Jonathan Gannon Defines His SAM LB Position

The Eagles DC gave a little insight into his most uncertain position
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FLORHAM PARK, NJ - Jonathan Gannon brings energy to everything he does.

The Eagles' rookie defensive coordinator usually speaks after training camp practices where an hour-plus in the summer heat acts as a dampener from what is essentially a caged lion.

Gannon's power-walks to media availability are already a thing and if you want to talk to the DC you better be ready to go. On Tuesday before the first of two joint practices with the New York Jets, the assembled reporters got the pre-practice version of Gannon.

There is a give-and-take to getting Gannon pre-practice. 

He joked that his voice was at an optimal level vs. post-practice one affected by the screaming before pivoting and joking "my juice level is a little higher right now than when I come off the field so forgive me."

The passion shines through with Gannon when it comes to everything, including the biggest mystery when it comes to his defensive scheme: the hybrid position of SAM linebacker.

To date that's been the domain of three players, all who started their football journeys as edge rushers: Genard Avery, rookie Patrick Johnson, and Joe Ostman, who is out of the competition after being waived/injured Tuesday after suffering a concussion last week.

Gannon described what he's looking for at the position vs. the off-ball LBs who are shaping up to be Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton.

LB Alex Singleton during an Eagles training camp practice

Alex Singleton

“I think what we are asking the [SAM LBs] to do within our scheme is a little bit different,” Gannon explained. “The MIKE and the WILL are mostly stacked, and the SAM, sometimes he’s stacked, but sometimes he’s on the ball. So, it just presents a little bit different skill set for those guys and what we are asking them to do.”

So what is being asked?

"You know, [pass rushing is] one of the skill sets and that's why that's a little bit different than the MIKE and the WILL because they are rushing tackles, tight ends from the edge, so we like that guy to have the ability to win one-on-one around the corner," Gannon told SI.com's Eagle Maven. "The other thing that that skill set for that position is when they get turn-outs and they get pin pulls and they have got to set an edge, a firm edge, that's a little bit different than the MIKE and the WILL because the MIKE and the WILL are flowing behind the ball.

"That's like a point of attack block that the MIKE and the WILL don't get a lot; that those guys have to be able to do that."

Avery, a 2019 trade pickup at the deadline, is listed as the starter at the position and has been running with the first team when healthy. Groin injuries to both sides of his core have limited the University of Memphis product, however.

Gannon unveiled a few Mike Zimmer-like A-gap looks from Avery recently but the second groin tweak has kept Avery out of practice since the preseason loss to the Patriots loss.

A late shift could be in the offing with veteran Ryan Kerrigan, who has been working his way back from thumb surgery, or even Singleton, the Eagles' most well-rounded LB, who could slide over while T.J. Edwards, who has had an excellent camp, plays the WILL position.

In the latter scenario, SIngleton would remain one of the two nickel options with Wilson, essentially serving a dual role.

“He’s done it so we’ve talked about that," Gannon said of the veteran Kerrigan, who is going to find the field somewhere, be it edge rusher or LB. "We always talk about, ‘Hey, who is our pair and our spare?’ So, we are always looking for guys that can play multiple spots, especially on game day, and I know he’s done it.

"Obviously, he hasn’t taken reps at it but yeah, possibly down the road if it fits for us, for on game day, or for the depth of that position, yeah, possibly.”

With Kerrigan and Avery sidelined, that has opened the door of extra reps for Johnson, a seventh-round pick out of Tulane, who had two double-digit sack seasons in college and finished as the Green Wave's all-time sacks leader.

At just 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, however, Johnson doesn't have the size or length to excel at DE in the NFL so the transition needed to be made.

To date, Gannon seems happy with what he's getting from the position.

“They are doing a good job,” Gannon said of the contenders. “They have been developing their game to what we are looking for in that position, how it fits into the scheme. It’s a multiple skill-set position for us, and you know, each of them brings a different asset to the table I think, and they are all doing a really good job just improving their game every day.”

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.