National Football League
Expectations for Eagles defense sky high as Sean Desai takes over as DC
National Football League

Expectations for Eagles defense sky high as Sean Desai takes over as DC

Published May. 12, 2023 12:22 p.m. ET

Jonathan Gannon wasn't exactly beloved in Philadelphia, even though he ran a top-10 unit in both his years as Eagles defensive coordinator. He got plenty of criticism from fans and media, even when things were going well. He had a tough job in a tough town.

Nobody needs to tell that to Gannon's replacement, Sean Desai.

"Philly is a unique place," the new defensive coordinator said in his first press conference on Thursday. "And I agree with that mentality. Some people take to it and some people don't.

"You've got to earn it, and you've got to earn it every day. You've got to put in the work. We're tough-minded people. We don't take … You know, I don't like swearing. We don't take ‘stuff' from other people."


No, Philadelphia doesn't. Nor do the Eagles. And nor, apparently, does Desai, the 40-year-old who started his coaching career at Philadelphia's Temple University. A rising star in league coaching circles, Desai certainly sounded like he'll get along just fine with Philly's media and its fickle fan base. He said all the right things about toughness and standards and how "We want to make sure people feel this Philadelphia Eagles defense."

And he didn't shy away from the fact that the defense he inherited is loaded. It finished 10th under Gannon in 2021 and second last season while recording a ridiculous 70 sacks — the third-highest total in the history of the league.

But that's precisely what puts Desai, who was a defensive coordinator for one year in Chicago (2021) before that staff was fired, in a near impossible position. He's the new guy, doesn't have a lot of experience, and he's the steward of a defense that didn't leave a lot of room to improve. He is running a defense that everyone expects to be in the top five in the NFL this season.

At least as long as he doesn't screw it up.

"We're not going to take anything away from the defense that they had because it was historic," he said. "But having said that, I think the big thing that we've got to remind ourselves — and we're talking about it with the players also — is every year is a new chapter, and past predictors don't necessarily indicate future success in this league."

That's true, but that future success is still expected on a defense that, thanks to some magic from GM Howie Roseman, might be even better than it was a year ago. The Eagles did lose five starters from last season, but the only real significant losses were defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Roseman managed to bring back defensive end Brandon Graham, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay

Then the GM went out and added defensive tackle Jalen Carter and edge rusher Nolan Smith in the first round of the draft and landed potential steals in safety Sydney Brown and cornerback Kelee Ringo in the third and the fourth.

Philly's big offseason

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Ric Bucher debate if the Eagles have separated themselves in the NFC even more with their offseason moves.

It's probably too much to ask the Eagles to rank second in the league in defense again and record another 70 sacks. But Desai knows that the reality is that's exactly what's going to be asked.

"One of the quotes that Nick [Sirianni] uses is, ‘The standard is the standard,'" Desai said. "We're upholding that standard. We're looking to achieve it."

How? Well, Desai was light on specifics in his first public remarks, of course. He'll be running his own scheme and calling his own defensive plays this season, so it remains to be seen how the players react to switching from the Gannon defense, which they all genuinely seemed to like. While fans and some media members may have often voiced their frustration with the former defensive coordinator — now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals — the players seemed to love him. And so did Sirianni, who gave Gannon a full-throated defense in January after the Eagles beat the Giants in the playoffs, ripping into his critics and calling him "an unbelievable coordinator."

"He's a stud," Sirianni said of Gannon back then. "This guy's a stud."

Will anyone feel the same about Desai in Philadelphia? Time and, more importantly, results will tell. But on his first day in the public eye, at least, he said everything the fans and his players would want to hear.

Now all he has to do is back up his words.

"We've got some grit, we've got some toughness, we want to be able to impose our will," Desai said. "We're not going to take really anything from anybody. We want to make sure that people feel us. We want to be able to run. We want to be able to hit, and we want to play smart. I think that's a reflection of who we are obviously as a Philadelphia Eagles defense, a reflection of really the history of the Philadelphia Eagles defense, and a reflection of this city.

"And that's what we want to be."

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
National Football League
Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Carter

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more