Familiar Faces Give Eric Wilson a Leg Up with Eagles

From the coaching staff to a former teammate, the team's newest linebacker should feel right at home
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PHILADELPHIA - Eric Wilson and Jonathan Gannon only crossed paths for one season in Minnesota when the Eagles' newest linebacker was entering the NFL as an undersized, undrafted free agent out of the University of Cincinnati and Philadelphia's first-year defensive coordinator was ramping up his own career as Mike Zimmer's assistant defensive backs coach.

Despite their short time together with the Vikings, Wilson, who signed a one-year deal worth $3.25 million with the Eagles last week, lit up when SI.com's Eagles Maven asked the fifth-year player about his new defensive boss.

"Yes JG," Wilson smiled. "The defensive coordinator. He's an amazing guy, very high energy, very passionate, very smart, and also a teacher."

Gannon isn't the only familiar face Wilson ran into during his first day at the NovaCare Complex Tuesday. The Eagles' new LBs coach in Nick Rallis, who just happened to be the assistant LBs coach with the Vikings, and preceded Wilson's arrival in Philadelphia by a few months, was also in the building.

Later, once the players convene for spring drills, Wilson will run into former Minnesota teammate Anthony Harris, a safety the Eagles signed in free agency last month.

As for Rallis, he is the youngest position coach in the NFL at 27, the same age as Alex Singleton and a year older than Wilson, the two players penciled in as the Eagles' three-down linebackers.

"He's a great football coach," Wilson said of Rallis. "I've been with him for several years now I've known him. ... He's helped me tremendously improve my skill set. As a player, but also as a man, and improve my well-being. It's tremendous to have that opportunity to work with him."

That skill set helped turn Wilson into a productive LB on the stat sheet with the Vikings in 2020 as he piled up 122 tackles to go along with three sacks, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries.

The book on the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Wilson is that he's a very speedy player who excels in pass coverage or as a blitzer but not stopping the run, something he took issue with.

"I'm great against the run," a confident Wilson said. "Great against the pass, I can blitz. And, You know I think that's one of my great skills that I have is my versatility and my ability to make plays all around the field."

When veteran Anthony Barr went down with a torn pec early last season for Minnesota, Wilson became a starter next to Eric Kendricks and he also took over the defensive play-calling duties for Barr, a very cerebral player that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer often raves about.

"A.B.helped me a lot as a player and as a person. He continually helped me in all sorts of ways and improving my game and, and understanding how to communicate calls to my guys on the field and how to talk, you know, on the sideline about improving things," said Wilson.

It remains to be seen if Gannon hands the green dot over to Wilson in Philadelphia but despite being the newest face in the LB room Wilson has a better feel for what Gannon and Rallis want than holdovers like Singleton and t.J. Edwards.

"You know, I just got here, I haven't had that many conversations about the details of my position or talk to the X's and O's of the defense," Wilson admitted. "But you know I'm very versatile as a player, I work on that versatility. Every day that I train and I think it's very important to be versatile into any position that we get put into, whether it's in the run or the pass or coverage. ...be ready to really succeed."

And Wilson is ready to do exactly that.

"You know I played very well against the run and in the past and in the matchup game, you know I match up tremendously, said Wilson. "I'm very versatile as a player and I'm a smart player, too.

"So I do a lot of work on truly understanding the game, improving my football IQ and understanding my role within my defense, and what needs to be done in communicating that properly with my teammates and my coaches."

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 EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.