Jonathan Gannon Taking 'Illusion of Complexity' to Defensive Side

The Eagles DC wants to make opposing QBs think
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PHILADELPHIA - Sean McVay calls it the"illusion of complexity" out in Los Angeles and Jonathan Gannon hopes to bring a similar philosophy to the defensive side of the ball in Philadelphia.

Nowhere is that better exemplified than at cornerback, perhaps the Eagles' weakest position on paper outside of Darius Slay.

Confidence is rarely an issue with Slay and the Eagles' top commodity at CB isn't losing any sleep when it comes to the supporting cast at the position.

A cynic might quickly realize that Slay will rarely see the football on a defense where the other corner options are Avontee Maddox, rookie Zech McPhearson, recent trade pickup Josiah Scott, Mike Jacquet, Craig James, Kevon Seymour, Lavert Hill, Nate Meadors, and Shakial Taylor.

Testing the veteran three-time Pro Bowl selection might be placed under the category of "why bother?" by opposing quarterbacks.

No one knows how Gannon, the Eagles' rookie defensive coordinator, will approach the situation and murkiness might be part of the plan.

Maddox, the incumbent at outside CB, was seen doing drills with the safeties at a recent OTA practice but talked like a CB when addressing the media. Meanwhile, Slay doesn't seem to care who is out there with him.

“We’re going to be great, man,” he insisted. “[The] coaches are doing a great job right now and the scheme [Gannon's] got for us right now is putting us in position to make plays. He’s going to put us in the best possible position we can be."

Scheme is great and all but X's and O's languish far behind talent and execution when it comes to success in the NFL, something Gannon himself has admitted.

"Everyone runs the same stuff for the most part," the rookie DC said. "It's not what you do, it's how you do it."

In Slay's mind, unproven doesn't mean incapable.

"I believe in the guys that’s in the [CB] room," insisted Slay. "Shoot, staff do, too. We’re just looking forward. We’re just going to be competing each and every day, myself included. We’re going to lead these guys and we’re going to go out there and do our thing.”

For now, Maddox, McPhearson, a fourth-round pick, and Scott, a 5-foot-9 slot option, are the most likely contributors with perhaps the ultra-raw Jacquet being an X-factor due to his length and physical gifts.

Expecting McPhearson to hit the ground running is unfair but maybe necessary for Gannon, who projects to implement a lot of Cover-2 and Cover-3 looks to help out the cornerbacks.

The knuckleball could be a lot of match coverages with Slay being tasked to hold his own and the rest of the secondary settling into more zone concepts.

There's a lot of avenues Gannon could go but expect a lot of sleight of hand tricks.

McVay's "illusion of complexity" settles down into the basics after the eyewash of pre-snap movement evaporates. 

Gannon will take that mindset to the defensive side to make opposing quarterbacks think before backing off into zone more often than not.

"Everyone talks about you want to pressure the quarterback, pressure the quarterback. Well, in my opinion, one of those ways is pre-snap, not post-snap," Gannon said. "So what you do is you want to make sure that quarterback - offensive coordinators and quarterbacks right now are really, I feel like, ahead of where they were when I first got into the business as far as knowing where to go with the ball immediately or reading coverages or getting to each progression where they need to get to with the ball.

"You just want to put a little bit of seed of doubt in that quarterback's mind, do I have that guy, or do I not?"

McPhearson may have the best combination of physical skills to play outside of the Eagles' current CB candidates after Slay.

“Quick twitch guy. Got good ball skills," Slay said of the rookie. "He’s very aggressive, man. He knows how to attack the ball in all kinds of ways. I’m looking forward to watching him compete when I’m out there.

"Like I’ve been telling him for a long time, discipline is going to make us move forward. If you can be a smart, disciplined guy, you’ll be a great corner in this league.”

Discipline doesn't typically go hand and hand with rookies, however, and when you add in the extra layer of pre-snap disguise Gannon seems to want to insert, the default setting should tilt toward the veterans.

“I’m very comfortable with that room right now,” Gannon said. “[Secondary coach] Dennard Wilson, [assistant DBs coach] D.K. McDonald, they're doing an excellent job. They're two really good DB coaches. 

"I've learned a ton from those guys in the last few months. It's been awesome. So very comfortable with that room. Excited to see them get out there and compete. I think Slay can go to another level. I think everybody in that room can elevate their game and play winning football for us.”

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for'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 and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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