Competition breeds excellence, or so they say. For Doug Pederson, that statement is much more than just a slogan. It’s something that has been deeply embedded into his team’s DNA over the last few years. From OTA’s to Training Camp, the Eagles Head Coach has instilled a gritty, ‘iron sharpens iron’ culture that ensures every play is finished with maximum effort. This will be absolutely critical for the cornerbacks this offseason, especially considering that nobody has any idea how the position will look come the season opener.
There’s no doubting that the secondary took large strides last season. Whether it was the fluidity of Malcolm Jenkins and his stellar play, the resurgence of Patrick Robinson in the slot, the progress exhibited by Jalen Mills or the blend of a number one cornerback in Ronald Darby, who was backed up by a rampant rookie when he fell injured in week one, the Eagles secondary played confidently consistently.
Jim Schwartz lined his DB’s up away from the ball, often in off-coverage which enabled corners who struggled at the line in press coverage, to play to their strengths and click-and-close on the ball, wrapping up ball-carriers securely, ultimately bending and never breaking.
Much of that will continue this season, but there are some big changes. Patrick Robinson has returned to the team that drafted him (New Orleans), last year’s second-round steal, Sidney Jones, is fully healthy, and rookie Avonte Maddox will be looking to make some early noise.
Jones is very much the wild card of the Eagles secondary. With Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills both looking to retain starting roles, whether or not Jones can play inside or will be contesting a CB1/2 role could have a huge knock on effect.
“Well, I think definitely in the mix.” Doug Pederson said of the cornerback’s potential to earn a starting role.” “What he did towards the end of last season and had a chance to get in that last game there with Dallas really, I think, boosted his confidence going into this off-season. Now that he’s had a full off-season now with [defensive backs] coach [Cory] Undlin and [Defensive Coordinator Jim] Schwartz’s defense, he’s definitely going to be in the mix. It’s going to be good for him and a lot of our young players these next ten practices.”
During the opening day of OTA’s, Jones lined up in the nickel and impressed to say the least. Whether it was going stride-for-stride with Nelson Agholor, or breaking up key passes, Jones showed plenty of promise during the very early stages of the Eagles offseason program. If Jones is capable of playing inside, it not only adds another level of versatility to his game and secures him defensive playing time as a starter, but ensures that the team can still put trust in Mills and Darby as the outside starters.
The great thing about OTA’s and Training Camp however is that things can change, fast. Another name to watch out for will be De’Vante Bausby, who spent last year on the practice squad and attacked the first day of OTA’s by making big plays. A potential threat to shake up the bottom end of the depth chart, Bausby will likely be drawing eyes all offseason long.
We’re yet to mention the potential of Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox, who could both realistically be vying for playing time at various roles in the secondary and on special teams.
With a rangy frame and the ballhawking tendencies that saw him intercept 8 passes and break up 8 more during his senior year at WVU, Douglas could be the prime candidate to shuffle up to Safety due to the cluster of corners and potentially help someone like Tre Sullivan step into the shoes of Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins.
Maddox, meanwhile, could well earn the starting nickel spot and at the very least he has the frame and physical tendencies to do so. Hitting like a freight train, the rookie is one of the smaller corners on the roster, but that doesn’t stop him from flourishing in coverage.
The landscape of an entire roster can change during OTA’s and Training Camp and the Eagles don’t really have a concrete answer for how their cornerback depth chart will look in week one. Will Sidney Jones start? If so, will he be the nickel corner or perhaps partner Darby, bumping Mills into the slot? There are so many possibilities and with wild cards such as Maddox, Douglas and Bausby, the only way we’re ever going to find the answers to those questions is through a rigorous training camp that brings the best out of everybody.
Ronald Darby is entering his finally contracted year and the Eagles will soon have to make a decision now whether or not they pay Jalen Mills like the CB2 he’s become. It’s likely that at least one spot on the depth chart frees up within the next 24 months so finding the successor’s would be wise. A physical OTA and Training Camp will go a long way in not only highlighting how close the likes of Jones, Douglas and Maddox are to making an impact, but also as to where their ceiling really sits in the City of Brotherly Love.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Chris Szagola