In Eric Wilson, the Eagles seem to have signed a linebacker who is more athletic, perhaps smoother in pass coverage than the guys they sent out there last season.
Maybe just as important, Wilson knows linebackers coach Eric Rallis and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon from their time together with the Minnesota Vikings. Wilson can help his new teammates with the defensive scheme, and he can help sell them on their young coaches.
Wilson turns 27 in September. Rallis, believed to be the league’s youngest position coach, turns 28 in July. Gannon turned 38 earlier this month. Neither Gannon nor Rallis has been made available to reporters.
Gannon has never been a coordinator; he was an assistant defensive backs coach in Minnesota when the Eagles defeated the Vikings in the NFC championship game before Super Bowl LII, Wilson’s rookie year. That season, Rallis was a grad assistant at Wake Forest, a year removed from playing linebacker for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He was preceded as a Gopher by his brother Mike, who now wrestles in the WWE under the name Riddick Moss. Nick Rallis spent the last three seasons as defensive quality control/assistant linebackers coach with the Vikings, an entry-level NFL position, while Gannon coached Indianapolis defensive backs.
“It’s tremendous to have that familiarity, have that authentic relationship,” Wilson said Tuesday in a Zoom interview with reporters covering the Eagles. “Nick Rallis, he’s a great football coach. I’ve been with him for several years now. … He’s a very passionate guy, high-energy guy, and a very smart guy. He’s a great teacher. He’s helped me tremendously improve my skill set.”
Of Gannon, Wilson said: “Very high-energy, very passionate, very smart, and also a teacher.”
Wilson signed with the Eagles last week for one year and up to $3.25 million. Though in his Tuesday remarks he emphasized the great fit, and his affinity for the city and its fans, Wilson surely was looking for more in free agency, after a Week 2 injury to Anthony Barr last season turned Wilson from an undrafted sub and special teams ace into a starter who played 96% of the Vikings’ defensive snaps. He led the team in tackles — albeit for a defense that fell off a cliff, en route to a 7-9 season.
“I played multiple different positions. I even had to call the plays, with the green dot helmet,” Wilson said. “I think it was a great opportunity for me to have that experience of calling plays, expressing that leadership to my team and to my defense. I think it was a great opportunity to grow my skill set as a player.”
Asked what he knew about his role here, Wilson said: “I just got here.” He hasn’t talked to Gannon or Rallis about details. “But I’m very versatile … I work on that versatility every day that I train.”
Wilson has a chance to play a lot here and prove last season wasn’t a fluke, as he looks toward free agency again next year. The Eagles, constrained by a tight salary cap, get a potential starter at a very reasonable price.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me to come in. Everybody knows about the cap and whatnot. It just worked out that way,” Wilson said. “This definitely is a great fit for me.
“The fans are tremendous, and they show that passion and love and support every day. I love to be in that environment. … The fans have showed so much love and support for me already.”
Wilson said he is close friends with safety Anthony Harris, his former Vikings teammate who also signed a one-year deal with the Eagles, for $5 million.
“Ant is a great guy, absolute baller on the field,” Wilson said.
The book on Wilson is that he can cover (78.9 opposing passer rating last season when targeted, three interceptions) and blitz (three sacks), but that at 6-foot-1, 230, he struggles against the run. Pro Football Focus gave him a terrible 38.3 grade in stopping the run last season, and charged him with 20 missed tackles.
“I can stop the run,” Wilson said. “The football focus is the football focus. I’m a great player, great against the run, great against the pass, I can blitz.
“I’m a very fast player; I utilize my speed, my strength. … I match up tremendously. … I’m a smart player, too. I do a lot of work on truly understanding the game, improving my football IQ. And understanding my role in my defense, what needs to be done. And communicating that properly with my teammates and with my coaches.”
Maybe the most intriguing thing about Wilson is that he really has just one season of extensive linebacker play under his belt. It’s possible he just looked good on a bad defense, which is what the lack of a big market in free agency might imply. It’s also possible that he is still emerging, still improving.
“I don’t have a ceiling,” Wilson said. “I truly believe that I’m getting better each and every day. … I think this is an amazing environment and an amazing city to do that in.”
Eagles players haven’t voted on OTAs
Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos players released statements yesterday indicating they would not report to voluntary offseason workouts scheduled to start April 19. The NFL PLayers Association believes the sessions can be held remotely, as was the case last season in the early days of the pandemic, saving players from possible infection, and cutting down on wear and tear.
Eagles players said they hope to hold a conference call on the subject in the next few days. With new schemes and a new coaching staff, management undoubtedly would like to see players gather at the NovaCare Complex.