Eagles DL coach gives insight into new philosophy


Under Jim Schwartz the last five years, the Eagles defensive line used a lot of wide 9 and players were coached to constantly pin their ears back and get after quarterbacks.

Don’t get it twisted: The Eagles’ defensive line will still attack under Jonathan Gannon.

Just expect a more varied approach from their talented front in 2021.

“We’re going to be an attacking defense but I think you have to also understand, there’s a thousand words out here. We’ve got read-react, we’ve got disruptive. We’ve got this …,” new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said last week.

“Well, what about situational football? Situational awareness? You’re not going to run the red light.”

Gannon and the entire coaching staff have talked at length about creating and utilizing scheme that highlights their players strengths. We at least know the basics. For the most part, this is still going to be a four-man front. And on a line that includes Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham and more, it makes sense that the Eagles will still let their defensive line be aggressive.

Heck, most of the time, the differences might not even be all that noticeable to an untrained eye.

But there will be subtle differences. At least there are in theory.

“Sometimes it’s about playing the play, understanding where you’re located on the field,” Rocker said. “Hey, we’re backed up. Do you think we need to be disruptive or do you think we need to key the ball? Those are the things that are important to me as a coach. I feel like us understanding there’s a time and place for everything but I feel like we’re going to be definitely, we’re going to have to read at times, we’re going to have to be disruptive at times. And sometimes you’ve got to react. We’re reactionary. We’re defensive players so we’re reactionary and that’s what we do.”


None of this is to say the Eagles are going to turn into some 3-4 read-react, overly passive defense. They’re not.

For one, they don’t have the talent at linebacker to run that type of scheme. And it would be an absolute waste to have this many elite pass rushers and not let them loose. As a team last year, the Eagles had 49 sacks (third in the NFL) and 40 of them came from their defensive line. With the addition of Ryan Kerrigan, you can make a strong case this line is even better than last year’s.

So these guys expect to attack.

“Just basically the same thing, just be disruptive,” Cox said. “That’s all coaches want, just me to go out and be disruptive. Just play what style of defense I’m used to playing, just be disruptive and just make sure everybody around me is making plays also.”

On paper, this Eagles’ defensive line is extremely talented and deep. They are legitimately four or five deep inside with Cox, Hargrave, Hassan Ridgeway and rookies Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu.

And they’re just as deep at defensive end with Graham, Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Sweat.

“They want to play to the strengths of the roster of who’s here already,” Graham said. “I think they’re doing a good job of coming up with some plans of what they’re thinking come training camp.”

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