They haven’t put on the helmets or shoulder pads yet, but one rookie has been standing out for the Philadelphia Eagles. Third-round pick Milton Williams has been picking up the defense rather quickly and the hope is he can contribute sooner rather than later.
Williams was high on defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s wish list and the organization invested the 73rd overall pick in the 285-pounder. New defensive line coach Tracy Rocker was also lobbying for the Louisiana Tech product. The Eagles believe he can be a game-changer in the trenches, another pass-rushing defensive tackle to pair with Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave.
“Milton has been very exciting. He’s a guy that we felt good about in the draft, and so far just working out in shorts and in drill work, it’s been really good,” Rocker told reporters. “So we’re definitely looking forward to him jumping in and contributing.
“I don’t know how, I don’t know when, I don’t know where, but that will be determined once you put on the helmet and the shoulder pads. I think that’s where you see people actually function, that’s the part of toughness, and situational football, and understanding the defense, then we’ll know.”
Gannon revealed that Rocker and senior defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn actually ran the pre-draft interview process for Williams. He blew everyone away with his intelligence and character.
“That dude is smart, like gets it. Just gets it,” Gannon said. “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.”
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Situational Awareness, Toughness, Competition
Rocker joined the coaching staff after a seven-year run in the college ranks. The 55-year-old initially accepted a job at his alma mater, Auburn, last year before quitting to take the Philly job in what he called a “very easy decision.” He had the itch to return to the NFL and lasted just one week at Auburn.
“In this business, we win people act a different way. We lose people act a different way,” Rocker said. “My biggest thing is how consistent are you as a person, and your approach to business every day. How are you going to approach today?”
As far as his coaching philosophy, Rocker mentioned “situational awareness” about a dozen times. He doesn’t like using the word “disruptive” because defensive players are reactionary. They have to adjust to down and distance, sometimes they have to change the game plan on the fly.
“Situational awareness. You’re not going to run a red light,” Rocker said. “Sometimes it’s about playing the play, understanding where you are located on the field like, ‘Hey, we’re backed up, do you think we need to be disruptive or do you think we need to key the ball?’ So those are the things that are important to me as a coach.”
What is the Defense Going to Look Like?
Gannon doesn’t believe in adhering to one specific scheme. He made that clear on day one. No, the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles will incorporate different concepts and theories (see: HITS Principle) while reacting to what the offense does.
“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” Gannon said. “I think the players have done a really good job of absorbing that and seeing the standard that we want from them.”
Rocker promised they would be an “attacking” defense, but cautioned on placing one label on the unit. They’ll be tough and prideful above all else. He’s been teaching football that way for 29 years — 24 at the college level, plus a three-year stint with the Tennessee Titans.
“My job is to, one talk about toughness, competing, situational awareness, and knowing what we’re doing in certain situations,” Rocker said. “And most of all play the game with pride, and always care about what you do, do the best at your job. Those are the things that are important to me about this game.”