With 'luxury' of versatility, Eagles to use variety of slot corners this season

With 'luxury' of versatility, Eagles to use variety of slot corners this season

Who's the Eagles' slot corner this year?

Simple answer: Patrick Robinson.

More accurate answer: A whole bunch of people. Depending on a whole bunch of factors.

In Year 2 under Jim Schwartz, things are changing. Getting more complex. And one major change comes at nickel, where Schwartz said the fifth defensive back in clear passing downs could change several times within a game.

"Last year, it was (whoever) played the nickel was more of a game decision," Schwartz said. "If Malcolm was playing the nickel, he was going to play it pretty much the whole game, where this year we potentially have the ability to get in and out of (formations) within games, as opposed to just for that one game."

In other words, Robinson might be listed as the Eagles' starting nickel corner. But depending on the opponent's personnel, the score, the down and distance and several other factors, Robinson, Dexter McDougle, Jaylen Watkins, Corey Graham or even Jenkins could be manning the slot.

Why is this so important? Because nickel has really become the Eagles' base defense. Last year, the Eagles had five or more defensive backs on the field on 696 of 978 plays, or 71 percent.

As the NFL has evolved more and more into a passing league, the nickel has become more and more prevalent. Teams generally play five D-backs twice as much as they did a decade ago. And the Eagles like their options this year.

“It’s all about matchups," Jenkins said. "Just in our division, you’ve got (Jamison) Crowder, you’ve got Odell Beckham, who’s in the slot sometimes, you have (Sterling) Shepard, and then you’ve got (Cole) Beasley.

"So the body types change week-to-week and so sometimes that guy in the slot might be a tight end type of body, it might be a shifty route runner, it might be a team’s No. 1 receiver, and you need enough guys who are versatile enough to play that position, and I think that’s one of the advantages we have. We have guys who can move in and out of positions."

The Eagles open the season at 1 p.m. Sunday against the Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

It will be our first chance to see a new Eagles secondary — Jalen Mills is the only cornerback remaining from last year's opening-day roster. And our first chance to see how the Eagles' new slot system works.

Crowder, the Redskins' regular slot receiver, had 67 catches for 847 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He caught five passes for 89 yards in the Redskins' two wins over the Eagles.

“I think he does everything well," Jenkins said. "He runs his routes really well, he’s patient, he does the dirty work for them, he blocks, he’s running across the field, down the field, he’s running their option routes, and he’s just a tough guy.

"For him not to be that big, he’s a scrappy player, good with the ball in his hands after the catch, and he’s a reliable target for (Kirk) Cousins. He’s one of those guys we definitely have to circle every time we play them."

When training camp began, Ron Brooks was the incumbent slot guy. He played in 76 percent of the snaps the first five weeks of last year before getting hurt. But he was released, leaving Robinson as the de facto No. 1 slot corner going into Washington.

“If we're playing one of those small quick guys, then I’ll be in there most of the time," Robinson said. "If we've got a team that has two really good receiving tight ends, we might have bigger guys in the slot. It's all going to depend on the matchups.

“You got quick guys, shifty guys, big guys, crafty guys, all kinds of guys playing slot (receiver). You definitely need a (defensive back) who’s going to be on point with everything he’s going to do."

Robinson struggled early in training camp but finally got comfortable when he moved from the outside to the inside. It was his progress in the slot that made Brooks expendable.

“That’s just me being here longer and getting more comfortable," he said. "Knowing the defense as far as my assignment.

"Since the spring, I've definitely gotten better. I’ve gotten better slowly but I’ve definitely gotten better over the past couple months."

The slot corner doesn't need the same sort of speed as outside corners but does need some safety traits because he needs to be physical, play the run and defend bigger, stronger receivers.

“In the slot, you definitely have to think fast and you have to recognize formations a lot faster," Robinson said.

"You have to be strong enough to take on a fullback or something like that, but your eyes have to be really good. You have to be really focused on formations and really tuned in to technique and your assignment."

Schwartz said the Eagles will go into Washington with six different secondary formations, more than last year. The versatility of newcomers like Robinson, Graham and McDougle allows it.

So who's the slot? Robinson is.

And McDougle. And Watkins. And Mills. And Graham. And Jenkins. And who knows what else Schwartz has up his sleeve.

"Versatility is always the way to go because the one thing that’s always consistent in the league is injury," Jenkins said.

"So while you might start out with (one formation), you’re one rep away from putting in another player and if the drop off is too far, you can’t get away with it. Right now, we’re confident in a lot of different guys at that position, and that’s a luxury.”

Report: Donovan McNabb named in NFL sexual harassment lawsuit

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Report: Donovan McNabb named in NFL sexual harassment lawsuit

Donovan McNabb on Monday night was mentioned in a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment at the NFL Network by ex-players and a former executive producer, according to a report by Bloomberg.

McNabb, along with ex-NFL players Heath Evans, Marshall Faulk and Ike Taylor, is being accused of sexual harassment by Jami Cantor, a former female colleague at the NFL Network. Cantor's allegations are part of a wrongful termination suit filed against NFL Enterprises in which she accuses the players-turned-analysts and former executive producer Eric Weinberger of the misconduct, citing multiple incidents. Weinberger is also the president of the Bill Simmons Media Group. Simmons' website, The Ringer, released a statement early Tuesday morning.

Cantor was fired in October 2016, according to the report.

Evans, Faulk and Taylor have been suspended by the NFL Network while an investigation is made into the accusations. Weinberger has been placed on indefinite leave by The Ringer.

McNabb, the former Eagles quarterback who turned 41 last month, is no longer working for the NFL Network and has most recently been featured on ESPN as an analyst. According to the complaint, via the report, McNabb texted Cantor explicit comments.

Per Bloomberg, McNabb's representatives did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

McNabb played 11 seasons for the Eagles from 1999 to 2009 and is the franchise's all-time leader in yards passing (32,873) and touchdown passes (216).

Eagles rookie CB Sidney Jones cleared to practice

Eagles rookie CB Sidney Jones cleared to practice

On a day that will be remembered most for a player the Eagles lost to an injury (see story), they did learn that they are getting another player back after a long injury rehab.

The Eagles are finally going to get a look this week at rookie second-round pick Sidney Jones at practice. Whether he actually gets into a football game this year is still in doubt.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said that nine months after he blew out his Achilles and eight months after the Eagles drafted him, Jones has finally been medically cleared to practice and will participate to some extent Wednesday when the Eagles get back to work following their win over the Rams Sunday in Los Angeles.

“We're just to the point of just want to see him out there running around, doing football activities outside of the normal workouts that he's been doing,” Pederson said Monday. “Just really changing direction and doing more football work this week.”

Jones tore his left Achilles during his pro day workout on March 11 and has spent the entire season so far on the reserve-non football injury list, which is for players with preexisting conditions dating before the first day of practice.

The Eagles had a window running from Week 7 until this week to activate Jones for practice, and once he practices on Wednesday, they’ll have 21 days to either activate him to the 53-man roster or shut him down for the year.

The Eagles have the luxury of taking their time with Jones, thanks to the play of starting corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, slot corner Patrick Robinson and fourth corner Rasul Douglas.

Before his injury, Jones was projected as a first-round draft pick. The Eagles got him with the 43rd pick, but even if he doesn’t play until opening day next year, he will still be only 22 years old and under contract through 2020.

Jones had nine interceptions, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 8½ tackles for loss and 145 tackles in 40 career games for the University of Washington.

It remains to be seen where Jones will fit in next year, but Robinson, although he has played well, is due to become a free agent this offseason and turns 31 in September.

Douglas and Jones are signed through 2020, Mills through 2019 and Darby through 2018.