The Eagles CBs and ‘The Life They Lead’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Jim Schwartz is fond of the baseball analogies so in a week where the Eagles failed to hit the home run and land All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey on the trade market, the focus has shifted to small ball and perhaps a few sharp singles to left by getting back veterans Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills from injury.
That's certainly not a cure-all for the Eagles' ills on the back end especially when you consider Darby has missed 18 of his past 28 regular-season games with a host of injuries, including a torn ACL, and Mills has been absent for nearly a calendar year with a murky foot injury.
After watching Kirk Cousins gouge the secondary in Minneapolis last weekend, however, the possible get-backs sure look like a valuable salve for Schwartz.
Darby and Mills were once the starting CBs until they got injured in consecutive games last season. Each returned to practice field Wednesday in advance of Sunday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys.
"I’m in for Sunday," Mills claimed after practice before explaining it's not really his call. “At the end of the day, it’s coach’s call as far as if I’m playing and how much I’m playing. But my mindset is I’m going to play."
Darby, who missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury after successfully rehabbing his torn ACL, was a limited participant Wednesday but wasn't in the locker room. The early returns on his hamstring placed the timetable around a month and Darby hurt himself on Sept. 22 against Detroit so Sunday in Dallas would be right around that estimate.
Mills, meanwhile, wasn’t on the injury report because he’s still on the team’s Physically Unable To Perform list and the Eagles have a 21-day practice window to make a roster decision with him. The plan is to activate him for the Cowboys, however, and both players were again on the practice field Thursday.
“We’re going to incorporate them more and see where they are at the end of the week," coach Doug Pederson said when discussing his CBs.
The Eagles also have two other injured corners, Avonte Maddox (neck/concussion) and Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot), who could be back in the next couple of weeks.
Maddox has missed the last two games after taking some friendly fire from Andrew Sendejo in Green Bay and LeBlanc, who is on injured reserve with a foot injury, is out until at least Week 9 if the Eagles decide to label him designated to return. LeBlanc, though, could have started practicing this week so there is no guaranteed he will be returning in Week 9.
Mills admitted his rehab was difficult, partially because the early indication was that he would be able to return in 2018 but his foot never responded and he was ultimately forced to have surgery.
“It was hard," Mills admitted. “I’ve played this game all my life. I never had to spend this long off the field recovering from an injury."
Mills has always been a Schwartz favorite, regarded as a tough player both physically and mentally.
“Jalen’s an experienced player," the DC assessed. “He’s tough. He’s very competitive. Good tackler. It will be nice to get all those things back when he’s able to do it all on the field."
With Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones trying to check star receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen last week, Cousins finished 22-of-29 for 333 yards and four touchdowns, including 62- and 51-yard touchdowns to Diggs. He also just missed on another long TD to Diggs and nearly had Thielen for another deep shot.
Cumulatively, the Eagles are 29th in pass defense this season (280.2 yards per game) and 28th in touchdown passes allowed (13).
"Inconsistently," Schwartz answered when asked if Douglas and Jones have had the mental toughness to out the bad in the rear-view mirror. "There have been times they have, but like a 3-3 team, we're all striving for consistency. I think that those guys are striving for that.
"I don't know that any of those [errors] were lack of confidence or putting the play behind them, but it was -- whether it was a penalty, whether it was a physical error or a technique error, which is a physical error, or a communication error, another bad play ended up rolling up on them. That's the life [cornerbacks] live."
And the life Darby and Mills are about to get back to.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen