FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Jonathan Gannon has been pretty consistent whenever he’s been asked about his scheme or, more specifically, his preference of man or zone coverage.
Way back during his introductory press conference, Gannon said coverages would depend on “who we have and who we’re playing.”
Well, we know the Eagles have Darius Slay. And if one thing has been clear in the first 16 days of training camp, it’s that 30-year-old cornerback still has his sticky cover skills.
And, rather unsurprisingly, he’d still like to “travel” against top receivers in 2021.
“Of course,” Slay said on Tuesday. “For me, me being a competitor, that’s what I want to do. [Gannon] knows that too. We’ll see when the season comes up though.”
It’s not like Slay traveled all the time under Jim Schwartz — situations dictated it last year too — but the Eagles played more man to maximize Slay. This might be oversimplifying things, but the Eagles figure to mix in more zone coverage with Gannon in charge this season. But Gannon has also stressed versatility and multiplicity and that’s not a smokescreen.
Gannon wants to play to his players’ strengths and one of his best players’ biggest strengths is man coverage.
“He’s going to play some man-to-man,” Gannon said earlier this summer. “We're just going to figure out how much of it we can play, if it suits us to win the game that week.
“So, you'll see us hopefully be a little bit adaptable week to week with what we're doing to try to defend opposing offenses.”
Maybe Slay didn’t have his best season in 2020 but he was still very good. He had two rough games against two of the best receivers in the NFL — DK Metcalf and Davante Adams — but locked down just about every other top-notch receiver he faced.
As a reminder from ProFootballFocus:
Terry McLaurin — 3 targets, 2 catches, 28 yards
Cooper Kupp — 2 targets, 1 catch, 5 yards
Robert Woods — 2 targets, 1 catch 13 yards
A.J. Green — 5 targets, 4 catches, 31 yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster — 2 targets, 1 catch, 11 yards
Chase Claypool — 4 targets, 2 catches, 26 yards
Darius Slayton (2 games) — 7 targets, 6 catches, 94 yards
Michael Gallup (2 games) — 4 targets, 3 catches, 28 yards
Jarvis Landry — 1 target, 1 catch, 13 yards
DK Metcalf — 11 targets, 8 catches, 158 yards
Davante Adams — 7 targets, 6 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs
Michael Thomas — 3 targets, 3 catches, 33 yards
Amari Cooper (2 games) — 1 target, 1 catch, 35 yards
Earlier this summer, PFF published a list of the top 32 receivers in the NFL entering the 2021 season and while that list is obviously subjective, the Eagles will face 13 of those 32 during their 17-game season:
Tyreek Hill (No. 3), Michael Thomas (No. 7), Calvin Ridley (No. 11), Mike Evans (No. 12), Chris Godwin (No. 13), Amari Cooper (No. 14), Keenan Allen (No. 16), Terry McLaurin (No. 17), Kenny Golladay (No. 19), Corey Davis (No. 20), Antonio Brown (No. 24), Courtland Sutton (No. 28), Deebo Samuel (No. 31).
While it won’t make sense to have Slay travel with all of those guys because of matchups or larger schematic problems, there will be amble opportunity for Gannon to employ this tactic this season if he sees fit.
Of course, if Slay does travel at all this season, it means the rest of the corners have to be willing and able to move too. With Steve Nelson and Avonte Maddox as the other starters (instead of Maddox and Nickell Robey-Coleman), you can make a strong argument that the Eagles are in a better situation to move their corners around this season.
Nick Sirianni has said several times this summer that one of the major advantages he has as a rookie head coach/offensive play caller is that no one around the league has seen his offense yet. And Gannon is thinking similarly about his defense.
He’s not going to show too much, too early or give away any secrets. And he’s certainly not going to completely divulge his plan for Slay.
But if the veteran corner has his say, we know what he’ll be doing.
“Oh, I love the challenge,” Slay said about traveling last April. “I kind of ask for it a lot because of the fact that I want the game on me and I want to help win the game. If the best route to go about it is me traveling with a guy, then I’ll do it.”
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