After a frantic offseason, the Eagles find themselves in a position that not many predicted they would be in when it comes to the secondary. The birds have a total of eleven cornerbacks who will all be competing for roster spots in training camp, which leads us to believe that the Eagles could be forced to part ways with players who boast extremely high ceilings.
As noted in a previous article, Jim Schwartz defenses tend to carry between 5 and 6 cornerbacks on the roster..which means close to half of the defensive backs on the roster could be out of a job come the announcement of the final 53-man roster.
2014 Buffalo Bills: 6 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2013 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2012 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 5 safeties
2011 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2010 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
The additions of Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks are extremely important for the birds. The schematic experience they bring to what is a very young group of players is invaluable to the Eagles as they look to build a very attacking, hard-hitting secondary. The Eagles also resigned Nolan Carroll during the offseason after an impressive campaign was cut short by an injury in 2015. Eric Rowe enters his second season in the NFL following a trial by fire in his rookie year that forced the rookie to adapt and hold his own..something he did very well toward the end of 2015.
This means that there’s realistically only 1-2 spots left on the roster and 5-6 cornerbacks looking to fill them. From JaCorey Shepherd to Jalen Mills, Blake Countess to Jaylen Watkins..the Eagles are stacked at cornerback, making training camp even more enticing.
It would seem as though that the Eagles could well be forced to lose at least one of the players drafted nearly two months ago. Former Auburn Corner Blake Countess was drafted in the sixth round before the Eagles took a leap of faith on LSU Safety Jalen Mills. Mills is now competing at cornerback however and has been very impressive throughout OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp..so how can the Eagles make it so both players are on the team heading into the regular season?
It’s not as tricky as it sounds. The key word here is versatility. Both Mills and Countess have experience playing at both cornerback and safety, something that is going to bode extremely well for the pair should they perform well enough in training camp to earn a roster spot.
Countess may have been drafted as a cornerback, but spent time playing as a Safety for Auburn. In fact, in his first game playing the position for the Tigers, Countess recorded a team-high nine tackles, two pass break-ups and one tackle for a loss. Hard-hitting stats considering he’s widely regarded as undersized at 5’10 and 185 pounds.
In an interview with the official Philadelphia Eagles website, Countess said the following about where he feels most comfortable on the field:
“I enjoy playing football. Corner and safety are very similar, and defensive back. I felt like when I was at Auburn, we kind of had a need at safety, and I could affect the game a little bit more at safety, so the coaches were thinking of moving me and playing safety my last year at Auburn. But I’m comfortable playing both positions, and I love playing football, so either way it goes, I’m going to be happy.”
At this point, it should come as no surprise that Countess is listed as a Safety on the Eagles official roster. It’s also more than just a coincidence that the Eagles would appear to have a free roster spot at the Safety position..if we’re to go off of last year’s roster. They may decide to roll with four safeties or they could choose to add another if they’re comfortable elsewhere on the field. If that’s the case, it’s fair to assume that the remaining roster spot would belong to Blake Countess.
If this still wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that the Eagles have a very clear plan for their 2016 rookies, their snaps in OTA’s should be.
Blake Countess, who is playing at safety, drops a tipped pass from Daniel that would have been a pick. Should have had it.
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) June 3, 2016
As for Jalen Mills, expect him to be competing for one of the remaining cornerback spots. Mills attacked OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp, making his presence known almost immediately and continuing to make plays throughout the offseason program. It may seem surprising to see Mills perform so well at cornerback despite being drafted as a Safety..but it really isn’t.
In 2014, Mills spent more snaps covering the slot receiver (176) than any other LSU DB, according to Pro Football Focus. The former LSU Tiger made it clear very early on that he expects to be competing at cornerback and with the experience he has at the position, the decision becomes a very easy one for the Eagles.
It’s clear by this point that Jalen Mills could one day emerge as a dominant corner for the Eagles. He’s hit the ground running and clearly feels very comfortable in the position. There’s still plenty of time between now and the final 53-man roster announcement, but training camp could well see Mills and Countess effectively switch roles.
This would be a very smart decision by the Eagles. Not only would moving Countess to Safety help to reduce the logjam at corner while filling another position, but it means that they have been able to keep two of the most versatile players in the secondary without losing the services of anyone else.
There is an abundance of talent in the secondary heading into training camp and unfortunately, not every player can make the final roster. Versatility seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout the offseason..and it’s only now that we’re beginning to see why.