Eagles Getting Contributions from Rookies and Newcomers

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni had certain traits he wanted in his rookie, while DC Jonathan Gannon wants everyone to play on his defense if they're active
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PHILADELPHIA - Keeping players fresh is a key component of Jonathan Gannon's defensive plan and Sunday's 32-6 season-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons was the kind of game that makes accomplishing that goal rather easy.

If you're dressed, J.G. wants to play you.

“Everyone that has a jersey, hopefully will get some snaps,” Gannon said before the lopsided win.

In that particular instance, the young DC was specifically discussing the secondary but Gannon does want everyone available getting at least a taste of the action and in the blowout, 23 of his 24 available defenders did get work with the lone exception being recent waiver-wire pickup Andre Chachere, who was limited to special teams.

“The first thing is, I think, [is] to keep people fresh,” Gannon explained. “We do feel good about the people that are up on game day that they can go in and play winning football. That's the first thing."

And the second thing?

That's about keeping players ready just in case with Gannon's contribution to the Eagles' T-shirt-slogan culture being "a pair and a spare."

“I never wanted to have a guy that was up for six or seven weeks and only playing on special teams, then somebody gets hurt and he has to go in," Gannon said. "He goes from zero plays the first five weeks of the season to 70 plays right off the jump. Sometimes you can't help when that happens.

"I always feel like it's good to get guys snaps when you can get them snaps if it fits what we're trying to defend and what we're trying to do.”

Milton Williams was expected to be a part of the defensive line rotation. From there the nature of the game against the Falcons allowed other rookies like Patrick Johnson, Zech McPhearson, Tarron Jackson, and Marlon Tuipulotu to get their feet wet.

“I thought the coaches did a really good job of executing the plan that we talked about and that we had going into the game and then also adjusting as the game went on how it kind of unfolded what our position coaches did with some of their guys," the DC said. "I thought they did a really good job.”

Derek Barnett (left) and Javon Hargrave celebrate a sack against the Falcons.

Derek Barnett (left) and Javon Hargrave celebrate a sack against the Falcons.

When you add in the offensive side the Eagles had eight rookies who played.

"When we drafted these guys, the first thing we look at obviously was talent," head coach Nick Sirianni said. "The second thing we wanted to know was if they love football, if they have high character and if they were tough. We felt like that was the common denominator for all these guys.

"Usually, my experience with players is if they have those three things they reached their ceiling. ... When you have guys like that, then sometimes it feels like the moment isn’t too big for those guys because they’re mature enough to handle it."

Along with the lopsided score, a concussion to starting safety Marcus Epps shifted things in the secondary with second-year player K'Von Wallace carrying a heavier load than expected.

The only defensive players to go the distance were safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Steve Nelson, while CB Darius Slay took a bow for the final two snaps.

The real rotations came in the front seven with Fletcher Cox leading the way with 41 out of 72 reps, followed by the Defensive Player of the Game, Javon Hargrave (40), Josh Sweat (39), Brandon Graham (36), Derek Barnett (33), Milton Williams (31), Hassan Ridgeway (26), Tuipulotu (6), and Jackson (2).

The last time Cox had that light of a day (57 percent of the snaps) in a game he wasn't being purposefully rested was Dec. 22, 2013, vs. Chicago when he also played 57 percent of the reps.

“We had 10 D-linemen up and they all played. It keeps those guys fresh,” Gannon said. “You see the effort they're giving out there in the run and pass game.

“It's a little bit different with those guys because every snap they got hands on them. Where in the back end it's not always like that. They're bigger guys. That position, it's hard for big guys. What they're doing every snap, in my opinion, it's hard for them to do that 60-plus plays."

At linebacker, Eric Wilson paced things with 61, followed by Alex Singleton (43), T.J. Edwards (29), Genard Avery (22), Shaun Bradley (9), and Johnson (7).

It won't be so balanced when a game is tight and Gannon will need meaningful snaps from his key players late, however.

“We always want to keep our guys, kind of all of them are playing, and we want to keep them fresh. That's what we try to do," Gannon said before adding, "... the flow of the game kind of dictates if you can stay with that [rotational] plan or if you have to deviate a little bit."

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.