The Eagles played just about all of their defensive players that dressed in Sunday’s season opening win but for once it wasn’t because of injuries.
If anything, it was because Jonathan Gannon knows injuries might eventually happen.
And he wants to be ready for it.
“Everyone that has a jersey, hopefully will get some snaps,” Gannon said specifically about the secondary before Week 1. “I feel good about it.”
Turns out, that extended to every position.
In the opener, the Eagles dressed 24 defensive players and 23 of them played on defense. The only one who didn’t was defensive back Andre Chachere, who joined the team on Sept. 2 as a waiver claim. He led the team in special teams snaps with 18.
Why does Gannon feel so strongly about everyone playing?
There are a few reasons.
“The first thing is, I think, to keep people fresh,” Gannon said. “We do feel good about the people that are up on game day that they can go in and play winning football. That's the first thing.
“The second thing would be, I never wanted to have a guy that was up for six or seven weeks and only playing on special teams, then somebody gets hurt and he has to go in. He goes from zero plays the first five weeks of the season to 70 plays right off the jump. Sometimes you can't help when that happens. I always feel like it's good to get guys snaps when you can get them snaps if it fits what we're trying to defend and what we're trying to do.”
Think about what the Eagles went through over the last few years at several key positions with injuries. Some young players went from deep reserves to starting in an instant. Gannon’s idea is to get them ready early.
The Eagles’ 11 starters on Sunday played a total of 484 snaps. The 12 reserves who played logged 308 total snaps.
Now, some of that was aided by an injury. Marcus Epps went down after eight snaps with a concussion and K’Von Wallace ended up playing 64 snaps. But there was a good chance that Wallace was going to play a ton anyway. And it’s also important to note that Avonte Maddox and Alex Singleton technically didn’t start but can be considered starters. But in a way that actually proves the point even more; everyone is going to play, which makes the “starters” less important.
“I thought the coaches did a really good job of executing the plan that we talked about and that we had going into the game,” Gannon said, “and then also adjusting as the game went on how it kind of unfolded what our position coaches did with some of their guys. I thought they did a really good job.”
Here’s a look at snap totals for the Eagles’ defensive starters:
Anthony Harris: 72, Steve Nelson: 72, Darius Slay: 70, Eric Wilson: 61, Fletcher Cox: 41, Javon Hargrave: 40, Brandon Graham: 36, Derek Barnett: 33, T.J. Edwards: 29, Genard Avery: 22, Marcus Epps: 8
And here’s a look at their reserves:
K’Von Wallace: 64, Avonte Maddox: 45, Alex Singleton: 43, Josh Sweat: 39, Ryan Kerrigan: 34, Milton Williams: 31, Hassan Ridgeway: 26, Shaun Bradley: 9, Patrick Johnson: 7, Marlon Tuipulotu: 6, Zech McPhearson: 2, Taren Jackson: 2
It also might have helped that the Eagles took a significant lead later in the game, but guys like Wallace, Bradley and Johnson were likely going to see some action anyway.
The one area where know the rotation will continue all season is along the defensive line. There was a really healthy rotation on the D-line against the Falcons and once those guys started wearing out the Atlanta offensive line, it became obvious why it’s especially important at that position.
Some of the D-line rotation is decided coming into the week but some of it depends on the flow of the game. Gannon credited DL coach Tracy Rocker and defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn for orchestrating that rotation.
“We had 10 D-linemen up and they all played. It keeps those guys fresh,” Gannon said. “You see the effort they're giving out there in the run and pass game.
“It's a little bit different with those guys because every snap they got hands on them. Where in the back end it's not always like that. They're bigger guys. That position, it's hard for big guys. What they're doing every snap, in my opinion, it's hard for them to do that 60-plus plays.
“We always want to keep our guys, kind of all of them are playing, and we want to keep them fresh. That's what we try to do. But understand that's hard for the coaches to do that because you saw we have different packages, the flow of the game is a little bit different.”
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