Standup rushers expected to be part of Philadelphia Eagles’ new scheme.
Heading into the 2021 season, the Philadelphia Eagles have multiple hybrid linebackers at the SAM position. While Jonathan Gannon will likely run a 4-3, today’s NFL defenses run a variety of fronts, and his defense isn’t expected to be any different.
From the 2020 roster, Genard Avery and Joe Ostman will make the transition to the position. In addition, the Birds added Patrick Johnson in the draft and Ryan Kerrigan in free agency. These guys will do a little bit of everything in their roles.
Jim Schwartz received more criticism than he probably deserved during his tenure in Philly. Most of his defenses still finished in the top half of the league but he was often bashed for not playing to the strengths of his personnel. It appears that new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has already taken a step in the right direction in that regard:
Let’s start with Patrick Johnson who we talked to about one month before the draft. Picking him up in Round 7 was one of the steals of the draft. Johnson was considered a top 100 player by some draft analysts including most of us here at ITI. He played the Joker role in Tulane’s defense and moved around quite a bit rushing from both sides of the line, rushing from the interior, and even playing in man and zone coverage when needed.
He is also passionate about contributing on special teams which will help earn him a roster spot. He is easily one of the most versatile players in the 2021 draft class.
What Eagles fans will love most about him is his football IQ. The defensive coaching staff at Tulane used Johnson’s notes from watching film to prepare the rest of the defense for the upcoming game each week. This kid is legit and ready to play in 2021. It’s encouraging to hear that Gannon could have a role that will suit Johnson’s strengths rather than expecting him to fit the scheme.
In Bo Wulf’s tweet above, he also mentioned Genard Avery being a stand-up rusher. Avery never quite fit Schwartz’s defense. He isn’t meant to just be a rusher who plays out of three and four paint stances with his hand in the dirt.
We saw flashes of Avery’s quickness off the line and athleticism but not consistently. He had his best season in 2018 as a rookie under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ who used him as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker.
All of Avery’s 4.5 sacks in that season came out of a two-point stance (standing up). It gives him more of an opportunity to win with his speed off the edge. In addition, because of his athleticism, he can cover the flat or play a little bit of man coverage if needed. He even played some on-ball SAM and Benjamin Solak mentioned Gannon could implement that:
This year could be Avery’s last shot in Philly since he hits the market in 2022. Fans have been disappointed with his performance since being acquired in exchange for a fourth-round pick. In the new scheme, he’ll have a fair shot at showing what he’s capable of.
Patrick Johnson will have a chance to emerge as a young contributor with this role in Gannon’s defense. Philadelphia Eagles fans should get excited about these two SAM linebackers. They should be fun to watch in 2021 if everything goes according to plan especially with the other talented pass rushers alongside them.