Scouting the Slot: How the Eagles Plan to Handle the Loss of Patrick Robinson
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles have a lot of cornerbacks but most of them seem like strictly outside-the-numbers options, a potential problem after the loss of Patrick Robinson in free agency.
Robinson, of course, flailed around for much of the offseason last year until the acquisition of Ronald Darby in August enabled Jim Schwartz to kick the veteran inside where Robinson's savvy and short-area quickness proved to be difference-makers in his rapid rise to becoming perhaps the best slot corner in the entire NFL.
Too many have simply written off the loss of Robinson, who signed with New Orleans, because of the team's impressive depth at the position, headlined by second-year corners Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, as well as the recently-acquired Daryl Worley behind Darby and Pro Bowl alternate Jalen Mills.
All of those players, however, project to the outside so unless Philadelphia moves to get a natural slot CB in the draft, the top in-house candidate to replace Robinson is actually Mills, the now third-year player who has quickly turned from overmatched seventh-round pick into locker-room leader and Schwartz favorite.
It's something we've explained on The Sports Bash regularly and now confirmed by Doug Pederson at the league meetings last month.
"I think [Mills is] comfortable enough [in the slot]," Pederson explained.
Jones has the most raw talent among the Eagles' CBs and if he ultimately reaches his ceiling as a player he could probably do anything but when you have a potential lockdown corner you're not going to waste that inside where all the traffic is.
So if nothing of substance is added to the position moving forward the current plan would likely have Mills and Darby remaining the starters in the base defense with the former sliding inside when the Eagles move into the nickel.
The hope from there is that Jones is 100 percent coming off the torn Achilles that virtually wiped out his entire rookie season and can seize the third CB spot with Douglas and Worley providing excellent depth.
The safety net if Mills can't handle the slot work at a high level is the same as it has been for years, moving Malcolm Jenkins down from safety into the slot.
The domino there, however, is that Corey Graham, who will turn 33 in July, remains a free agent and is at least pondering retirement. With no Graham, the Eagles would have to find a third safety they are comfortable with in order to move the versatile Jenkins around.
"(Jalen] understands. He’s a versatile guy," Pederson said. "If you ever needed him to play a safety spot he can go back. He’s that type of athlete. He’s not just one position. He’s versatile enough to know that we can be able to move him around a little bit. For a guy that was drafted where he was, late, he’s been a real, real, big bright big spot for us these first two years.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen