Moving Parts Could be an Issue in Eagles Secondary
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When the Eagles take the field Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, the team will be down three of its projected five starters in the secondary.
Long gone is veteran safety Rodney McLeod, who is out for the season after knee surgery, while nickel corner Sidney Jones has been nursing a hamstring pull and outside corner Jalen Mills is also out against Dallas with a foot injury suffered in London before Philadelphia's bye week.
That's means a lot of moving parts in the secondary against a struggling Cowboys passing attack.
Ronald Darby, who typically starts at right corner, is expected to flip sides to take Mills' normal spot as he did in against Jacksonville with Rasul Douglas stepping in at RC. Then comes the biggest question mark of what to do with the nickel spot, either insert newcomer Cre'Von LeBlanc, who was just picked up off waivers from Detroit and has only three practices under his belt, or move rookie Avonte Maddox, who had been filling in for McLeod at safety, back into the slot.
The latter would mean veteran Corey Graham, who is ready to return after missing three games with his own hamstring injury, would take over at safety next to Malcolm Jenkins.
The constant moving parts have the versatile and valuable Jenkins serving in sort of a dual role at practice, getting himself ready as well as trying to get the younger pieces with little experience up to speed as quickly as possible.
“I'm having to take less reps at practice to make sure that these guys are prepared because we've had so many injuries that we don't want to be in a position where something happens and [someone] has to play that role and he's never had to do it,” Jenkins explained. “Every week, we plug guys in and out and find a way to get it done. This week [against the Cowboys] won't be any different.”
LeBlanc, who has a history with Eagles personnel chief Joe Douglas dating back to their days together in Chicago, replaces Dexter McDougle, who came off the street himself to handle the nickel back role against Carolina and Jacksonville. The difference is that McDougle had been in Schwartz's system for an extended period in 2017 while LeBlanc is starting from scratch.
“I'm just going to pound the playbook as fast as I can," LeBlanc said. "Get familiar with the plays. That's what we have practice for. So I'll work at it, continue to work at it day and night, just got to keep pounding it into my head."
Maddox, meanwhile, has already had a whirlwind rookie year. An outside corner in college at Pitt, the Eagles envisioned him as a slot corner and he was the backup to Jones until being forced to the back end once McLeod went down. Now, he might be shuttled back into the slot role with Graham ready to go.
“We're always cross-training guys for different spots so you can practice all week in one place, if one guy gets injured, we reshuffle the whole deck,” Jenkins said. “[The coaching staff] done a good job at keeping us in the right spots. We've handled it thus far pretty well and we'll continue to do that.”
Maddox counts Jenkins as an extension to the coaches.
“Definitely dealing with Malcolm helps," he said. "In practice he makes it hard on me. He puts me in the worst situations where I'm in the box so when I come into the game, I won't have any doubt.”
Against the Cowboys, meanwhile, Douglas' role will move from pinch-hitter to full-time player.
“When you're fresh off the bench for three quarters, and you get in, you know the ball is coming at you,” Douglas said. “I kind of like it because I know the ball is coming for me and I'm just saying for these one or two snaps, I need to be locked in all over my guy.”
Ready is ready, though, whether it's for two snaps or 60.
“You have to [be ready],” Douglas said. “Because you never know. Cramps happen. The wind gets knocked out of people. Anything can happen."
Anything is here for the Eagles' secondary.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen