Vanilla Right Flavor For Birds Defense – For Now
Anyone wondering what the Eagles’ defense will look like under Jonathan Gannon needs to wait at least a few more weeks for answers.
Predictably, the 38-year-old first-time defensive coordinator kept things relatively simple in Thursday night’s exhibition against the Steelers at the Linc, overseeing a starting unit that surrendered 41 yards on seven plays.
Rather than show his hand by unveiling any semblance of intricacy, Gannon allowed each unit to carry out its respective assignment without creatively mixing things up.
The dominant front four looked especially fresh and explosive in its preseason cameo, and should continue to be a hallmark of this year’s team.
Javon Hargrave collapsed the Steelers’ offensive line twice early, and rookie Milton Williams played both tackle and end. Williams helped create a sack for T.Y. McGill on the second team when he burst off the ball with a power bull-rush, drawing the guard assigned to McGill, who surged through for the sack.
“We kept our calls simple,” said Williams, who said Gannon’s plan all week to be vanilla. “Coming in we knew what to expect.”
Health permitting, this diversified unit has the potential to be recognized among the NFL’s best. If Gannon can regularly rely on a deep defensive line rotation to get home without assistance, like his team did against the Steelers, he’ll have the luxury of optionality on the second and third levels.
While questions remain at linebacker and in the secondary, Alex Singleton eased some concerns and appeared to pick up right where he left off from last season’s breakout.
Despite logging just a handful of practices since coming off of the Reserve/COVID-19 list last Saturday, the 27-year-old was remarkably active, finishing with seven tackles against the Steelers.
If there was any doubt who’d be the primary running mate to Eric Wilson, the free-agent linebacker signed this offseason, Singleton likely dashes those concerns.
The tenacious defender is inherently instinctive, physical at the point of attack, swarms to ball, and has improved in pass coverage, making him the ideal complement to the rangy Wilson.
“He plays with a lot of energy,” Wilson said. “He flies around. I appreciate that because I like to do the same.”
Again, it’s difficult to gauge Gannon’s defensive structure after one largely vanilla game plan, but he’ll at least have a formidable group up front to deploy while he finds his stride.
One thing to anticipate from Gannon’s philosophy: frequent player rotations to preserve effectiveness and exploit specific traits.
Williams should have an established role early, and expect to see a fairly evenly distribution of snaps among Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, and Ryan Kerrigan.
Third-year linebacker T.J. Edwards, who had five tackles on defense against the Steelers and another on special teams, has also flashed this summer and appears primed to shoulder a more prominent rotational role.
On the backend, look for a six-cornerback group, including Josiah Scott, who had one of the team’s three PBUs. Rostering Scott, predominantly a nickel cornerback, could enable interior corner Avonte Maddox to roam the secondary as a positionless defender in multiple looks.
Although Gannon’s defensive configuration and ideology remains a mystery after Thursday night, he can be encouraged with his starting unit’s production in the opener.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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