After years of ignoring the position, Philadelphia Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman finally prioritized the linebacker position through the hiring of Jonathan Gannon. Prior to the 2021 season, the Philadelphia Eagles revamped their coaching staff. As soon as the season ended we heard that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would “step away from football”. He would ultimately not return to Philadelphia. New Head Coach Nick Sirianni determined he wanted to tap his Indianapolis roots to fill this opening.
Philadelphia Eagles, Howie Roseman Finally Prioritize Linebacker
That’s where Jonathan Gannon’s name came up. Gannon was the defensive backs coach for the Colts, and had been with Indy since 2018. Relatively inexperienced at the time, Gannon had just seven years of NFL coaching.
He landed a job under highly regarded defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Atlanta. Gannon left Atlanta after the departure of Bobby Petrino. Thanks to Billy Devaney, Gannon spent three seasons as a scout. During his three years with the Rams, he worked with head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Coach Spags, is another highly regarded defensive mind in the NFL.
Mentorship with Jerry Gray
Following this, Gannon landed with the Titans for the 2012 season returning to coaching as a defensive assistant. Working under defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, a former defensive back, was a blessing at this point in his career. The pair lasted two seasons in Tennessee before moving on to Minnesota under Mike Zimmer.
Mike Zimmer was hired as the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings following a decade in Cincy. Zimmer’s staff consisted of many defensive minded coaches. Gray was hired as the DB coach, with Gannon his assistant. This would continue the mentorship of Jerry Gray who, I believe was instrumental in how Gannon approaches his scheme. Zimmer tapped his Dallas ties for the coordinator bringing in George Edwards.
Gannon spent four seasons with Minnesota garnering valuable knowledge for his future as a defensive coordinator. Following the 2017 season, Gannon was hired by Indianapolis. He would get to run a position group for the first time. Eberflus was a long time college defensive coordinator with a unique approach. Different than that of Zimmer, Gray, or Edwards who had been coaching the NFL for nearly 20 years each.
Headed to Indy
Eberflus would prove to be crucial in building his own playbook, and determining his scheme. Eberflus believes in using linebackers for very specific roles given their alignment. Gannon had not previously seen this approach to the extent Matt Eberflus utilized it with Minnesota. Zimmer seems to want players that fit his scheme, while Eberflus is more willing to find a place where players can succeed in his scheme.
Eberflus believes in putting your most athletic linebacker at the WILL or weakside linebacker position. Coaches typically prefer to use their most athletic linebacker at the MIKE or middle linebacker position. This in theory allows the MIKE to use his speed to rove the defense sideline to sideline. WILL is a position that can be a game changer for the scheme Gannon and Eberflus have run. The man used in this role to perfection was Darius Leonard. Leonard is a tremendous athlete, who actually allowed Eberflus even more flexibility with his WILL position.
Flying to Philly
Good coaches know how to make adjustments to improve their on-field production. Jonathan Gannon made adjustments and solidified his defense midseason in 2021. It wasn’t until he made adjustments to the starting line-up that he saw improvement in the unit. Inserting guys like T.J. Edwards, and Davion Taylor. Now both of these men will be fighting for jobs.
Headed into this offseason, everyone knew the Eagles needed help at the linebacker position. However the Eagles have tended to neglect using assets at linebacker. Diehard fans were already gearing up to see another quiet offseason at the linebacker position. Well Howie Roseman threw us all a curveball. Howie Roseman finally prioritizes linebacker.
Hasson Reddick Joins the Team
Day one of free agency and Philly was able to bring home Hasson Reddick a Temple Alum. Reddick is a prototypical SAM linebacker in the gap and a half defense Gannon likes to run. He will be tasked with setting the edge, and helping provide a pass rush. Reddick is a guy who has experience playing safety, linebacker, and defensive end which allows Gannon to be extremely creative. This versatility will prove to be key in 2022, when Gannon is able to rely on his linebackers.
Arizona selected Reddick in the first round, hoping to improve the pass rush. It would ultimately take four years before Reddick broke out. It surprised many people to see him move on following his fourth year with Arizona. He racked up 63 tackles, 15 for a loss, 12.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections, 6 forced fumbles, and 16 qb hits. Following the year he hit free agency. He would sign a one year prove-it deal with the Carolina Panthers.
Prove it he would. In Carolina he had 68 tackles, 12 for a loss, 11 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery for 22 yards, and 18 qb hits. He showed he could get to the passer, and disrupt the game living in the backfield. Notching a total of 23.5 sacks, 27 tackles for a loss, and 34 qb hits since 2020. However like I mentioned before, this was out of character for the Eagles, with Roseman at the helm. They typically didn’t invest much in the linebacker position due to team philosophy.
Kyzir White signed to play WILL
Howie Roseman showed his ability to adapt, building for a scheme. Howie Roseman finally prioritizes linebacker. He has now added Kyzir White to the fold. This was an interesting signing, most fans believed he would target a MIKE. Allowing former 3rd round pick Davion Taylor to continue to develop as the WILL. White is the exact type of player you want playing your WILL position.
The former safety has above-average coverage abilities. He actually played more in coverage for the Chargers as an ILB in their 3-4 scheme more than anything. He dropped into coverage 514 snaps, defended the run on 434 snaps, and blitzing on 43 snaps. White is one of those guys who played well in 2021. Versatility is his strong suit playing many roles for the Chargers. He was able to notch 144 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 sack. There are concerns with his game, beginning with missed tackles.
In 2020 White missed 12 tackles. Prior to that primarily as a role player, and special teams contributor he notched four missed tackles in two seasons. Grading out above average in every category. 2020 proved to be his worst season. In 2020 he notched grades of 71.2 pass rush, and 61.1 coverage rating. However also had a 41.2 run defense grade, 54 grade on tackling and 51.5 overall grade. In 2021 he rebounded, this time with a 73 pass rush grade, 65.7 coverage grade, 63 in run defense. As well as a career high in tackling just topping an 80% grade. Having Signed to a one year $5 million prove-it deal, there are no promises he stays longterm. This could however be a guy who sticks around longer than one year due to his versatility.
The Eagles were forced to play two aging safeties in 2022. Because of this, it wouldn’t shock me to see the implementation of a 4-4-1 scheme. With White as the defacto strong safety, and Epps as the single high safety. They could bring Taylor in as the WILL next to Edwards, and allow White to move around a little bit. Gannon experimented with a 5-2-2 last season at times. I am excited to see what he does with competent linebacker play.
So far this offseason the Eagles have only added 3 outside free agents, but also resigned several veterans as well. Following these moves, it has allowed the Eagles to be flexible heading into the draft. With three first round picks, this roster should see an influx of talent at the end of April.
Howie Roseman Finally Prioritizes Linebacker. This was a huge way to open this offseason. Many fans as stated before didn’t see this coming. We are all more confident in the defense already. However the work is not finished. The defense still needs help in the secondary. Steven Nelson and Rodney McCleod aren’t expected back. Leaving holes to fill via the draft.
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