‘Slot-ing’ Sidney Jones Into the Eagles’ Defense
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - After a redshirt rookie season in which Sidney Jones made a brief cameo in the meaningless regular-season finale, the talented second-year cornerback is ready to make an impact on Jim Schwartz's defense.
Jones, who turned 22 on May 21, was regarded by most scouts as the most physically gifted corner in the 2017 NFL draft, a certain top-20 pick until a torn Achilles at his pro day sent the University of Washington product tumbling out of the first day and into the second where Philadelphia made a calculated 76ers-like gamble, selecting Jones at No. 43 overall content to play the waiting game.
That part of the process ended for good Tuesday when the Eagles began Phase 3 of OTAs with their first on-field practice with all of the veterans and Jones was a full go, working with the first-team defense in the nickel.
The interesting part was where Jones lined up. The assumption that Jalen Mills would be the left corner in the base defense and then slide inside in the nickel was incorrect. Mills stay at LC opposite Ronald Darby and Jones was simply inserted into the slot, the former domain of Patrick Robinson, who may have been the best nickel back in the NFL last season during Philadelphia's run to a Super Bowl LII championship.
It's a position Jones admitted he's never played before when speaking with reporters after practice and not necessarily his full-time role moving forward. In fact, with his physical traits, it's almost assured Jones will be playing the majority of the time outside the numbers sooner rather than later.
“They want everybody to try it out,” Jones explained. “It’s something very new to me."
Jones occasionally practiced inside at UW but he's never played in the slot during an actual game. What did help him was all the mental reps he got during his rookie campaign while rehabbing the Achilles.
“Every week I was preparing like I was going to play,” Jones said. “I don’t feel like a rookie, because I understand [the defense]."
Jones also believes working through such an ill-timed injury has made him a stronger person and player.
"How are you going to react to the adversity? What are you going to do after that [injury]? That’s kind of what drove me."
The slot position is a difficult one at the professional level because often a team's best route runner will be placed inside and given the freedom to run option routes. Defenders need savvy, short-area quickness, and an ability to avoid rub routes while also holding up in run support.
The Eagles also had undersized rookie Avonte Maddox working in the slot on Tuesday, a player like Jones who doesn't have much experience with it from his college days at Pitt.
"It's different," Maddox admitted to 973espn.com. "There's a little bit more to it [than playing outside]. You need to be aware of all of your surroundings."
Jones stressed knowing the assignment on any given play and where the help is coming from is paramount.
“Communication is very key," he said. "You have to communicate.”
Jones already flashed in his new position, undercutting a Nelson Agholor route to pick off a hurried Nick Foles, who had Fletcher Cox breathing down his neck.
"I have high expectations," Jones said.
And the Eagles have even higher expectations when it comes to Jones.
“Now that he’s had a full offseason with [secondary] coach [Cory] Undlin and Schwartz’s defense, he’s definitely going to be in the mix,” coach Doug Pederson said.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on NFL polling its fans on Colin Kaepernick at GetMoreSports.com