For months, we’ve waited to hear from Eagles’ new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon to find out the intricacies of the defense he’s going to install in Philadelphia.
But this was the answer he gave to the Eagles when they asked that same question at his interview back in January:
“I don’t have a scheme.”
Gannon, 38, explained what he meant on Thursday afternoon.
“The main thing, though, when I got here, I didn't drop a book on the table and say, ‘Hey, this is what we're running,’” Gannon said. “If you actually ask the head coach (Nick Sirianni), when we first talked about this when he interviewed me, it was, ‘Hey, what scheme are you going to run?’ I said, ‘I don't have a scheme.’ And I believe that you have to be adaptable.
“But the first thing is we've got to figure out what our players can do, and then we've got to put them in those situations as much as possible to utilize their strengths. The main thing for us is it's not what we play, it's how we play.”
OK, Gannon’s saying he doesn’t have a scheme is a little hyperbolic. Of course he has a scheme. In fact, he said he’s been thinking about the type of defense he’d run if he ever got in his current position dating back to his days as a graduate assistant at Louisville in 2006.
So there are going to be some obvious staples in Gannon’s defense and they’re not too hard to find if you take a look at the defenses he’s come from in Indianapolis and before that in Minnesota.
But Gannon’s main point is that he’s not going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. He wants his defense to mold to the strengths of his players, much like the philosophy Sirianni presented with the Eagles’ offense after he was hired. Gannon mentioned a few times on Thursday that he and his coaching staff will teach technique and styles a certain way but understand not everything works for everybody. They’re open to that. He also said he wants to see his players at training camp before making any definitive decisions about what the Eagles are going to run.
Instead, Gannon on Thursday presented an acronym that is the basis for his defensive philosophy: H.I.T.S.
“That’s what we’re going to hold our hat on,” he said.
When asked about his biggest influences in the coaching world, sure, Gannon mentioned Matt Eberflus and Emmitt Thomas and Jerry Gray, but he made it clear that his biggest coaching influence has been Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
So if we want to get any hints about what his defense will look like, it’s wise to look at what Zimmer has been doing for years. We did just that earlier this offseason.
When asked about some of those old staples from Zimmer’s defenses, namely Double A-Gap blitzes, Gannon was quick to point out that a lot of what Zimmer has done in the past has been predicated on the players he’s had.
“We'll probably do some of that, if it fits to what our players can do and what is good versus the team that we're playing,” Gannon said.
“Coach Zimmer has a very specific vision of how he wants to play defense, and I agree with a lot of that vision. Not to say that we're going to be exactly what Mike Zimmer was because I feel like there's a lot of other good things that I've learned throughout the years that complement actually what Zim does. That would be my answer to that. That's probably part of our package, but we're not going to box ourselves into one scheme.”
Gannon was an in-demand coaching candidate this offseason. In addition to the Eagles’ opening, Gannon was also a candidate for two other defensive coordinator jobs (Chargers, Bears) in the NFL. He said he chose the Eagles because of the city, Sirianni, Howie Roseman, Jeffrey Lurie and because his wife “loves a good East Coast city.”
In his introductory press conference, Gannon came off as a smart, articulate, thoughtful guy. The Eagles hired him for a lot of those reasons. So to think he’s simply going to put out a carbon copy of Zimmer’s defense and call it a day is probably foolish.
“Everyone runs the same stuff for the most part,” he said. “It's not what you do, it's how you do it. I think the players have done a really good job of absorbing that and seeing the standard that we want from them and can't wait to get on the grass in August and show people.”
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