Eagles' incumbent corners welcome Ronald Darby, increased competition

Eagles' incumbent corners welcome Ronald Darby, increased competition

"Bring it on!"

That's the message from Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, the two young Eagles cornerbacks who potentially stand to lose the most playing time with the acquisition of Ronald Darby.

Mills is a 2016 seventh-round pick out of LSU, Douglas is a rookie third-round pick from West Virginia.

"Let’s compete, you know?" Mills said. "Regardless of whatever they brought him in for, it’s a great addition to the room. I know him, I know his game from when he was at Florida State. I actually thought he’d be a first-round pick. He’s a great player, I love the move."

Mills and veteran Patrick Robinson have been the de facto starters throughout camp, but Robinson has been inconsistent and isn't even guaranteed a roster spot.

Rookie second-round pick Sidney Jones won't play for most or all of the season because of an Achilles injury.

Darby, a two-year starter with the Bills, was brought here to start, although everything beyond that is unknown.

“Man, it’s just focus on the task at hand," said Mills, whose 662 snaps were second-most among Eagles corners last year. "When I’m out there, make my plays and let those guys decide.

"As far as my approach, it’s not going to change. You can only control what you can control. When I’m out there, when my number is called, make my plays.

“As far as upstairs goes? I’m still trying to learn how that process works, but I know Darby is a great player, a great corner, had a great first two years in Buffalo, so it was a great pickup for us.”

The Eagles have been unsettled at cornerback for nearly a decade. Since the franchise last won a playoff game in 2008, with Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown at corner, they've used an astonishing 20 different starting cornerbacks in eight seasons.

Including Roc Carmichael, E.J. Biggers, Brandon Hughes, Trevard Lindley and, yes, Eric Rowe.

That number will rise this year.

The plan is for Douglas and Jones to eventually be the long-term starters. Darby is only signed through next year.

But the Eagles clearly want to win now, and Darby gives them a dimension of experience none of the other young corners on the roster has.

Douglas, like Mills, said he sees the addition of Darby as nothing but a positive.

“That’s not up to me, whether we need a corner or we don’t," he said. "I’m a player. Everyone’s here to compete and try to play.

"Doesn’t matter if there’s another corner here or 10 more corners come in, football’s all about competition anyway, so you like that. The room gets better. When we’re all competing at a high level, it brings everybody up. It brings out the best out of everybody. Competition is good."

There are now 11 corners on the roster. Darby, Mills, Douglas, Robinson, Jones, former CFL Grey Cup winners Aaron Grymes and Mitchell White, incumbents Ron Brooks and C.J. Smith and camp long-shots Tay Glover-Wright and Jomal Wiltz.

Jones and Douglas are 21, Mills and Darby are 23 and Smith is 24. This is what Howie Roseman has been looking for at corner. Young talent instead of the same old tired retreads.

"We're all young, we're all learning, we're all competing," Douglas said. "We’re going to get better. … You have no choice but to get better. That’s what I like. I see it in myself that I’m getting better. Things I didn’t catch on in OTAs, I’m seeing it now. We’re going to get better, definitely.

“I don’t worry about playing time. I just try to get better every day. When my number is called, I’ll be ready.”

Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins has been here three years and has already played alongside nine starting cornerbacks, not including guys who’ve gotten first-team reps this year.

He said he likes the current philosophy of going young at corner and finally trying to build a secondary that can grow together.

"The biggest thing is just finding guys who can get as much experience as they can and get evaluated that we feel comfortable with that can go compete and don’t have to worry about somebody taking their jobs," Jenkins said.

"That’s the point of training camp. Get that evaluations, get those reps, and you just added that much more competition with this acquisition.

“Just from a feel standpoint, it’ll be good for us to kind of know who that starting four or five is and we can kind of work together making sure we see the game the same way, getting used to who you’re tandem with a lot.

"I think it’s important from a secondary jelling standpoint. That part is down the road. We’ll get there."

Rob Rants about Mike Lombardi's ridiculous backtrack

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Rob Rants about Mike Lombardi's ridiculous backtrack

If you do what I do for a living, you’re in essence paid to have an opinion. Yes, there are other job requirements, but if you’re going to be a host/analyst, you better have a take. I’m not talking about a contrived, phony “hot take,” where a contrarian view is taken just for the sake of debate. I mean something you believe.

For example, heading into last week’s Eagles-Falcons game, I had serious doubt that Nick Foles could do enough to allow his team to win. I had full faith that the defense and coaching staff would do what they’ve done all season: deliver. I just worried that the offensive coaches couldn’t go out and execute the plays. Therefore, I thought the Eagles would lose a close game to the Falcons. I said it before the game and I’m owning it now. I was wrong. I typed those three words and I wasn’t struck by lightning. I could have been a homer and just picked the Eagles but I gave an honest opinion. One that was wrong.   

I mention this because far too many of my brethren in this business are afraid to cop to it when they are wrong. Exhibit A this week is Mike Lombardi. Lombardi, who has years of experience in NFL front offices, including with the Eagles, said this about Doug Pederson in September on his podcast at The Ringer:

“Now, everybody knows Pederson isn’t a head coach. He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.” 

Strong words. But that’s OK, Lombardi is paid to have an opinion. He comes from the unique position of a long NFL career. I find him to be a compelling listen on matters of the NFL and beyond. He’s not a fence-sitter, he’s not vanilla. He’s also an excellent storyteller.

Which brings us to this week. The Eagles beat the Falcons and are two wins away from finally winning a Super Bowl. Pederson has reached this point despite losing major parts to his roster, including Carson Wentz and Jason Peters. Pederson’s team is 14-3 this season and one of those losses was meaningless. I wrote Monday that he should be the Coach of the Year. A far cry from the least qualified person to coach a team.

On a more recent podcast, Lombardi kind of, sort of, backtracked ... but not really.

That's a begrudging, half-acknowledgment. Lombardi could no longer dig his heels in, so he gave you the, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry” apology. It was half-assed.

What guys like Lombardi don’t get is, it’s OK to miss sometimes. When you’re in the prediction and analyst business, you are going to be wrong sometimes. You’re human. Your audience and the general public would rather you admit a mistake than keep paddling upstream with a foolish point of view. It shows some humility.

Time will tell if Pederson’s career as the Eagles' head coach is a success but there’s no denying the job he’s done this season in the face of adversity. 

And there’s also no denying you were wrong, Mike. And you know what, it’s OK.

For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

USA Today Images

For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

A year ago, he was coming off a 10-game suspension, playing for a losing team, unsure about his future, unsure about his career.

Today, Lane Johnson is on top of the world.

He's a first-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro, he just played in his first career postseason victory, his team has won 13 of its last 14 games that the starters played in and is now one home win from the Super Bowl.

He's still one positive test away from a two-year ban, but in his fifth NFL season, Johnson has finally backed up all his talk about being one of the NFL's best offensive linemen.

He proved he can be a dominating force without the help of banned substances, and he proved he can be out there for a full season as an anchor of one of the NFL's best offensive lines.

"I had a long offseason to ponder it, to think about it," Johnson said. "I knew physically what I could do on the football field, it was just a matter of being responsible, not making any bonehead mistakes and being part of the team.

"I've envisioned this for a long time, so it feels good to see it come to life."

Johnson is the Eagles' first right tackle named first-team All-Pro since Hall of Famer Bob Brown in 1968.

After a four-game suspension in 2014 and the 10-game suspension last year, Johnson was flat-out dominating this year.

With no help from any substances.

"Anything would be better than where I was last year," he said. "I always had confidence in what I could do. The coaches have seen what I could do, the other guys could see what I could do. It was just a matter of getting on the field and showing what I could do.

"Now the bar is set for many years to come. The world's there for the taking."

The Eagles face the Vikings Sunday evening in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc, and Johnson said that as happy as he is for himself, he feels for veteran teammates Jason Peters and Darren Sproles, two all-time great Eagles who suffered season-ending injuries.

"It's not about me, I'm just happy for all the veteran guys," he said. "J.P., he's heartbroken he can't be out there playing. Sproles, those guys. I like winning for the other guys, the veterans. (Brent) Celek's been here 11 years, this will be his second NFC Championship Game.

"It's really about those guys. We've got a lot of confidence right now. We're guaranteed one game left. I'm happy where we're at. Everybody's excited. Let's get back to work Monday and keep this going."