The Eagles defense changed quite a bit within the last week with the addition of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and as we inch closer to Week 1 against the Lions, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon talked about how the safety will get acclimated quickly. He also talked about preparing for Detroit’s offense and how he, and the team, have developed heading into Year 2 together.
As for the linebacker position, Gannon didn’t want to get into the specifics about who would be starting and at what position, but did say that there is a very specific role for all the guys in that room — T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, and Nakobe Dean. He later admitted that they practice the on-off field transition every day in practice, and when you’re rotating guys and playing different packages, they have to make sure it’s feasible on a game-by-game basis.
Here’s what else the DC had to say:
On Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
Gannon said that CGJ’s addition doesn’t really change their plans for the defense, but he is excited about adding him to the secondary and the skill set that he brings to the group. The DB coaches, D.K. McDonald and Dennard Wilson, are spending a little more time with CGJ to get him caught up, but the safety is very smart and fits into what they want to do, so when he’s ready to play, he’ll play.
The DC also explained why they felt CGJ could come in and play the safety position.
“Just looking at his tape, the skill set that he brings, he basically played a lot in the slot, but he has played safety before.
We’ve talked about a modern-day safety is doing it all, coverage ability, being able to play in the box, having range, playing post closed, post open, covering, tackling, communicating, being smart.
I feel like he’s going to integrate well into the defense.”
Gannon said the biggest thing about integrating new players is the verbiage they use. He quipped that CGJ (and others) has played football before and it’s not rocket science, so the big focus is on the verbiage and communication within the scheme, and then understanding where he fits into all the calls.
The DC also wouldn’t commit to when or how much CGJ would play in Week 1, citing the quick turnaround from when he was acquired. They are going to see how the week goes, like they do with all their players, and do a daily check-in for whether he’s ready to play or better off to hold him out. Gannon acknowledged that they have some execution benchmarks for him in practice, and emphasized, when he’s ready to play, he’ll play.
“I think from the standpoint of once he gets something, like any player, once he gets a concept and gets a call, then you move on and you see there will always be sticking points of, well, there’s a lot of adjustments in this call. Maybe we steer clear of that one. Or, ‘Hey, we know we’re going to need this call, we have to learn this one.’
Certain calls are a little bit easier than other ones, and it’s just — your kind of instincts of being a coach, hey, he’s ready for this or he isn’t ready for this, and then you make the decision and go.”
On preparing for the Lions
Gannon noted that Detroit is a completely different football team heading into this season than they were in 2021. He explained that he felt like they kind of found their identity in the last half of the season last year, and settled into how they wanted to play offense.
“They have a really good O-line, quarterback is a good player, and they have some skill guys. We have it cut out for us. We have to play good football to give our team a chance to win.”
Lions’ tight end T.J. Hockenson had a good game against the Eagles last year and Gannon said that keeping him locked up in Week 1 is going to come down to the defense executing the call when players are matched up on him, and knowing how to defend him, where to be strong, and to use their help accordingly.
On Year 2 with the Eagles
Gannon was asked about his primary focus on self-improvement was going from Year 1 to Year 2. He said that the list was too long to go over, but highlighted trusting the players a little more and being very clear with their job description and the standard that they want.
“From my standpoint, it’s being comfortable with our guys and letting them go play fast.”
He later elaborated, saying that he told the guys that they have to problem solve and think on their feet, and also have to get him out of trouble if the call is not ideal. Gannon said that the whole defense has shown that ability throughout camp, and he trusts the group a little bit better.
“Part of that is being second year in the system. They’ve seen a lot of the things that we talked about last year not seeing. Now they’ve seen some of that and they can function on the move in between the whistles, which I’m really excited about.”
The DC was also asked about head coach Nick Sirianni and how he’s developed heading into Year 2. Gannon called Sirianni the epitome of having reasons behind everything they do — from how they practice, to roster moves —, and how that’s really appreciated.
“There are reasons for all that, and I love the detail that he has when he has a thought or makes a decision that there’s always a why behind it and it’s very thought out.”
Gannon later talked about the one thing he wanted to see the defense do better this season than last.
“Probably take the ball away a little bit more, affect the quarterback a little bit more, and be consistent, because you guys saw there are certain games where we played lights out and certain games where we didn’t. I would like us to always on the defensive side of the ball, my responsibility is to make sure that the defense and the coaches, to make sure the defense is giving our team a chance to win the game. Excited about that opportunity and challenge.”
- Gannon said that he feels comfortable with the entire secondary group, including guys like K’Von Wallace, Avonte Maddox, and Reed Blankenship. He feels good about whoever is on the active roster come game day.
- As for the decision to release Anthony Harris from the practice squad, Gannon talked highly of the safety and everything he’s done for the team, but acknowledged that trading for CGJ lead to that decision.
- The DC called Fletcher Cox the standard of effort and how to practice and play, which is why he’s one of their captains. He said he loves where Cox’s game is right now, and he expects him to be a huge part of this defense.