Eagles Hoping Revamped Secondary is Up to the Challenge
Asked to name what has stood out the most so far through eight organized team activities, or OTAs Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson pointed to the young players, specifically mentioning cornerback Rasul Douglas.
"Rasul Douglas has shown some strides here in the last couple practices," Pederson stated.
Douglas worked ahead of Patrick Robinson, but is just one of the reasons that the Eagles think their secondary will be improved over last season's unit that has been completely overhauled.
So, what’s changed since then?
"I like the young players we've added," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said last week. "I think not only some of our draft picks, but we've signed some pretty good undrafted free agents that have done some nice things in the rookie camp and also in the OTAs so far. [We] added some veteran players like [CB] Patrick Robinson [and] have some returning players that are now a year more under their belt. So, I think all those things can point in the right direction, but none of that means anything."
In addition to signing Robinson and drafting Douglas in the third round, the Eagles are counting on 2016 seventh-rounder Jalen Mills to take a huge step forward this offseason.
“I like where he's going, but he's never lacked for competitiveness," Schwartz said. "He's never lacked for work ethic. Those are things that he comes every day with.”
Mills had a rough rookie year, and was routinely beat in coverage, but the Eagles like his competitiveness and hope that he can improve just be being one year older and in the system. He played in all 16 games making 62 tackles, and broke up seven passes, including a season-best two passes defensed at Green Bay against Aaron Rodgers.
“It's a second year in the league, and he's been through a training camp before," explained Schwartz.
"He's been through OTAs before, all those things. But we can't take anything for granted. He can't take anything for granted. The thing I like about Jalen is he's very competitive, even though he's young, he's a good pro, and he does make improvements. And if he can continue in that regard, I'll sum his rookie season up, it was a rookie season. There were some things that he did well, and he flashed. There were times he didn't play as well as we needed him to. His challenge is creating that consistency. You do that, and it's hard to be consistent when you're brand-new at something, but that experience that comes from a year, getting out there and being thrown into the fire, he should be able to benefit from that as we go further down the road. ”
The season ahead is a big one for Mills. The Eagles seem to like him, but if he plays like a seventh-round pick again, the Eagles could have another rough season in the secondary. Furthermore, the Eagles drafted Sidney Jones in the second round, and are hopeful he will be inserted in the starting lineup at some point in the not-so-distant future.
That’s down the road, however.
Though the Eagles haven't set a depth chart just yet, Mills is trying to separated himself from the other cornerbacks battling for a starting position, but it would appear he will go into camp as the odds-on-favorite to win the job.
At the moment, barring a late addition to the roster, Mills finds himself in competition with Robison, Douglas, Dwayne Gratz, Aaron Grymes, Ron Brooks and C.J. Smith.
And one thing's for sure, for the Eagles to make the playoffs, that group is going to have to be better - and they know it.
“It's certainly a position of importance for us," Schwartz admitted. "We understand where we were last year and how it affected our defense, and we need to be better at our corner position, for sure."