A previous area of weakness for the Eagles has possibly become an area of strength for the defense. After heading into the NFL Draft with the possible expectation of selecting Malcolm Jenkins’ successor, the Eagles instead went a different direction. They claimed several young Safeties in Blake Countess and Godwin Igwebuike, but unfortunately, both have been cut ever since.
It’s easy to forget that there was a point in the offseason where Malcolm Jenkins was absent from OTA’s and Rodney McLeod was recovering from the injury that ripped 2018 from under his cleats. The safety position was down to its bare bones and it required some strategic front office management. Luckily, the Eagles had exactly that in the way of Howie Roseman.
There appeared to be a new focus at the position. Veteran guys who have proven their worth of starters, but suffered a season-ending injury in 2018.
One player, who many believed would be cut, has withstood the storm of the offseason and has found his footing in the Eagles secondary. Andrew Sendejo, the former star safety of the Minnesota Vikings, has stood out to Coach Jim Schwartz and possibly has answered a need for the defense. When asked about his impression of Sendejo so far, Schwartz responded by saying, “You never want to read too much into preseason games, its a body of work that counts.”
So, let’s take a look at that body of work. He has been a starting strong safety for quite some time now, totaling 31 passes defensed, 7 picks and a forced fumble, to go with his 432 tackles.
Known as a hard-hitter, Sendejo is a true tone setter in the secondary and while he may not carry the same reputation as some of the more notable free agents, he will be among the more ‘bang for your buck’ available. Prior to his injury, he was coming off of a career-high 80 tackles in 2017, along with a career-best 7 passes defensed.
The 30-year old originally signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 as an undrafted free agent and then found his way up the depth chart to stardom in Minnesota. Sendejo suffered to big losses to the Eagles in his career; the first came in the NFC Championship game when the Vikings landed on the wrong side of a 33-7 loss. The second came when he suffered a season-ending groin injury during a 23-21 win against the Eagles. Sendejo was one of the first signings for the team this offseason, one that showed what both sides had in common, they just want to win.
Adding Sendejo solidified the “Corey Graham” role for the Eagles defense. It also allowed Jenkins to lighten the load off of his shoulders during the season, keeping the Eagles best safety as fresh as possible throughout the season. While McLeod continues to rehab from his season-ending injury, the Eagles safety group has tremendous potential. Of course, though, you should already know that Howie season is all year long and there’s no such thing as a finished roster in his eyes.
Roseman continued to approach this offseason with one theme, Depth. It’s the only thing that separated the Eagles from anyone last season. The team lacked depth at almost every position last year which is why Howie made sure to load this team with as much talent as possible. The next move was the right move for the Eagles defense. The team went after veteran Safety, Johnathan Cyprien. Cyprien missed all of the 2018 season due to a torn ACL and was still a free agent late in the offseason. Not because teams questioned his ability but because the safety wanted to make sure he was at full health when the time came.
Cyprien worked out for the Eagles earlier this offseason. Prior to his ACl tear, the versatile safety started 12 games for Tennessee (including 2 playoff games). After being drafted with the 33rd overall pick in 2013, Cyprien tallied 100+ tackles in four consecutive seasons for Jacksonville. At 6’1, 211 lbs, he’s built in a similar vein to Malcolm Jenkins.
Now with Cyprien and Sendjeo backing up the Eagles’ starters Jenkins and McLeod, the defense is backed by four safeties that can be solid starters for any team in the league. Cyprien and Sendejo are hard-hitting safeties that can play the hybrid role in Schwartz defense which would allow Jenkins to play more of a backfield role against the deep ball. This build even allows for the sophomore cornerback, Avonte Maddox, to play either outside corner or nickel even more now.
The ripple effects of these moves aren’t really seen from the outside looking in, but if you look very carefully you can see how one player complements the other. When Malik Jackson was asked about what Cyprien brings to the Eagles, he mentioned that “He’s very cerebral, so he knows what’s going on out there. He knows how to put plays together.” Jackson also said, “Physical, he can come downhill and pit the pads on you. He can cover. I think he’s an all-around DB, and once he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the game.”
Schwartz values versatility when it comes to his safeties. He wants to be able to plug in his safeties in different places around his defense. Now he has four playmakers at his disposal with the opportunity to take his time in bringing McLeod back little by little. The focus with Sendjeo and Cyprien will be to enhance all that Malcolm does week in and week out. With a division full of running backs of great talent, the safety group will be called upon to make some hard-hitting plays to keep the Eagles grounded.
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