Avonte Maddox Turning Into Late Contender on Defense
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - For most of training camp, Jim Schwartz has split the starting nickel back reps between Sidney Jones and De'Vante Bausby.
On one day Jones, the talented second-year player out of Washington would take slot duties, and then Bausby, a little-known burner out of small-school Pitsburg State, did the heavy lifting on the next. Meanwhile, on their off days from inside work, each would act as Jalen Mills' backup outside the numbers at left cornerback.
Through it all there were two constants, however. Rookie fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox and D.J. Killings, when healthy, would split the second- and third-team reps.
Things changed a bit over the weekend as Maddox got some work with the first team on Saturday and then got the majority of the action on Sunday as the first-team nickel.
Part of it might have been Jones tweaking his ankle against Pittsburgh on Thursday, which kept him out of team drills on Saturday's practice at Lincoln Financial Field. On Sunday, though, Jones was back but working with the second-team inside as Maddox, the 5-foot-9 former Pitt speed merchant, got his biggest opportunity to date.
“It felt good to get out there with the Super Bowl champ guys out there on the field,” Maddox said. “It’s a different vibe. They communicate a lot, so they know what’s going on."
Schwartz isn't big on handing out praise but admitted that Maddox has been "trending upward" through camp.
“Like a lot of rookies he has ups and downs," the defensive coordinator admitted, "but I think if you look at his trend line he’s trending up, which is a good sign."
Schwartz also went out of his purview, something he doesn't typically do, to laud Maddox for his special teams work, something that is important for any backup cornerback in this league.
“He’s also done a really good job — I don’t want to speak for (special teams coordinator Dave) Fipp — but he’s done a really good job on special teams," Schwartz said. "We like where he’s been so far.”
Maddox was an interesting player at Pittsburgh, where he was a playmaker, whether it was locking down receivers outside the numbers or blitzing off the edge. However, the Detroit native's size limitations, scream inside corner at the professional level something Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, who is one locker over from Maddox in the team's sanctuary, told the rookie not to accept.
With reporters surrounding the young CB Jenkins yelled out his advice: "Don't let them box you in," the Pro Bowl safety shouted, a nod toward never accepting a preconceived notion about size limiting a CB to the slot.
"With his resume and skill set at worst the kid is a second-round pick if he's 6-foot," an NFC scout told 973espn.com. "We can get caught up in that sometimes. If you can play, you can play. Look at [Tampa Bay CB Brent] Grimes and [Denver corner Chris] Harris."
When asked by 973espn.com how to implement Jenkins' advice as a rookie who has to still prove himself, Maddox pointed toward hard work.
"Just keep working," he said. "Get better every day and show [the coaches] what you can do."
With the end of training camp within sight, it's evident Maddox will have a role on the 2018 Eagles, now it's just a matter of figuring out where it will be.
"Either you’re starting or you’re a backup or you’re on special teams,” Maddox said. “At the same time, you’ve got to make sure you do everything hard and give a great effort. That’s something I’ll do. I came in here to compete."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen