Jim Schwartz declares “open competition” for second cornerback job
While Darius Slay was brought in to fortify an oft-maligned Eagles' secondary and grant defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz his first elite perimeter defender in years, depth concerns remain prevalent.
The youth and upside at the position is enticing -- Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Cre'Von LeBlanc, and Rasul Douglas offer varying degrees of upside -- while eighth-year pro Nickell Robey-Coleman is among the league's premier slot cornerbacks.
But with Slay and Robey-Coleman's roles essentially etched in stone for 2020, what becomes of the second cornerback spot opposite Slay?
"Well that's what the abbreviated training camp that we'll have will decide," Schwartz said on a Zoom call with reporters Friday morning. "There'll be open competition in there. We'll have a lot of different guys. One of the reasons or one of the things that has happened to us over the last year is we've had a lot of different guys play because of injuries in the secondary. That's tough during the season, but what this has done is given us a lot of different options, guys that have played a lot of different football."
The competition for the second cornerback spot represents one of the team's few position battles to be decided over the next month and figures to be a two-man race between Maddox and Jones. The latter appears to be at a career crossroads after joining the team as a second-round pick in 2017, and the team would love nothing more than to see Jones emerge and seize the role.
Various injuries have limited Jones to 10 games over his first two seasons, but the 24-year-old showed encouraging progression in 2019. Appearing in 12 games, Jones registered 23 tackles, eight passes defended, and two interceptions. Although he started just four games last season, Jones managed to make one of the most critical plays of the season.
With 1:21 remaining in the fourth-quarter of a must-win game against the Cowboys, Jones broke up a desperation heave in the end zone that was intended for Michael Gallup.
The Eagles held on to preserve the win, 17-9.
While Jones has flashed on occasion, he has struggled to maintain a level of consistency. Whether it has been injuries or the inability to overcome confidence issues that have thwarted his development, the six-foot, 181-pound Jones is likely down to his final opportunity to earn a starting role in Philadelphia.
On the other hand, the diminutive Maddox has also endured his share of peaks and valleys early into his career, albeit to a lesser degree.
A fourth-round pick in 2018, Maddox has demonstrated the versatility to play on the perimeter, in the slot, or at safety. However, the 5-foot-9, 184-pound cornerback had his challenges defending big-bodied pass-catchers on the outside. In his two NFL seasons, Maddox has logged over 500 snaps as an indispensable positionless player.
The Pittsburgh alum has compiled 82 tackles (three for loss), 14 passes defended, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles over 25 games.
With as valuable as Maddox is as a multi-faceted defensive back, the best-case scenario would have Jones winning the job opposite Slay. The flexibility would allow Schwartz to deploy Maddox in a myriad of ways, rather than keep him on an island where he's been susceptible to the big play.
However the depth chart materializes, a spirited competition can only strengthen a highly scrutinized unit.