Q. With inheriting this roster, having worked under so many different coordinators, what type of approach did you want to take with this roster, focus more on talent or focus on specific scheme angles, et cetera? And then also with your scouting background, how much input did you have on the draft picks, especially those day three selections? (Mike Kaye)
JONATHAN GANNON: Getting here, I was most excited about the people that they had in place. We feel it’s a very talented defense. That’s a good job by [Eagles executive vice president/general manager] Howie [Roseman] and his personnel staff to get some good people in here.
So when the coaches got here, we evaluated the people on the roster and then targeted people that we wanted to look to add in free agency and obviously in the Draft. So just super excited to work with the guys that are here right now.
The scouting background that I had, it helped me to learn how to evaluate players, and we know that, when you evaluate players, you want to try to have a very specific vision for what they’re going to be doing, and I think we’ve done a good job with that.!
Q. The familiarity that you have with Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni, how much does that help you in your transition with a new team? When we look at the Eagles secondary, last year they played a lot of man coverage. You guys played a lot of zone in Indy. Should we expect that to be something that’s a staple of your defenses, and how do you feel about adapting your system to your players’ strengths? (Rob Maaddi)
JONATHAN GANNON: Super excited to work for Nick. We worked together for three years in Indy. I’ve learned a lot of ball from him, and I always thought he would be a really good head coach just because how he sees the game, how passionate he is, how he gets the players to play at a higher level than typically what they’ve had, that they’ve done.
As far as the man and zone thing, that’s going to be predicated by who we have and who we’re playing. So I believe in playing different styles of defense. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I think, and we’re going to figure out — and we haven’t done it yet because we’ve only had a week here with the players. But once we get into training camp, we’re really going to evaluate, hey, what can our guys do? That’s the first part of it. And from there, who are we playing, and what do we have to stop?
Q. Do you prefer us to call you Jonathan or Jon? (Dave Zangaro)
JONATHAN GANNON: I like Jonathan, but you can call me JG. [Jokingly] If you call me Jon, the wife might — I’m not sure she loves that. Just call me JG, man. Guys come in, they say, ‘Coach Gannon, Coach Gannon.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop calling me Coach. Just call me JG.’
Q. Got it. As you’re becoming a first-time defensive coordinator, is this something you’ve — obviously you’ve thought about this before. Have you thought about exactly — you mentioned the players will kind of dictate scheme, but along the way, what are some things you’ve picked up that you always thought, if I have my own defense, these are the things I want to implement? (Dave Zangaro)
JONATHAN GANNON: I was a defensive GA at the University of Louisville in 2006, and I started thinking about that. Knowing that I wasn’t ready at that time to be a defensive coordinator. I think, as you go along the way and how my career went, I have worked under a lot of really good people, I feel. I’ve learned a lot of different things. So you just kind of piece that together as you go along.
The main thing, though, when I got here, I didn’t drop a book on the table and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re running.’ If you actually ask the head coach, when we first talked about this when he interviewed me, it was, ‘Hey, what scheme are you going to run?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a scheme.’ And I believe that you have to be adaptable.
But the first thing is we’ve got to figure out what our players can do, and then we’ve got to put them in those situations as much as possible to utilize their strengths. The main thing for us is it’s not what we play, it’s how we play. And if you asked our players that, I think they know that from the jump as far as we’re going to run to the ball, we’re going to outhit people, we’re going to take it away, and we’re going to be smart. Those four things — hustle, intensity, take away, smart. The acronym for that is the HITS principle, and that’s what we’re going to hold our hat on.
Everyone runs the same stuff for the most part. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. I think the players have done a really good job of absorbing that and seeing the standard that we want from them and can’t wait to get on the grass in August and show people.
Q. I have two follow-ups to what you just said. Along that journey, who was the most influential to you in terms of the way that you view defense and coaching defense? Two, everybody wants to take the ball away. How do you teach taking the ball away? (Bo Wulf)
JONATHAN GANNON: My first guy that I worked for in the NFL when I was defensive quality control in Atlanta, was [current Vikings head coach] Mike Zimmer was the coordinator in Atlanta. Then kind of went our separate ways and then got back with him in Minnesota. So off the top of my head, Coach Zimmer was a huge influence on me, and he was a DB guy to start by trade. So that was pretty cool.
Obviously, in Indy, a complete different system under [Colts defensive coordinator] Matt Eberflus, and I feel like he really helped me fill in some gaps as far as what you guys asked, like what do you want your defense to look like? When you turn on the tape, like what do you want to see? What does the owner want to see? What does the head coach want to see, a la the HITS principle, and learned a different style of play different from Coach Zimmer.
Emmitt Thomas, I was under him for a year. Jerry Gray, I was under him for multiple years, two guys that have played secondary at a very high level in the NFL. That was eye-opening to me to say, hey, I believe in this technique for corners, but it’s not one size fits all. So every player you have is different, and it’s our job to say, hey, this is what works for you. You can do that.
That’s what I love about our staff. We’re not hardheaded; it’s my way or the highway. That’s not what this is about. It’s about serving the players and getting them to hit their ceiling. Why? Because it’s the best thing for the team and the defense, point blank. So we’re going to do everything — we take that mentality with everything that we do. If we’re going to walk up and press, well, this guy might not do the same thing that another guy does, or if we’re going to play off, well, this guy might play a little bit different than this other guy.
So I think it’s all about arming our players, seeing what they do, arming them with tools to put in their toolbox to be successful.
Q. I want to talk about Mike Zimmer a little bit and Minnesota. You mentioned it’s not what you do, but how you do it, but he is kind of known for a couple things, like shooting the A-gaps and putting the linebackers and crowding the center. Are there a couple things you sort of have to build out from to have as a base philosophy as a defensive coach in this league? (John McMullen)
JONATHAN GANNON: Yeah, I think that, with what Coach Zim did, that was his way to put pressure on the offense, some of those looks that you just said, and he had a whole package off of it. But that package was based on the players that we had at the time. So are we going to do some of that? Yeah, probably. We’ll probably do some of that. If it fits to what our players can do and what is good versus the team that we’re playing.
Coach Zimmer has a very specific vision of how he wants to play defense, and I agree with a lot of that vision. Not to say that we’re going to be exactly what Mike Zimmer was because I feel like there’s a lot of other good things that I’ve learned throughout the years that complement actually what Zims does. That would be my answer to that. That’s probably part of our package, but we’re not going to box ourselves into one scheme.
Q. You had a chance, I’m sure, to watch film of last year’s Eagles defense. I know you’re going to be doing different things and you’re going to work with the personnel you have and so forth, but was there anything there as far as emphasis on this or that position that you saw that will be different from what you want to do in terms of what positions you prioritize in having premier players? (Les Bowen)
JONATHAN GANNON: Well, I would say this. I’m a huge fan of Coach Schwartz [former Eagles defensive coordinator and current Titans senior defensive assistant Jim Schwartz], and obviously he’s done this job at a very high level for a long time, and he has his way of playing, which I agree with a lot of that. As far as prioritizing positions, one or the other, you need all 11. I prioritize those.
The drill that a lot of people do, is hey, rank the positions from 1 to 11. I just was never comfortable with that exercise because they’re all important. To say that, well, we don’t — this position is a little more important than another position, you know, until that guy that you have at a lower ranking is not playing real well, then see how good the other guys play. We feel like all 11 are very equal. Obviously, you’d like some rushers and some coverage players. Those typically, the style of defense that we’re going to play, you like to have those guys, but all 11 are very equally important.
And with saying that, not just the 11 on the field, the 11 or so backups, because we feel like everybody has a certain skill set and they can bring something to the table. So I’m not a big, hey, these 11 just play every down. I want everybody that has a jersey that game to play.
Q. Will you want a defensive line rotation, a strict rotation, or will you have like the first four in almost all the snaps? (Les Bowen)
JONATHAN GANNON: No. I think with hustle part of the HITS principle, one of those things is we’re going to ask these guys to play extremely hard, which they did last year. I think Philly’s defense last year was probably in the top five, when I look at the tape as far as effort. I felt like, Indy, we were in the top five as well. To do that, those big guys, you have to rotate them. So everybody that’s up on game day, we feel like we want all those guys to play.
You never wanted three or four guys to be at 65 snaps and then two or three guys at 10 snaps, and I really learned that from Coach Eberflus. He would say, ‘Get the horses fresh.’ He wanted those guys that were up. He wanted them rotated. He wanted them fresh. And depending on certain situations, you’re going to have some certain guys in there because you’re utilizing their strengths, but whoever’s up on game day is going to play.
Q. DE Ryan Kerrigan says he chose to come to play for the Eagles because of your scheme. Maybe that was one of the top couple things. So why is it your scheme will really fit Ryan? And he says he was really recruited by you guys. How much did you want to get Ryan here? (John Clark)
JONATHAN GANNON: I wanted to get Ryan here a lot. The number one reason is the person that he is. We have a very good, strong locker room of really good character guys, I feel, and the pieces that we added, him being one of those pieces, the first thing that Nick and I talked about with Howie was we want to bring really high character guys in here, whoever that be, whether that be draft picks or coaches or free agents.
So that was appealing to us about Ryan because of the type of person he is. I guess I recruited him a little bit maybe at dinner. It was probably more the head coach. But super excited, the versatility that he brings and the production that he brings. He’s got, what, 95, 96, 97 sacks, I think, in his career. He’s a hard guy to block. He’s extremely intelligent. I’m looking forward to getting our hands on him and working with him.
Q. Now you mentioned being a grad assistant at Louisville in 2006. If I can take you back, what was your path to getting to coaching after that hip injury? What was the inflection point in climbing the ladder? And it sounded like you had some options this off-season. What made you choose Philly for the first defensive coordinator job? (Zach Berman)
JONATHAN GANNON: So I played as a freshman at University of Louisville, dislocated, broke my hip, hip replacement, tried to play, couldn’t play. The head coach at the time was Bobby Petrino, and he says, have you ever thought about coaching? The answer I gave him was, yeah, high school football in Cleveland, Ohio, St. Ignatius, after I play ten years in the pros, and he laughed. He says, well, you’re not going to do that anymore. I said, yeah okay, good, thanks for stating the obvious. He said, why don’t you start student assisting, graduate, and if you’re good enough, I’ll hire you as the defensive GA.
So that’s what I did, so that’s kind of how I got into coaching was — that’s the path I went. And then as soon as I graduated, he made me the defensive GA, and my path was probably not normal to starting to climb the ladder because, after one year of being a GA, he took the head job with the Atlanta Falcons and brought me with him. So I was into the NFL at 24, and up until that point, all my goals in my mind was, hey, I’m going to be — ascend the ladder in college. I didn’t even really know what a quality control was. And within a week, like I said, I was with Mike Zimmer and Emmitt Thomas and Joe Whitt Jr. I said, I never want to go back to college. Like this is the most best thing of all time.
[In regard to choosing Philadelphia] It’s Philadelphia, that’s why. That was a huge reason. Why I chose Philadelphia was Mr. Lurie [Eagles Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Lurie], Howie Roseman, and Nick Sirianni. That’s why I chose here. And my wife loves a good East Coast city.
Q. The defensive line over the last handful of years under Jim Schwartz was largely pin their ears back, get after the quarterback, play the run on the way to the QB, kind of light on blitzing schematically. Is it safe to say your defensive linemen are going to be a little bit more read and react? How do you envision the amount that you’re going to be heating people up with the blitz? (Tim McManus)
JONATHAN GANNON: Again, I’ve got to see them, how we can play in August. We’ve got to get on the grass with them first and see what they can do. If certain guys can’t play in that jet style, then we’re not going to ask them to play that way. If certain guys can really play the way that we want them to play, playing that jet style, then we’re going to let them do that.
I do think it is a blend of those things at the defensive line. I do know this, our defensive line is very strong, in my opinion. We have two really good defensive line coaches in [Eagles defensive line coach] Tracy Rocker and [Eagles director of player personnel/senior defensive assistant] Jeremiah Washburn, and we’re going to let those guys be free and play. We feel like that’s typically a strength that you have over any offense that you go up against is the defensive line versus the offensive line.
I told those guys in the meetings, I said, hey, there’s going to be some times you’re going to have to take some stress on because to take some stress off of the back end. So it’s always a blend of rush and cover, cover and rush, how you play the run, what you’re doing with the seventh defender in the back seven. Are you accounting them in the box, or are you playing them deep?
I’m excited to figure that out with our guys. Hey, like what is the best way to defend the team that we’re playing? And which guys kind of do one or the other better and put them in those spots?
Q. I couldn’t help but notice that there are quite a few guys on the roster from your time with the Vikings, and specifically, I was wanting to ask you about LB Eric Wilson and S Anthony Harris, just kind of how you see those guys fitting into your defense and what you want to accomplish. (Martin Frank)
JONATHAN GANNON: I have a relationship with both players. When we sat down with Howie and the head coach, we talked about some certain positions that we kind of wanted to go out and fill to create depth and competition, honestly. Both of those guys, like Ryan, are super high character guys, and they’re both very intelligent. So that was appealing to me when those guys became available, to add those guys to the groups that we had.
Eric will start in — he can play all three spots, but for us, we’re going to start him at Mike and Will, and see where it goes. We think he’s a great complement to people we already have on the roster.
Q. A lot of what we know about Mike Zimmer’s defense, obviously, is schematic, but also he’s done a very good job of disguising coverages. So I want to understand a little more about how you go about teaching that in your approach to coaching guys up because we know how important that is with quarterbacks, so many quarterbacks now, their ability to diagnose a defense pre-snap. (Jeff McLane)
JONATHAN GANNON: Excellent question. With Zim, he would tell you give the players a lot of credit, and what I mean by that is he would say, hey, like we’re playing this coverage, but I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time on the disguise portion, and Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Harris and Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, they would get in a meeting together and say, hey, here’s what we’re going to do. They would present it to Zim, and he would say great.
There were some looks that Zim wanted certain things pre-snap to affect the quarterback in his mind, so we’ll do some of those things, and we’ll also let guys disguise on their own. We think that’s important to give them some freedom before the ball is snapped because they’re in between the white lines, not us. Our disguise package will be a blend of allowing guys to roam free, and then there’s going to be specific times that we want things to look a certain way pre-snap.
Just to follow up with that question too, my answer as I’m thinking about it, everyone talks about you want to pressure the quarterback, pressure the quarterback. Well, in my opinion, one of those ways is pre-snap, not post-snap. So what you do is you want to make sure that quarterback — offensive coordinators and quarterbacks right now are really, I feel like, ahead of where they were when I first got into the business as far as knowing where to go with the ball immediately or reading coverages or getting to each progression where they need to get to with the ball. You just want to put a little bit of seed of doubt in that quarterback’s mind, do I have that guy, or do I not?
So super excited because the defense that we have right now, a lot of smart guys, and that’s a huge thing.
Q. I’m curious, you’ve done a lot of work with defensive backs in your past, and I’m wondering if there’s any particular trait that you look for in your corners or in your safeties, any skill set? And then also, the team looks very young on the outside at cornerback, aside from CB Darius Slay. Are you comfortable with the lack of experience at that position at this point in time? (Ed Kracz)
JONATHAN GANNON: I would say the first trait that we look for on the back end is smart. We want guys to be able to think. Obviously, with the outside guys, coverability. You mentioned kind of my expertise is that position in the back end. Again, I learned this from people as I got groomed coming up in the profession is there’s a lot of different ways to play corner, a lot. Within the same scheme, there’s a lot of different ways for guys to function out there and play winning football. So that goes into figuring out what our guys can do and then how can we help them and play a certain way.
I’m very comfortable with that room right now. [Eagles defensive backs coach] Dennard Wilson, [Eagles assistant defensive backs coach] D.K. McDonald, they’re doing an excellent job. They’re two really good DB coaches. I’ve learned a ton from those guys in the last few months. It’s been awesome. So very comfortable with that room. Excited to see them get out there and compete. I think Slay can go to another level. I think everybody in that room can elevate their game and play winning football for us.
Let me follow that up real quick. I love the youth.
I love the youth because it’s like you can mold them how you want to mold them.
When I got to Indy, we had a bunch of young guys. It was awesome. It makes the job super fun because certain guys, certain vets — not all of them, but certain vets, kind of stuck in their ways of, hey, I want to play this way. Well, if that’s not the best thing for the defense, we don’t want you to play that way. So I think for our guys, they’ve done a good job of understanding the why behind what we’re doing to help those guys play. It’s been — we’ve only been three days on the grass, but in the meetings, it’s been a really cool thing to see those guys, you know, when you show them on tape, here’s how we can play this way, we can play this way. It creates a lot of enthusiasm and confidence with your guys.
Q. A lot was made about when the Eagles drafted DT Milton Williams, that Eagles senior football advisor Tom Donahoe didn’t necessarily look the most thrilled about that pick. The Eagles released a clip of you specifically, and you looked like you were super fired up when the Eagles drafted Milton Williams. It had you fist pumping and everything. What had you so jacked about that pick? (Brandon Lee Gowton)
JONATHAN GANNON: I was super fired up about all the picks and all the free agents. I get really fired up when we add people to that room. Milton, I was super fired up because, A, his football character is through the roof. B, he plays with a very high motor. For the D-line position, you guys will hear me talk throughout the year, motor and mean. We want guys that play really, really hard, and they’re really, really mean, and he fit that description, and he’s very smart. He’s very smart.
He understands blocking schemes, where the backs set, rush lanes. Just talking to him — and I sat in on his interview, when we interviewed him, Tracy and Wash [Jeremiah Washburn] ran the interview, and I sat in on it, and we closed it, and it was over, and I said, man, that dude is smart, like gets it. Just gets it. He’s got a very intense way about him, which I love, and that shows up on tape. So I was extremely excited to get Milton.
Q. I want to go back to your statement about letting the guys kind of disguise on their own. What kind of trust factor needs to be, I guess, established there for that? You have a lot of young guys on defense, but do you think that, by the time you get to the start of the season, you’re going to have guys that can do stuff like that? (Nick Fierro)
JONATHAN GANNON: Yeah, I definitely think with four weeks of practice, we’ll get there. You know, with that question, it just goes back to they have to understand where they fit within the call, and from there, we give them a little flexibility to move around pre-snap. Now, when we first line up and play, we won’t do that, but as we get going, I see it going that way because I truly do think that it’s hard for the offense and it’s good for our guys because it gives them — it allows them to use some of their tools in their tool belt.
I could tell you right now, just from being in meetings with these guys, like I’ve been extremely pleased with the mindset of our guys. All of them were here this whole week, so we had the attendance or whatever — I’m not counting numbers, but they’re all there when they don’t have to be, which is awesome. It speaks to the character of the team and the defense. I told them today that I was thankful for them being here because the best part about our jobs is the players. It was really cool this week, and I’m looking forward to the next two weeks of what we can get done before we get back here the end of July.