Milton Williams has seen 58 defensive snaps through two games, switching between defensive end and tackle in new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s scheme. The third-round draft pick is an aggressive pass rusher who could see a ton more snaps now that Brandon Graham is out.
No one person can replace Graham’s leadership, let alone a rookie with limited NFL experience. But Gannon hinted at trotting the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder out there in different packages moving forward. Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett will remain the starters on the outside, but look for Williams to see an uptick in snaps.
“He will be a piece that we continue to use and move him around within the package and the call. We’re going to try to put him in the best spot that we can, as with all of our pieces to play winning football,” Gannon told reporters on Wednesday (Sept. 22). “So, you’ll see Milton continue to – his playtime will continue to be where it’s at and possibly even go up a little bit. And look forward to him each week getting a little bit better just like all of our guys.”
Williams recorded 4.5 sacks in 10 games last season at Louisiana Tech. The other guy to keep an eye on is fellow rookie Tarron Jackson, the sixth-rounder out of Coastal Carolina. He saw 11 snaps last week against the San Francisco 49ers after Graham exited the game. Jackson was the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2020. He finished with 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
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Collective Effort to Replace Graham
Gannon, much like head coach Nick Sirianni, knows it’s going to be a collective effort to replace Graham. The team captain was the heart and soul of the defense, a guy who stirred the Eagles’ pass-rushing cocktail. They will be forced to lean on the youth of Williams and Jackson. And Ryan Kerrigan’s veteran leadership. He actually saw four more snaps than Sweat in Week 2.
All 11 guys on that defense are under the microscope. Gannon addressed filling Graham’s void with the team on Tuesday (Sept. 21) while challenging them to step up. It’s time for leaders to emerge.
“I talked to our guys yesterday about the void,” Gannon said. “You know, from a leadership and a character, and an attitude standpoint, I think collectively we have to – everyone has to, you know, try to fill that void collectively because not one guy is going to be able to do that. We do feel good with the leaders that we still have within the defense, really good about the leaders that we have.”
Cleaning Up Mistakes, Bang-Bang Calls
The other area of concern coming out of last week’s loss were the defensive penalties, mainly the bone-headed ones. Derek Barnett and K’Von Wallace were flagged for back-to-back unnecessary roughness calls following 49ers fumbles. The one on Wallace cost the Eagles a takeaway that would have set them up in San Francisco territory in the fourth quarter. Those miscues can’t happen in the NFL.
“We don’t want to make those mistakes over and over in the heat of the battle. We do understand at times that does happen,” Gannon said. “But we just got to continue to learn from that and get better. I’m really not worried about that because it’s in the past. So, I think if you just focus on that and our guys –you know, we talked to our guys about that bang-bang penalties happen.”