Three young Eagles underdogs draw praise from Jim Schwartz

NFL: DEC 01 Eagles at Dolphins
MIAMI GARDENS, FL – DECEMBER 01: Philadelphia Eagles Linebacker Alex Singleton (49) on the field before the start of the NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 1, 2019. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles defense is limping into the final two weeks of the season, just as it has done in each of the last few years. If every cloud has a silver lining, the constant barrage of injuries have allowed for some young and hungry underdogs to go out and prove they’re ready for a bigger role in Jim Schwartz’s scheme. That hasn’t changed this year and the Eagles defensive coordinator is clearly proud of the efforts given by three players in particular.

Alex Singleton

It feels like only yesterday that I was writing about Alex Singleton’s CFL accolades and how he could be a preseason hero after signing with the team in 2019.

After narrowly missing the cut of making last year’s 53-man roster, Singleton carved out a special teams role in 2019 before sneaking onto the defense one year later and showing flashes of what he could bring to the table. In just 15 snaps against the Niners, he registered a pick-six and a pair of tackles.

When injuries hit an already light LB position, the 6’2, 240 lbs, linebacker was thrust into a three-down role and he hasn’t looked back since.

Sacks, forced fumbles, relentless hustle, and a streak of 11 tackles in 3 straight games still don’t do Singleton justice. After Nate Gerry struggled so horribly in the opening stanza, the rise of the former CFL standout has been a sight for sore eyes. He’s played every snap (with the exception of 3 against Arizona) for 6 consecutive games and is rapidly becoming one of the more impressive and reliable players on defense.

“Yeah, he’s another guy that’s been improving.” Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. “He’s another guy that had a hard time starting his career, got cut a bunch of times, had to go to the CFL, came back, earned his way on special teams and then started being able to get a little bit more for us. 

I think you see a lot of plays that he makes in the run game, and where he was still sort of a work in progress was in the pass game. There was a lot of things in the pass game that — mistakes that he would make or things that he could do better. But I really see his arrow being up in those categories too, now. He’s become a much more consistent, zone player. He’s become better at directing traffic back there, making all the calls and being on the field for every snap is a lot different than being a complementary player, so he’s grown in all those things, and knowing the kind of guy he is, he’ll continue to grow, and that speaks well for him and for us.”

Marcus Epps

When fans hear the name ‘Marcus Epps’, many will think back to that Seattle game and an error that cost the team dearly…at least that would’ve been the case up until a few weeks ago. A former special teams ace, Epps has also climbed the rungs of the ladder through success on Fipp’s unit and forced himself into the defensive equation.

Epps had developed into a rotational player in 2020 and showed some significant strides in his game, but it wasn’t until his first start in place of Rodney McLeod that he leapt off the screen.

Kyler Murray threw a pass over the middle in confidence only for it to be picked off by a rogue Marcus Epps, who changed the balance of the game through his explosive ability to break on a ball. He ended the day with a career-high 7 tackles and a pair of passes defended while playing in very single snap.

“Yeah, Epps, excellent break on the ball in our Cover Two.” Schwartz explained, reflecting on the interception. “We were playing a lot more two with some of the stuff we were doing, but they tried to hit a ball that people try to hit in Cover Two, tried to get one down the middle and he had a great break on the ball to break that one up. I really thought that was his best play, the interception, the quarterback just sort of threw it to him. He wasn’t perfect, missed a tackle on a touchdown, but he battled. He’s a very competitive player, and he does a good job of directing traffic out there.”

Michael Jacquet

A UDFA out of Louisana, Jacquet stuck on the Eagles practice squad after missing the final-53 in a shortened offseason. When injuries in the secondary mounted up, it was the former wideout who took to the field for his first NFL start against the Cardinals.

Jacquet ended his day with a huge strip-sack, 7 tackles, and a pair of passes defensed – which for someone with 51 previous snaps of NFL experience, is eyebrow raising. He suffered some bumps and bruises along the way, but it’s the way he rebounded that impressed Schwartz.

“One thing about him is he is a confident player, and that means a lot at the corner position.” The Eagles defensive coordinator went on to say. “He doesn’t get down if he gives up a play. He knows what the score is out there, meaning he knows that you don’t pitch many shutouts on the outside part of the field. You’re going to have to battle, particularly against great players. They’re going to win some, you’re going to win some. 

I think that’s been the thing I’ve been most impressed by him. He is also for a former wide receiver he’s played really tough. He hasn’t been shy about contact, getting into the mix, and has played with a lot of spirit. I’ve really been proud of him.”

The Eagles might be destined for a turbulent offseason, but it’s not all bad. There are some players making the most of what is arguably a very bleak situation right now who could well find themselves in contention for expanded roles in 2021 and beyond.

Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire