BEREA, Ohio – Jonathan Gannon is in the second season teaching in this Eagles defense and he is still very much in education mode. While those who are returning for 2022 and who have a strong knowledge of the scheme, Gannon also has to account for new veterans who are here and for rookies who are hearing this NFL language for the first time.
Time in the playbook is critical. Having this defense down mentally is required, because Gannon isn't holding anything back.
"They get it all. They get a different progression of learning than the vets do, but once they're out here, they have to know what everyone else has to know," Gannon said on Thursday prior to the first joint practice with Cleveland at the Browns' practice facility. "That's always a case-by-case basis when we get them. Normally we have a pretty good feel for where they are mentally before they come into the building. As you go through OTAs, you kind of see that, and you see, OK, well, he's ready for the next step; he can move on, or hey, we have to retouch this; we have to go back to this; repeat this.
"So, all our rookie class, (Eagles Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman) has done a great job bringing in guys that are smart. We play some different things, like everybody does, but those guys have to be able to pick that stuff up to be able to play, and they've done a good job with it."
The Eagles and Browns went at it on Day 1 of the joint practices, which continue on Friday ahead of Sunday's preseason game (1 PM, NBC10 in Philadelphia). It was spirited work. It was crisp and the Eagles' defense treated it as a preseason game.
Gannon made sure to explain to his players what his expectations were heading into these practices.
"I want to see us compete against a really good offense that's a very drastically different scheme than we've been playing against for three weeks," he said. "That's what I told our guys. I'm looking for a couple things. I want to see you show up and we're going to run our stuff, and it's awesome that we get to do this. They're obviously very well coached, a lot of talent on that side. These two days and the game on Sunday will be a good evaluation piece for us."
The Eagles have three weeks of practice at the NovaCare Complex and one preseason game under their belts, and that's given Gannon a chance to evaluate his players individually. He was asked about two of them on Thursday – draft picks tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean.
On Davis, Gannon said, "When he gets in there, he goes full tilt. It's always a thing for bigger guys. The hardest guys, when we grade our effort, are the backside corners and the D-line, because they don't always – they a lot of times aren't play side. So, the backside pursuit, running out of the stack, finishing into the pile, all that stuff, we grade and evaluate that. He's done a good job of taking to that. Hey, man, just because the ball is over there, you have to go run and hit it. I really thought he showed good effort in the game and good stamina, and there are no limitations on him."
Dean had five tackles in the preseason opener and that was an impressive start in Gannon's eyes.
"I expect all our linebackers to hit the ball when it's in-between the tackles," Gannon said. "That's the job of a linebacker, is hit the ball. So, I really thought that – and in practice, you can see that happening, but, again, it's not full go and full tilt. But I was not surprised how Nakobe played at all."