Avonte Maddox thought he had perfect coverage. He looked away from Chris Hogan for a split second, and the next thing he knew Hogan was celebrating a touchdown and Tom Brady was running off the field with his arms raised.
Welcome to the NFL, kid.
Maddox, a rookie fourth-round pick, found himself in the slot, matched up with Hogan on the seventh play of the Eagles-Patriots preseason game last week in Foxboro.
“That’s a great experience to learn from,” the rookie fourth-round pick said. “You learn from playing the best, and Tom Brady is the best.
“He moved around, bought some time in the pocket, made some time for his receiver to get open a little bit. Definitely a great experience from me. I’ll get better from it.”
Maddox finds himself in a battle with Sidney Jones for the Eagles’ No. 1 slot corner spot this summer, and while Jones may be the favorite, Maddox has had a promising summer, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz made it clear on Monday that Thursday’s preseason game against the Browns in New England will be very important for both Jones and Maddox.
Maddox talks about learning something new every day, and he certainly learned from that rep against Brady.
“Definitely learned a lot,” he said. “Just knowing everything happens fast in the red zone. I played good coverage on the initial coverage and then my eye came off to see if the ball was coming and it wasn’t, and I learned if the ball’s not coming right then and there you’ve got to get your eyes right back on your man because as soon as I turned back he was breaking back out and I saw Brady kind of sprinting out a little bit, and he got him the ball.
“It’s definitely a learning tool and next time I’ll know what to do and I’ll be better.”
The Eagles finish the preseason with an 8 p.m. game against the Browns in Cleveland Thursday and a home game against the Jets a week from Thursday.
Cut-down day to the regular-season roster limit of 53 will follow on Sept. 1.
“Anytime you compete against great players it's going to raise your game up a little bit,” Schwartz said. “I think whether it's in a preseason game like that (or) going against our offense, a lot of times we don't match groups. You'll see a lot of different things. I'm sure you saw a lot of times where people were like, ‘Wow, that's 3’s against 1’s.’
“That's part of the evaluation process. You want guys that can raise or maintain the same level of play regardless of who is out there.”
De’Vante Bausby has also been in that nickel competition, although Schwartz only mentioned Maddox and Jones when asked about it earlier this week, and those are the two getting the bulk of the first-team reps.
“The competition brings out the best in both of them,” Jalen Mills said. “I love it, man.
“You see one day Avonte will have a great day and Sid may be shaky. And then it’s vice versa. Sid watches film and makes the adjustment he needs to make and he comes out and has a great day and then Avonte is shaky.
“So that back-and-forth battle between those two is just making them sharper, just making them better players.”
With Patrick Robinson gone, this is a crazy young group of corners, and the 25-year-old Bausby is actually the oldest cornerback currently on the roster.
Jones and Maddox are both 22 and although Jones is technically not a rookie they’re both new at the slot, both new to NFL football.
It’s a lot to ask of a young inexperienced player, but in two weeks one of them will be out there lining up in the slot against Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
“It's a position, obviously that we've been watching throughout OTAs and camp,” Doug Pederson said. “It's a tough position. It's a physical position. There's a lot happening in there.
“It's different than playing on the outside. These two guys are young players and really both of them are rookie players. They’re learning each and every day and each and every week and they have been exposed to a lot. These next couple weeks are going to be big for them.”
The Eagles will miss Robinson tremendously, but there was no way with their cap situation they could even think about competing with the Saints, who signed the 30-year-old to a four-year, $20 million deal.
So they move forward with Jones or Maddox.
There will be growing pains, but this is life for a Super Bowl champion. You have to let good players go and you have to draft well to replace them.
“We're still a work in progress,” Schwartz said. “Nothing has been settled there. Each guy brings a little bit different skillset, a little bit different strengths and weaknesses to the position. I think the competition is good.
“This game will go a long way to deciding who is going to be out there in the opener.”