Schwartz Leaves Some Bread Crumbs at CB
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Jim Schwartz wasn't biting when asked about who Case Keenum will see at cornerback for the Eagles in Week 1 of the regular season.
"Nice try," the veteran defensive coordinator joked to reporters. "But you know, honestly, we're still working. We're not 100 percent set in stone. I'm sure the Washington team would like to know where we are right now with all that stuff. We'll just play it close to the vest and see what our best groups are and how we can manage."
Schwartz did drop some bread crumbs, however, when asked about specific players, things you already know if you're a regular listener to "Football at Four" on ESPN South Jersey, starting with the fact that two players are at least penciled in, Ronald Darby at one of the outside positions, and Avonte Maddox in the slot.
The defensive coaching staff regards Darby as the team's CB1 but he's still working his way back from the torn ACL that cut short his 2017 season, a process that has the Florida State product back in team drills at practice.
"The good thing about Darby, even though he hasn't played in preseason games, he's gotten some work in training camp, not just in some of our periods but even against Baltimore," Schwartz said. "So he's been ramped up along the way. He's a veteran player, so I think that adds a little bit to it, and he's comfortable in our scheme, so now it's just a matter of getting the final touches on there."
As for Maddox, Schwartz gushed about the second-year player's versatility, something that enabled Maddox to have success at three different positions -- free safety, slot corner and outside corner -- as a rookie.
"He's just a good football player," Schwartz said of Maddox. "... I mean, he's a little small for defensive tackle, but I think he'd figure it out. That's just him. I mean, how many rookies can you guys recall -- I don't know any -- that started a game at safety, nickel and corner in the same season when they were a rookie? It's tough duty. It’s tough to learn one position much less two much less three, and also experience success at each one of those.
"We have confidence in him whenever he goes in the game, but you know, he fits the description of a nickel. He's tough. He can tackle. He's got quickness. He also has speed and he has really good awareness. You combine all those things and those are things that are just going to make a good football player regardless of nickel, and I literally, wherever he is on the field, we have confidence that he can get the job done and he's given us that confidence through his play."
That leaves one open spot on the outside and it comes down to Sidney Jones vs. Rasul Douglas with Jalen Mills likely earmarked for the PUP list to start the regular season.
Before Darby was back in team work Jones spent most of the summer rotating with Maddox between the slot and left corner while Douglas handled the right side. Jones is the more talented player from a coverage standpoint while Douglas is more physical with better ball skills.
"Those guys played a lot of football for us last year, so it's not just what they have done in training camp. I'm talking about Sul [CB Rasul Douglas] and Sid [CB Sidney Jones]and I'd even put [CB] Avonte [Maddox] in that mix, guys that have played different corner positions for us," Schwartz said. "... one of the silver linings I guess you'd say of having so many injuries in the secondary last year is we had so many other people playing and got experience. So I think that puts not only them in a better position, but it puts our defense in a better position going forward having more experienced players and I would put all those guys in that."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen