We’re just weeks away from the start of the NFL season. As the Philadelphia Eagles continue their preparations for a clash with the Atlanta Falcons, there are plenty of questions hovering over the team’s cornerback position and who starts in the nickel. Sidney Jones and De’Vante Bausby are the two names competing heavily for the spot, but rookie Avonte Maddox is still fighting to prove he’s ready to jump in head first.
“Like a lot of rookies he has ups and downs, but I think if you look at his trend line he’s trending up, which is a good sign.” Jim Schwartz told reporters on Sunday. “There’s always going to be things that those guys struggle with over the course of camp. He’s very competitive. He’s been playing inside and outside. That’s potentially something he might have to do. Maybe not, we’ll see. But he’s also done a really good job – I don’t want to speak for [Eagles special team coordinator Dave] Fipp – but he’s done a really good job on special teams. We like where he’s been so far.”
Special teams is going to play a monumental role in deciding those final roster spots, especially considering that the Eagles lost 9 of their leading special teams performers during the offseason. During his preseason debut, Maddox played in 52% of special teams snaps, making his presence felt against the Steelers. Not that Maddox is in any real danger of not making the final 53, but as we saw with Nate Gerry last season, proving your worth in Fipp’s prestigious unit is a fantastic way to begin carving your niche and earning defensive snaps during the regular season.
At 5’9, much of the concern around Maddox has been his length and whether or not it will be a disadvantage against some of the taller wideouts in the league. However, Maddox proved that he is a very well-rounded corner who is fluid in his movement and aggressive when it comes to tackling. Someone who wants to be in the heart of the action, Maddox was still able to end his collegiate career with 51 passes defensed despite being undersized, which says a lot about his desire and drive to outwork whoever stands in front of him. That level of competitiveness drew a very interesting comparison from his defensive coordinator.
“You guys love my other-sport analogies, but Charles Barkley was the best rebounder in the league at, what, 6-foot-4? Something like that.” Schwartz explained. “It wasn’t because he was 6-11 and he was just taller. He just had great anticipation and great timing, great awareness to go for it. So, I think there’s some of that, but there’s other things as far as drill work and when to look and different defenses that you put them in that are more visual than others where their backs are turned. It’s layered so many different ways it’s hard to put it in one category. But, there you go.”
By playing both inside and outside, Maddox is showcasing the versatility that Jim Schwartz craves. The likelihood of sneaking a starting role remains slim, but the long-term plan looks promising. If Ronald Darby has a brilliant contract year, the Eagles may not be able to afford his services, pushing Mills and Jones outside and leaving a perfect nickel vacancy for Avonte Maddox to fill.
Young and malleable, the early signs of promise are there. Maddox has impressed during the Summer months, despite going through some rookie growing pains early on. If he can draw confidence in the next few preseason games and shine on special teams, there’s no reason he can’t expedite that process.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports