Why Eagles' Jonathan Gannon demands versatility from his players

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The one thing Gannon demands more than anything originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Jonathan Gannon on James Bradberry: “He’s a very versatile player.”

Gannon on Nakobe Dean: “Nakobe is a high, high football character (guy), highly intelligent, versatile, production was obviously through the roof.”

Gannon on Jordan Davis: “Jordan, high football character, versatile, tough, big, strong, violent, can play a bunch of different spots for us, can affect the game in a positive way.”

Gannon on Haason Reddick: “Very, very smart, very intelligent, high football character, very good skill set, versatile player, and it's our job to deploy him and to affect the game, to accentuate his skill set.”

We didn’t have a chance to ask Gannon about Kyzir White on Tuesday, but if we did, safe bet he would have mentioned his versatility.

Last year, Gannon essentially ran a defense with what he had. This year, it’s all about what Gannon wanted.

And that means the Eagles have stocked the defense not only with talented players like Bradberry, Dean, Davis, Reddick and White, but also with guys who can do a lot of things well, who can line up in a variety of places, who can flourish in different schemes and different formations.

It’s all about trying to create a defense that’s pliable and adaptable, a unit with lots of moving pieces, a group that can line up however it makes sense considering the opponent, the situation and the personnel it's facing.

One thing that made Bradberry such an attractive piece for the Eagles was his ability to make plays both in zone and man. Reddick has the ability to line up in a 3-4 as a SAM linebacker or in a 4-3 as a defensive end. Davis can be a 0-tech in a 3-4 — a true nose tackle — or a 3 tech in a 4-3. Dean has the athleticism to play weak-side linebacker but should be able to also handle the modern middle linebacker spot with his physicality and explosion.

And it’s not just the newcomers. Milton Williams can line up inside or outside. Avonte Maddox can play in the slot or safety. Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox can move around on the line.

Gannon will only have 22 or 23 players in uniform each game, and the more each of those guys can do, the more he can do as a coach.

You want him to be more aggressive? He should have players this year that will let him.

“We're always looking to add really good football players that are versatile, and there are a lot of reasons behind that, one being scheme,” he said Tuesday. “One being it's a match-up driven league, so we're looking to accentuate some of our matchups.”

If these guys are what the Eagles think they are, you’ll see what seems like almost an infinite number of combinations on game day.

One snap, you might see Edwards at Mike and Dean at Will. On the next snap, you might see Dean at Mike and White at Will. And then on 3rd-and-long it might just be Dean.

Same with the d-line. They could line up with Reddick, Davis and Josh Sweat in an odd front and then on the next snap with Brandon Graham, Cox, Hargrave and Sweat in an even front.

And that’s why other than “versatile,” the adjective you hear Gannon say the most is “smart.”

Because to swing around to different positions and also mesh with other guys swinging to different positions, you have to have incredible recall and intelligence or it doesn’t work.

“On game day, there are so many jerseys, and you like guys to be able to do a couple different things,” Gannon said. “Then it's our job to kind of piece it together over these next four or five weeks, six weeks, and then we get into training camp, hit the ground running, and put them in the right position to be successful.”

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