Ryan Kerrigan, a pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker most of his career in Washington, gave reporters a hint Monday of how Jonathan Gannon’s Eagles defense might differ from what former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did.
“I feel like, with this defense and the way we’re gonna do some things, I think it’s going to allow us to be pretty multiple up front. It’ll allow us to not do the same thing over and over again. I think that’s going to allow us to gain an edge mentally, pre-snap,” Kerrigan said in a virtual news conference.
Kerrigan noted that he played defensive end in a 4-3 at Purdue and then last season in Washington. Of course, one of the reasons he is here now is that, despite being that franchise’s all-time sack leader, with 95½, he migrated to a part-time role last season and subsequently became a free agent at 32.
Gannon is expected to run a 4-3 base, though when he spoke with reporters last week, he said he’d told Eagles coach Nick Sirianni that “I don’t have a scheme,” during his job interview. Gannon talked of the need to be adaptable. He said he wanted to make sure what he did fit his personnel. It’s likely we will see Kerrigan play standing up, at least here and there.
How much will Kerrigan play? He said he doesn’t have a target number of snaps. The assumption is that if everyone is healthy, Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett will start, with Kerrigan and Josh Sweat rotating in, ahead of Joe Ostman, Matt Leo and sixth-round rookie Tarron Jackson, in an order yet to be determined.
Kerrigan compiled 5½ sacks last season while playing only 38% of the Washington defensive snaps, and though his reduced role had something to do with 10 seasons worth of mileage, it also reflected Washington’s drafting of edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat in the first round in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
“I just want to be someone to come on the field and make plays, whether that’s in run game, pass game, whether it’s dropping out [in coverage], whatever it is, I just want to be able to make plays for the defense,” Kerrigan said.
Kerrigan clearly saw an opportunity here. Barnett and Sweat have battled injury, and neither player has completely proved himself. But he said Monday that a big factor in signing with the Eagles was the vibe he got in his visit to NovaCare, a vibe that reflected the enthusiasm of Sirianni and his coaching staff.
“The energy in the building was just so positive, so good,” Kerrigan said. “From Coach Sirianni to Coach Gannon to [defensive line coach Tracy] Rocker, you just felt a good, positive sense of energy here. That was really intriguing. Then, also just talking through some film and talking some ball with the coaching staff, I feel like they’re going to put us in positions to succeed defensively, and that was something I was excited about.”
Kerrigan said he could tell that Sirianni and Gannon were coaches whose energy would be evident both in meetings and in practices.
“That really picks up the tempo of practices and whatnot,” he said.
The past several years, right tackle Lane Johnson spoke often of his respect for Kerrigan, the top NFC East pass rusher against the Eagles over the past decade (13½ sacks). Last week, Johnson said he had breakfast with Kerrigan during Kerrigan’s visit, and Johnson called the signing “big-time for us.”
“From a production standpoint, he’s off the charts, and he’s a great leader as well. ... If I ever let my foot off the gas, he would find a way to beat me,” Johnson said.
Kerrigan was asked Monday about getting to work against Johnson now in practices.
“He’s right there at the top of the league in terms of right tackles,” Kerrigan said. “He’s been impressive, really, since Day 1. Every year when the schedule would come out, I’d kind of look at when the two games against Philadelphia would be because I knew that’s when I would have to go against Lane. … I’m excited to work with him in practice each day because I feel like that’s only going to make us both better. To be going against him in practice, it’s going to be a lot more fun than going against him in a game. That’s for sure.”
Kerrigan said Graham and Fletcher Cox reached out to him when he was making his decision. Cox wears Kerrigan’s Washington number, 91, so Kerrigan will take No. 90 as an Eagle.
“I’m glad that it’s worked out this way,” Kerrigan said. “I’ve been coming to Philly for 10 years. I know what it’s like to play here. Coming in on the bus, we were often met with some not-very-kind words and gestures. But I always appreciated that because that means the fans care. They care about their team. They care about the product that the team has put on the field. So I’m excited to be on the good end of that now.”