Gannon wasn't surprised by Dean's performance in 1st game


BEREA, Ohio — When he came from Indianapolis, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon brought with him an acronym that governs his defense: HITS.


On Thursday, just before the Eagles’ first joint practice with the Browns, Gannon was asked which part of that principle is normally the last one rookies pick up. He didn’t hesitate.

“Intensity, because you don't get to do it,” Gannon said. “Intensity is kind of that last piece to the puzzle. When we talk about the ways that we measure that, that's full tackle to the ground and hitting.

“So, we really made an emphasis on that in the last game and these next two games coming up. That's where that shows up.”

That’s why it wasn’t all that surprising to see Nakobe Dean excel in the Eagles’ first preseason game a week ago.

After a relatively quiet training camp, the Eagles’ third-round linebacker had an active evening against the Jets, finishing with five tackles, including four solo tackles. Dean didn’t do anything spectacular but he looked solid in game action. He looked like the guy who manned the middle of the best college football defense in the country in 2021.

“I expect all our linebackers to hit the ball when it's in between the tackles,” Gannon said. “That's the job of a linebacker, is hit the ball. So I really thought that -- and in practice you can see that happening, but, again, it's not full go and full tilt. But I was not surprised how Nakobe played at all.”

And that’s why it wasn’t surprising to see Dean have an active first practice against the Browns on Thursday.

Gannon says before any rookie comes to them, they have a pretty good feel of where they are mentally and that governs how much they give them immediately. In the case of Dean, engineering major who one day once to go pre-med, they didn’t hold back. He’s been learning the MIKE and WILL positions since he’s been here.

The Eagles would feel comfortable playing him at either.

But all this brings up what is truly a unique problem for the Philadelphia Eagles: They have too many linebackers. As strange as it sounds, the team that has trotted Eric Wilson, Nate Gerry and others out there in recent seasons looks really deep at the position in 2022. And it won’t be easy to figure out who plays.

T.J. Edwards has been the Eagles’ top linebacker in camp and is the most likely player to earn the green dot on his helmet, indicating he has coach-to-player communication. But then free agent Kyzir White has impressed and so too has third-year third-round pick Davion Taylor.

So where does Dean figure into all this?

On Thursday, Gannon didn’t rule out some sort of rotation at the linebacker position. That would make some sense because all four of those players have different strengths.

“You saw earlier in [last] year we did that (rotated) a little bit and then it kind of calmed down a little bit,” Gannon said. “It really goes down to who is our best people and what we're trying to do that week, what are our favorable matchups.

“Also, you have to take into consideration who's calling the defense, the green dot, because you don't want that guy subbing out a ton. We've done it, but you would like to — 80% of the snaps you would like to be able to just say it and that's what gets ripped. You don’t want to be sitting there all the time on certain situations.

“I think that process will sort out in the next couple weeks. But there is value to having multiple guys that can step in and play really good football for us and help us win games.”

Before training camp, I really thought Dean would have the ability to win the green dot and earn the most playing time of all the linebackers on the team. To be clear, I’m still very bullish on Dean and was really encouraged by his first preseason performance.

Perhaps, though, I underestimated those three other players. Edwards has been fantastic. White is going to end the long line of free agent linebacker disappointments. And Taylor has been healthy and doesn’t look like the same lost kid he was as a rookie a few years ago.

Still, Dean is going to play. He was the quarterback of the best college football defense in the world a few months ago and with two more preseason games to go, he’ll get to show what he can do in live action.

For lack of a better term, Dean is a gamer.

“Love the physicality of the game, the violence and everything that came with it,” Dean said last Friday. “It was great to get them full speed reps.”

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