With added talent better equipped for Jonathan Gannon’s defensive vision, the Eagles made a tweak to their coaching staff in the offseason, splitting their front seven talent into three different meeting rooms: the edge rushers are now working with Jeremiah Washburn, the interior defensive linemen are being tutored by Tracy Rocker and the off-ball linebackers are being taught on a daily basis by Nick Rallis.
The edge-rushing group includes what fans think of traditional defensive ends coupled with the SAM LBs, who are essentially overhang players in Gannon’s vernacular.
What you’ll be seeing as a whole are more multiple fronts both odd and even with the key addition outside being free-agent pickup Haason Reddick, who will play in the overhang role in what will essentially look like a five-man front from a practical standpoint.
The ends will be led by the emerging Josh Sweat, who tied for the team lead with 7 1/2 sacks last season, the returning Brandon Graham, the much-maligned Derek Barnett, who was brought back on a cost-effective deal, and second-year man Tarron Jackson. Behind Reddick at SAM LB are another second-year player in Patrick Johnson, along with rookie sixth-round pick Kyon Johnson.
The most interesting part of the puzzle will be the nickel rush and what it looks like, perhaps a traditional NASCAR format with Reddick and Sweat on the edges or maybe some overload looks with Graham, who is back from an Achilles’ injury at the age of 34.
Sweat also missed the playoff loss to Tampa Bay with a serious internal bleeding issue in which an artery opened up and had to be cauterized. There aren’t expected to be any long-term effects for Sweat, however.
Depth Chart Entering TC:
RDE: Josh Sweat; Derek Barnett
SAM: Haason Reddick; Patrick Johnson; Kyron Johnson; Ali Fayad
The Eagles haven’t had an edge rusher reach double-digits in sacks since Connor Barwin in 2014 and Reddick did it in two consecutive weasons with 12 1/2 in Arizona during the 2020 season and 11 last season with the Carolina Panthers. While there is some murkiness when it comes to how Gannon will use his pieces up front, understand the Eagles didn’t pay Reddick $15 million a season to not rush the QB.
The other new additions are also at SAM LB with sixth-round pick Kyron Johnson expected to be a key special-teams contributor while also pushing Patrick Johnson to be Reddick’s backup. Undrafted free agent Ali Fayad was a sack machine at Western Michigan with 13 of them as a defensive end en route to being named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. At just 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, however, Fayad doesn’t have the size or length to play DE in the NFL so the Eagles will try the shift and hope Fayad had the lateral movement skills to drop in coverage every once in a while.
The August Angle:
The rotation is going to be the interesting part and how much Gannin toggles both Graham, who will predominantly be a defensive end, and Milton Williams, who will spend most of his time inside at defensive tackle. The goal will be to get Reddick and Sweat on the field as much as possible in high-leverage passing situations.
Who Stays on the 53:
The top four ends looked locked in with Sweat, Graham, Barnett and Jackson while Reddick will slip into the SAM role with the Johnsons battling to back him up. Williams’ versatility means you can go a little light at DE while Kyon Johnson’s special-team skills should give him the inside track to the 53-man roster.
PREVIOUS TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW PIECES:
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Quarterbacks
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Running Backs
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Wide Receivers
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Tight Ends
Eagles Training Camp Preview: Interior Offensive Linemen
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Offensive Tackles