Jonathan Gannon's Mix-and-Match Defense Likely to Continue into Season

The Eagles DC is trying several players at different positions and using various persinnel groupings in an attempt to emulate LA Rams' No. 1 defense in 2020
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PHILADELPHIA – There’s no sense in trying to figure out Jonathan Gannon’s personnel groupings two days into training camp. Heck, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator is still figuring it out himself.

On Thursday, Gannon ran one group in that had rookie Milton Williams in at defensive end (for a second straight day), Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave at tackle, and Fletcher Cox outside.

There were times Cox was over center. No matter where he lined up, the veteran stood out, collecting, by Gannon’s estimation, three tackles for loss and a couple of sacks.

Derek Barnett was back with the ones on Thursday, a day after it was Josh Sweat getting work there. The linebackers on Thursday with the ones was Davion Taylor with Eric Wilson working with the second unit.

It’s all been mix-and-match, so far, and it could very well be the same way once the season gets rolling on Sept. 12.

Jonathan Gannon following Thursday's practice.

Jonathan Gannon following Thursday's practice.

Gannon even had his defense line up in a 3-4 on Wednesday before going back to a 4-3, an alignment that was Thursday’s staple.

“The value of our guys being able to play multiple spots is huge,” said Gannon, following Thursday’s practice. “A couple reasons for that is it allows us to build depth. On game day, you don't have too many jerseys out there. We always say, ‘Hey, we want a pair and a spare.’ To do that, certain guys have to be able to play one, two, some guys even three spots.

“That differs from guy to guy and that's part of the evaluation as we get going. If this guy is busting mentally, then we'll calm it down a little bit. If guys can handle it, we're going to move them around.”

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Gannon pointed to the number one defense in the NFL last year as a template, the L.A. Rams.

“They had by far the most different personnel groupings and the highest amount of different fronts,” said the DC. “Not to say that we're going to do that, but I do think that versatility in your front and coverage makes it hard on the offense. We're going to do that.

“The other reason for that is to, again, trying to accentuate our guys' skill set to move them around a little bit because they present problems for the offense when you do that.”

The shuffling and learning of each player and each position group have led to some interesting looks and something that could make this defense fun to watch in the fall.

“When I came from Clemson, we learned a specific scheme and we had a lot more plays than when I got here the first year,” said safety K’Von Wallace. “And now I feel like we’re going back to having a lot more plays, and changing looks, and whatever it is.”

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Added Taylor: "Today I was with the ones, tomorrow I might be with the threes. You never know. I think doing that rotation is helping me a lot because you get to know all your teammates, you get to know all the players on defense and you get to work together because you never know how a game will go. 

"You might have to get put with one of those guys, now you have a feel for each other and you can both play together. I think it will help this team dramatically."

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 and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.