Jonathan Gannon believes the NFL is often dictated by matchups.
Instead of focusing on a particular scheme or philosophy, the Eagles defensive coordinator says his job revolves around pulling the most out of his players and getting them favorable one-on-one opportunities.
After the Eagles’ moves so far this offseason, Gannon has to be feeling a bit better about those potential matchups. The Eagles signed edge rusher Haason Reddick, linebacker Kyzir White, and cornerback James Bradberry in free agency, and used two of their first three picks in the draft on defensive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean, both from Georgia.
What do those additions afford Gannon going into his second year?
“We’re always looking to add really good football players that are versatile,” he told reporters Tuesday. “There are a lot of reasons behind that, one being scheme. One being it’s a matchup-driven league, so we’re looking to accentuate some of our matchups. It’s always on game day, there are so many jerseys, and you like guys to be able to do a couple different things on game day.”
“Then it’s our job to kind of piece it together,” Gannon added. “Over this next four or five weeks, six weeks, and then we get into training camp, hit the ground running, and put them in the right position to be successful.”
Gannon’s first year in charge of the Eagles’ defense was up-and-down. His group had a handful of games, mostly against subpar quarterbacks, when it looked suffocating. Other times, some of the league’s best offenses dominated the Eagles’ secondary and neutralized their pass rush. They finished 25th in defensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
Even though next season’s group seems to have much more talent and scheme versatility, Gannon downplayed the notion that he wasn’t able to run the defense he wanted because of personnel last season.
“I mean, we did what we wanted to do last year,” Gannon said. “I think hopefully what the fans see is us executing at a little higher level when we need to. That’s what I’m always concerned about. My No. 1 concern or goal is to make sure that we’re playing good enough on defense to keep us in games and play good football to help our team win.”
Even though he claims to not have one set scheme, there are some apparent tendencies and philosophies from Gannon’s first year. His prioritization of limiting explosive plays results in a heavy dose of two-high-safety looks and zone coverage.
He also used both even- and odd-man fronts depending on situations, which was a departure from the conventional 4-3 front the Eagles used under his predecessor, Jim Schwartz.
Going into next season, it looks like the Eagles will embrace the switch to odd fronts even more.
Reddick profiles more seamlessly as a 3-4 outside linebacker and Davis can play as a true zero-technique nose tackle in those fronts. It’s also worth noting that Gannon split the defensive front into two groups for meetings, another indicator of a possible switch.
Under the new structure, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker handles interior linemen while senior defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn handles edge rushers.
Gannon said he made the switch to give players “more time on task,” in meetings.
“We play different forms, different spacing, and we wanted to kind of group those guys together,” he said. “There are times when they’re going to meet together and there are times when they meet separate, but the different front structures that we play felt like it was — sat down with the head coach and said, ‘Hey, how can we maximize the staff that we have with what we’re doing to ultimately improve our players?’”
Regardless of the front, Gannon said Davis will have a meaningful role on the line as a rookie. The 6-foot-6, 340-pound defensive tackle was mostly limited to run downs on a stacked Georgia line, but Gannon sees potential in his pass-rushing ability because of his size and athleticism.
“He’s a big, explosive, violent man that can win one-on-one,” Gannon said. “So, yes, he will definitely have a role in the passing game, and he will affect the quarterback in a good way.”
Gannon’s news conference marked the first time he’d spoken publicly since interviewing for multiple head-coaching vacancies earlier this offseason. He was a finalist for the Houston Texans job and interviewed with the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings.
“It was humbling to have the opportunity to get a chance to interview with a couple different teams,” he said. “Just excited about being in the seat that I’m in right now. Learned a lot from it, but that’s kind of in the past and I’m focused on right now getting our players better.”