Will Eagles be a 3-4 defense or a 4-3? The answer is unusual

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Will Eagles be a 3-4 defense or a 4-3? The answer is unusual originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It’s an ambitious plan, and it’s an unusual plan, and it’s an intriguing plan.

The Eagles are busy in training camp installing their 3-4 defense.

And they’re busy in training camp installing their 4-3 defense.

When defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon talks about a versatile, unpredictable, malleable unit, he’s not kidding.

The Eagles will play a four-man front this year, and they’ll also play a three-man front, and if you can’t figure out week to week what their front seven is going to look like, that’s the whole idea.

“There is value to be able to play different coverages, different fronts, depending on who you're playing and our matchups,” Gannon said before practice Friday. “I'm not a big percentage guy, but when we set up the game plan, guys, you know how we are. How do we need to win this game and what do we need to do?”

So as training camp goes along, you’ll see the Eagles line up an odd front - two defensive ends, a nose tackle and four linebackers. And you’ll also see them working in a traditional 4-3, with two ends, two tackles, a middle linebacker and two outside linebackers.

A lot of teams will change up their defensive front from time to time to throw a wrinkle into the operation, but it sure seems like the Eagles won’t really have a base front. It will vary week to week.

“You're going to see a lot out there,” Gannon said of training camp. “That's by design. That's to say, ‘Hey, over the course of training camp, we want to work this for the first week, and then the next week we want to work that. Because we might not need this for the first couple weeks, but all of a sudden, we're going to need it, and we want to have it repped and rinsed and see who’s comfortable, what looks good, what doesn't.

“You guys out here are going to (say), ‘Holy cow, seems like they're doing a lot,’ but we're really not. We're playing football. We're trying to prepare our guys for what they’re going to need to execute to win games come the fall.… You don't want to put something new in Week 4 the first time they’ve ever run it.”

It’s all about keeping offenses off balance and finding the best possible matchups on a week-to-week basis.

“That can disrupt guys, for sure,” Jason Kelce said of that sort of multiple defense. “And it definitely makes it harder for the play caller, because obviously there are plays you want to run that are better suited for certain defenses.”

The thing about preparing to run both odd and even fronts is that you need players who are versatile enough to excel at multiple spots but also smart enough to handle all of this mentally.

So you could see Haason Reddick line up as a traditional 4-3 defensive end or dropping back into coverage or rushing the passer as aSAM linebacker in a 3-4. You could see Milton Williams as an interior lineman in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defensive end. You could see Nakobe Dean at weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 or at the Mike in a 3-4.

And so on.

The possibilities are limitless.

And within those fronts there are unlimited twists and packages that could make this defense even more dangerous and unpredictable.

To pull this off, you need a special kind of player, and Gannon believes the Eagles have that.

Asked about his guys’ ability to play multiple positions, Gannon said: “Yeah, everybody that we have on our roster right now wearing a white jersey can do that.”

He added that “Howie did a great job” stocking the roster with the sort of smart, versatile players who can fit into multiple schemes.

“It comes down to the fabric of our defense,” he said. “Those guys have high football character. They are unselfish. So, they understand when we ask them to do certain things, there is a reason why, and that ultimately is to win the game.”

You also need a deep group of talented linebackers, something the Eagles have rarely had but believe they have now.

An added bonus of the defense working on all these different things in camp is that it helps the offense as well.

Because it prepares them for a multitude of fronts and looks that they might see during the season.

“I’m looking forward to going up against the defensive line we have, because seeing all these different fronts, all these different alignments, is going to make our offense better,” Kelce said.

“It’s going to make us well-suited to play against anybody and be familiar (with what they do). All these things will culminate in us being better up front, being more in-tuned with how to attack and counter what the defense is doing.”

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