It was already pretty widely known that to fill Brandon Graham’s shoes would take more than just two feet.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon confirmed that one player won’t suffice in order to make up for the loss for the veteran defensive end, whose ruptured Achilles during Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers landed him on season-ending Injured Reserve on Tuesday.
“I talked to our guys (Tuesday) about the void that has taken place with Brandon and, obviously, not being able to play with us the rest of this year,” Gannon said on Wednesday as the Eagles prepare to visit Dallas in a Monday Night Football matchup.
“You know, from a leadership and a character, and an attitude standpoint, I think collectively we have to – everyone has to, you know, try to fill that void collectively because not one guy is going to be able to do that.
“We do feel good with the leaders that we still have within the defense, really good about the leaders that we have. And from the standpoint of him, the roles that he was playing, you know, other guys are going to have to step in and fill where he was playing at, and we feel good about the guys that are going to do that.”
One of those guys could very well be rookie Milton Williams.
Gannon wouldn’t commit to that, but Williams as a player the Eagles cross-trained early in camp, letting him work outside before moving him mostly inside during the exhibition games.
The Eagles’ third-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, Williams has played primarily defensive tackle in the 58 combined snaps (41 percent) he has seen in the first two games.
Williams had 31 snaps in the opener and 27 vs. San Francisco.
Gannon said the number would remain the same though conceded that it’s a number that “could possibly even go up a little bit.”
In 30 games at Louisiana Tech, Williams had 10 sacks playing a lot of defensive end, so he has the skillset and the Eagles know it after trying him there throughout August.
Now, those reps might come in handy.
“The reason he played multiple spots in camp and then in certain - the preseason games, just from a numbers standpoint, we wanted to see him play inside and he played a little bit outside, too,” said Gannon. “But he will be a piece that we continue to use and move him around within the package and the call. We're going to try to put him in the best spot that we can, as with all of our pieces to play winning football.”
Williams is one of many rookies who are being developed this season, with second-round Landon Dickerson expected to take Brandon Brooks' spot at right guard and fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson playing a vital role on special teams.
Then there's fifth-round pick Kenny Gainwell who is Miles Sanders' backup at RB.
Also, rookie defensive end Tarron Jackson could see a bump in snaps which could lead to a trickle-down to rookie DT Marlon Tuipulotu.
Of course, much of the burden to replace Graham on the field will fall on the shoulders of Josh Sweat, who was given a three-year contract extension then played just 28 snaps (40 percent) against the 49ers, and Derek Barnett, who is in the final year of his rookie contract.
Veteran Ryan Kerrigan needs to prove he has something left after not having much impact in the first two games.
Gannon said that the reason for the low snap count from Sweat had to do with certain packages that were prepared for the 49ers.
“We're trying to accentuate guys' skill sets,” said the DC. “And how the game unfolds – we always have a certain way how we, in our mind, ‘Here's how we're starting the game, the adjustments we're making, here's who's in on certain packages.’ And how the game kind of unfolded, that's why you saw his play-count a little bit down.”
Head coach Nick Siriani said on Monday that Sweat probably should have played a little more against San Francisco.
So, you know he will against the Cowboys and beyond.
“When he was in the game, he affected the game in a positive way and played winning football,” said Gannon. “And you will continue to see Josh Sweat do that. From a standpoint of what he's been since we've been here, I mean, he plays the run extremely well and he can rush and he's a great dude.”
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.