sees early progress with Eagles defense

Philadelphia Eagles
30 Jul 2021, 19:12 GMT+10

Dave Spadaro

The pieces are moving, and that's exactly how Jonathan Gannon wants it to be for the Philadelphia Eagles' defense. Sitting targets are easier to locate, so he's in the process of putting together a defense here that gives offenses a lot to think about during the week of preparation and then on gamedays, well, it's all heck breaking loose.

That's the idea: Create havoc. Force errors. Take the football away. This has been a defensive theme throughout the offseason, and now to see it is to understand what Gannon means, even if the method to the structured madness isn't exactly clear quite yet.

"You guys are going to see a lot of looks out there," Gannon said on Thursday in his post-practice press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "We believe that our D-line is a strength. We're going to try to put them in a position to make a bunch of plays. We also feel like, it's Day 2, but I would say a lot of those guys have very unique skill sets, and we're going to try to accentuate those skill sets by how we align people.

"The players have done a great job of buying in and understanding the 'why' behind what we're doing. It's Day 2 and we got a lot more to put in, but it's our job to figure out, 'Hey, this guy does this really well, put him in that spot for the most part.' As we keep going in camp, hopefully you guys will see a lot of different variations with what we're doing and we're using guys in different ways. That's why, talking about our guys, we like guys that can play multiple positions because we feel it's hard on the offense. So, we don't want to just line up and they know where we're going to line up. We're going to change."

This is all part of the plan - controlled mayhem, if you will. Gannon and his staff have a lot of teaching to do with not a ton of time between now and the September 12 opener in Atlanta, but that's a piece of the fun challenge. Gannon needs to understand the boundaries of his players - both physical and mental - before he crafts his weekly game plan.

A defense that wants to be a "takeaway machine," and that literally preaches it and practices it every day, is making the kind of progress Gannon wants to see. If it means players are going to move around the defense - from one spot in one series to another spot in another series, so be it.

"That's different with each position and each player. An example for, like, a DB, if we feel like his skill set, he could play both, multiple positions. Some days, we might rotate it by period, where he's playing corner and he's playing nickel the next period, some guys we like to get comfortable playing one spot," Gannon said. "This goes for the D-line, too. Some guys we like to, 'Hey, work on this for this four-practice stack and then we're going to switch you around a little bit.' But the value of guys being able to play multiple spots is huge. A couple reasons for that is it allows us to build depth. On gameday, you don't have too many jerseys out there. We always say, 'Hey, we want a pair and a spare.' To do that, certain guys have to be able to play one, two, some guys even three spots.

"Again, that differs from guy to guy and that's part of the evaluation as we get going. If this guy is busting mentally, then we'll calm it down a little bit. If guys can handle it, we're going to move them around."

Fun stuff. Gannon wants to build on the talent of the defensive line, of course, because the Eagles are dynamic up front. He has to incorporate the defensive players returning from last season's defense, build packages for the veterans the Eagles signed in the offseason - from Ryan Kerrigan to Eric Wilson to Anthony Harris to Steven Nelson and then some - and he has to take a long look at the 2021 Draft Class to see who is ready to contribute now.

This is, truly, going to require a village to have success. Gannon loves the way things are going.

"I'm really just focused on our guys improving their game, because that helps the defense, and it helps the team," Gannon said. "The coaches, that's our job. Get everybody under your watch better and just improve them a little bit. Some guys make a huge jump. Some of them really good, premium players, those vets, if we can just make that incremental jump, it helps everybody."

Things are moving, and they're moving quickly. Gannon likes it that way, with the intent of keeping offenses off balance and attacking to take the football away and keep bringing waves and waves of defensive players off the sidelines to join in the fun. It's a work in progress, for sure, but progress is being made one day at a time.

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