Jury Remains out on Eagles’ Cornerbacks
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The most glaring need for the Eagles remains the cornerback position and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was front and center Tuesday to address what's going on with things on his side of the football.
Gone are veterans Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, ostensibly replaced with free-agent pickup Patrick Robinson and third-round pick Rasul Douglas, who happened to be the defensive star at a rainy OTA practice on Tuesday by getting his hands on the football at least three times.
Help from injured second-round pick Sidney Jones will come at a later date as the former University of Washington star continues to rehab from a torn Achilles tendon back in Seattle.
"We'll find out during the season, for sure," Schwartz said when asked if Philadelphia did enough to improve at the position. "[The season is] the final determination in every move that we make and everything that we do – from preparation to drafting, to signing free agents, to new coaching schemes. That's the great thing about this sport. It all comes to light during the season."
With just three on-field OTA practices before Schwartz spoke, the veteran coach admitted it's too early to make any declarations at the position.
"I think it's probably a little too early to evaluate right now," he admitted. "We're still working through a lot of different stuff. It's certainly a position of importance for us. 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."
Robinson has had some prior success in the league but has struggled with injuries and consistency.
"Two years ago, we evaluated him when he was with San Diego. I thought he had a really good year," Schwartz said when discussing Robinson. "He had some inside-outside flexibility. Played nickel, played outside. And we liked what we saw. He obviously signed with Indianapolis. Then last year was a bit of a lost season for him with injuries. He looks like he's back healthy now. He's a guy that brings some experience in there. He's really quick, he's really fast. He's been around the NFL. So those are all good attributes to have."
Then, there are the rookies, Butler and Jones, one who is expected to help right away and the other as sort of a time-release medication.
"I like the young players we added," Schwartz said. "You always have to hedge short-term and long-term in this business. That's a difficult balance, not only for coaches, but for the organization."
People always look at the free agents or draft picks when discussing potential improvements but one aspect that's often overlooked is strides from within and that's where second-year player Jalen Mills comes into the equation.
The LSU product played a lot as a rookie and had his ups and downs, experience that Schwartz things will help Mills moving forward.
"I'll sum his rookie season up, it was a rookie season," Schwartz deadpanned. "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."
So what about this time around?
"We expect everybody to be improved," Schwartz admitted. "It's a second year in the league (for Mills), and he's been through a training camp before. 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.
"...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. I like where he's going, but he's never lacked for competitiveness. He's never lacked for work ethic. Those are things that he comes every day with."
From a talent standpoint, the Eagles look better on paper at the position but there's still a long way before that potential turns into production.
"This game isn't played on paper," Schwartz surmised. "It's played between the lines."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen