Eagles TC Day 2: Nickel Position Remains in Flux
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Jim Schwartz has made it clear that he would be looking at a lot of bodies in the slot as he searches for the heir apparent to Patrick Robinson, who left the Eagles in free agency for a big-money deal with New Orleans.
To date, the Philadelphia defensive coordinator has been true to his word.
In the spring Schwartz looked at Sidney Jones, De'Vaunte Bausby and even starters Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills with the first team while Jones and Bausby batted 1-2 in the training-camp order. Others used inside at times have been rookie Avonte Maddox and practice squad returnee D.J. Killings.
And then there is always Malcolm Jenkins, the versatile veteran safety who plays everywhere and has served as the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at the position in recent seasons.
"I just think we are trying to get as many guys in there as we can to just evaluate and just see what is the best set of five or six DBs that we can put on the field," Jenkins told 973espn.com at his locker after practice.
On Friday the depth chart read: Bausby, Killings, and Maddox in the nickel with all the other corners working outside. Bausby put his name on the map with an excellent spring as a lengthy option with speed you don't usually find inside.
"Me and Sidney have been 6-foot corners. Long and fast guys," Bausby said. "It's different. Some offenses probably won't be used to it. ...it's unique."
The day-to-day ping-ponging has two goals in mind, evaluating whose best suited inside but also developing versatile players who can play multiple positions, a hallmark of any Schwartz defense.
"It's not difficult at all," Bausby explained when discussing the constant shifting. "Once you grind, grind, grind in the playbook. Study your notebook and notes. You won't have any mental lapses. Inside, outside, it's not really all that different for me and I like playing everything."
Jenkins, though, offered a more cautionary tale.
"It's a difficult position to play if you've never played it," the veteran said. "In the slot, you got to know where your help is. You got to know the ins and outs of the defense. It's like playing linebacker so there is a lot of rules. A lot of moving parts, run fits, watch the guard pulling and all that kind of stuff. But once they get used to that it will be interesting to see who thrives in that position."
The safety net remains Jenkins, a player Schwartz already knows he can count on to thrive inside and actually enjoys playing the position.
"I always get jealous because I don't get any reps at the slot during camp because we are evaluating," Jenkins said. "I probably won't get any until we get close to opening Week 1 but we'll see. Hopefully for us, it will be a good problem to have if one of these one guys emerges as a strong point in the slot. Patrick Robinson played well for us last year which kept me out of the slot. Selfishly I wanted to be there but it made us so much better as a defense to have me move around to different places."
That's the goal again but there is no savvy veteran option ready to step in this time.
The pads go one for the first time Saturday and perhaps then someone will emerge from the pack but for now, a friendly competition is scheduled to continue.
"It's going to continue rotating to see who will be the best fit and it's a friendly competition," Bausby said. "We are all helping each other."'
From the other side of the football, slot receiver Nelson Agholor has liked what he's seen.
"I like where the nickel corner position is right now," Agholor said. "There are four guys that are really talented guys that bring different things to the table. You have D.J. Killings, Avonte Maddox, and then you have Bausby. All those guys are special talents just like Sidney. They are rangy guys who can cover and have good length. They can press. In the nickel, you have to be able to play man-to-man football and I think those guys are in position to be solid nickel cornerbacks."
Agholor also understands part of his job description is getting them to that goal.
"Iron sharpens iron and we do that amongst our DBs," Agholor said. "I went against all our corners and we are accountable for the development of our defensive backs and they are accountable for the development of our wide receivers. Every day they have to defend. They have to make it hard on us so we can adapt and vice versa so I think that is what is going to happen this year. Growth in a positive way and we are going to get better."
If they don't however, the Eagles can always break the glass.
"I prepare for everything so I am prepared for dime linebacker, Mike LB, nickel, safety, I know the defense so it's not really tough for me," Jenkins said. "And we play our against 11 personnel sometimes so I am still matched up against receivers. The skill-set still transitions and there are things I work on knowing at some point in time, somebody might get hurt or there is going to be a situation where I am going to be in the slot."
DAY 2 NEWS AND NOTES
-Jenkins called Cowboys owner Jerry Jones a bully for his national anthem stance of forcing his players to stand and claimed any other owner who stays silent on the issue deserves fault as well, saying "silence is compliance."
Pressed on whether Jeffrey Lurie is in that category, Jenkins did not back away: "Yeah. He’s included in that. I think every owner has a voice and will have to decide what they’re going to do. ... if you don’t speak on it, you allow it.”
-The Eagles spent most of the morning working on group installs but when they did finally get to team work, Carson Wentz was not involved, scaling back to just individual drills and some 7-on-7 work as he had done in the spring. Wentz did get some first-team reps in 7-on-7s and he and Zach Ertz put together one of their trademark connections, a rifle shot from the QB and a great adjustment by the TE to haul it in.
-One of the big offensive plays of the day was Nate Sudfeld finding Rashard Davis down the left sideline for a big game. Davis is one of the young players coach Doug Pederson had lauded during spring work. Agholor also got lose for what likely would have been a TD on a nice pitch-and-catch from Foles.
-The biggest defensive play came from Jenkins, who showed off his range by intercepting an overthrow by Foles.
-Jordan Hicks is back in the middle and showed off today by immediately sniffing out a screen pass to Jay Ajayi.
-One of the sloppiest plays of the day was a mesh-point fumble between Foles and Corey Clement.
-Veterans Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata continued to work with the second-team early on while Chris Long and Destiny Vaeao took first-team reps for a second consecutive day on the defensive line.
-Receiver Shelton Gibson left a bit early with what seemed like cramps on a hot and humid, overcast day.
-The Eagles signed defensive tackle Adam Reth before the practice and he was out there wearing No. 76.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen