We were joined by ESPN’s Tim McManus on Thursday’s edition of Crossing Broadcast. Good talk with T-Mac ahead of the preseason finale against the Colts.

At this point – is there anything left to play for? What should we be looking for on the field as the actual season opener draws closer?

“Every position has gotten settled essentially, between the the start of camp and now, with the exception of safety.” T Mac said. “Linebacker and safety, as we know, were the two questions marks with both starters (from each position) departing in free agency. But it’s now calming down on the linebacker front. You’ve seen Nakobe Dean be the constant, and now it’s Zach Cunningham who has been working with him pretty steadily with the first team the last week. It really seems like that’s where it’s heading right now. Safety’s different, where you have Reed Blankenship as that one constant, but then it continues to be a rotating cast of characters around him. You’ve had Terrell Edmunds do it, K’Von Wallace, the rookie Sydney Brown has done it, and Justin Evans, so you’re still seeing all four of those guys working in with the first team, all the way up to the last training camp practice. So my eyes go there first and foremost, to see who the Eagles are rolling out there and what the pairings look like, see if they can come to some kind of conclusion with this safety spot. That’s first and foremost to me.”

Of course, the addition of first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai throws a curious monkey wrench into the equation. What exactly is he looking for in the safety position? Are we talking two-deep, a continuation of the Jonathan Gannon Cover 2 shell? Will we see single-high safety and/or a second player in the box ala Malcolm Jenkins and Jim Schwartz? It’s something the beats have tried to focus on at camp.

“I think defensive coordinators, for the foreseeable future, are going to be cut from a similar cloth in that they have to agree with an organizational philosophy that top priority has to be keeping the big play off of us,” McManus noted. “They believe, fundamentally, that that is a big part of the equation to winning football games. Part of the reason Gannon was here and why you saw the philosophy that he had, was you keep safeties back and try to prevent that big play, and for the most part it worked. Generally speaking, it was a working successful formula for them, and I think you’re gonna see something similar with Desai, where yeah, it’s gonna be split safeties back there for the most part. You’re gonna see more zone than you’re going to see man, it’s going to be like a match/zone scheme where you start in man-to-man and then it breaks out into a zone coverage. I guess the big question is how much more aggressive will he be and how much more aggressive can he be, under those confines? That’s going to be his charge. As we saw with Gannon, he got way too passive, especially against big time quarterbacks and allowed them to dictate, allowed completion percentage to hover close to 80 percent when he was going up against that caliber of player. And he’s got less to work with. This defense isn’t as good personnel-wise as the one Gannon was working with last year. Which could restrict him to a certain extent as well. We don’t have all the answers on Desai, we’re getting little pieces, but I think it’s going to fit in overall to the organizational structure of ‘let’s make sure we’re not getting burnt over the top.'”

That is, of course, the macro-level defensive topic we talked about all season long with Gannon. If you don’t like Cover 2, that’s fine, but the Eagles were one of the best teams in preventing opponent gains of 20+ yards, so philosophically, they did achieve what they set out to do. The Gannon criticism that is most relevant is that he did not do enough to adjust when quarterbacks were having their way, which reared its ugly head in the second half of the Super Bowl.

We all know that Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense is not coming back, no matter how much a portion of Eagles fans want it to come back, so if we can all accept that the 2023 NFL defensive philosophy begins with conservatism, we’ll be in a better head space this fall.

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