After saving Eagles last year, Cre'Von LeBlanc still facing uphill climb

After saving Eagles last year, Cre'Von LeBlanc still facing uphill climb

Last Nov. 5, the Eagles made a move that might have saved their season. They cut Dexter McDougle and claimed Cre’Von LeBlanc off waivers. 

After just a couple weeks, LeBlanc became the Eagles’ nickel cornerback and solidified the position. He averaged over 50 snaps per game down the stretch in the regular season and played 77 snaps in two playoff games for a secondary that was completely decimated by injuries. And in the divisional round game, when Drew Brees decided to attack LeBlanc on the first play from scrimmage, LeBlanc instead intercepted the pass. 

“I don’t know where we’d be without Cre,” Jim Schwartz said last season. 

Despite all that, LeBlanc didn’t get any first-team practice reps this spring. 

Even without Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby (both still recovering), it seems like Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Sidney Jones are planted firmly ahead of LeBlanc on the depth chart. 

It is what it is,” LeBlanc said last week. “All I can do is focus on the reps I get. When I am out there on the field, make sure I come up big. I have very little room for error, so go out there and make sure I have my face in the playbook and keep making plays.

It might seem unfair. 

After all, LeBlanc was a big reason the Eagles were able to turn their season around last year. Even though they lost to the Saints in the divisional round, he had an interception, seven tackles and two PBUs. He played well. He played well enough that you’d understand if he was disappointed he hasn’t gotten even a few first-team reps. But he says he’s not focused on that.

On the flip side, the Eagles drafted Jones and Douglas and Maddox, so it makes sense that they’re going to want to give those guys opportunities. And, for what it’s worth, all three had good springs in front of LeBlanc. 

I listed LeBlanc as one of five losers from the spring and it had nothing to do with his play. Like he always has since he’s been here, LeBlanc played well during OTAs and minicamp. It was just that the Eagles don’t seem eager to give him a chance to retain his slot corner spot. 

After having such a big role and after helping turn around the Eagles’ 2018 season, it seems like that role won’t be there for LeBlanc this year. 

If it shakes out like that … I can only control what I can control. When I do my thing on the field, then that’s what I’m there for. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I’m there for. But at the end of the day, wherever Coach needs me, inside, outside, I’m here to do my part. Whether it’s on defense, special teams. I’m just here to win a championship.

That’s a mature outlook from LeBlanc. But the 24-year-old said it’s not a new outlook for him. He knows the importance about keeping his mind unclogged. And if he’s not on the field, his friends are. The group of cornerbacks is close; it legitimately roots for each other and competition is high. 

Think about it. Because of injuries last season, a bunch of younger players have more experience. LeBlanc, who has bounced around in his three NFL seasons, is probably the sixth corner on the depth chart behind Darby, Mills, Jones, Maddox and Douglas, but he’s still the same guy who played really well last season. After injuries decimated the Eagles’ secondary in 2018, they at least appear to have great cornerback depth heading into 2019. 

Would LeBlanc like a chance to win his nickel corner spot back? Of course. But when the team reports for training camp on July 24, he won’t be stressing about it. 

“If you starting thinking about all that other stuff, you clog your mind up and then you’re not performing on the field,” LeBlanc said. “It can mess you up. Our room is real competitive, we all root for one another. It don’t matter who’s out there.”

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Cross Eagles offensive coordinator candidates James Urban and Bobby Engram off the list

Cross Eagles offensive coordinator candidates James Urban and Bobby Engram off the list

On Thursday, we learned that the Eagles were interested in Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban for their vacant offensive coordinator opening.

The next day, we found out that isn’t happening. 

At his year-end press conference in Baltimore on Friday, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the Eagles interviewed Urban and TEs coach Bobby Engram for openings but both candidates pulled their names out of contention within the last 24 hours.

While the Eagles were reportedly interested in Urban as an offensive coordinator candidate, they were also reportedly interested in Engram as a wide receivers coach candidate. Those are the two vacancies on the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles. (They also have to fill the defensive backs coach spot left vacant by Cory Undlin, who went to Detroit as a defensive coordinator.)

Urban, 46, seemed like he’d be a good fit for the Eagles. He’s a hot name right now based on his success with likely MVP Lamar Jackson this year. And he has familiarity with the Eagles and head coach Doug Pederson. 

Urban and Pederson were on Andy Reid’s Eagles staff together in 2009 and 2010. In fact, when Urban left after the 2010 season, Pederson took over his role as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach. 

Urban spent the next seven seasons as the Bengals’ wide receivers coach and then the last two seasons in Baltimore coaching Jackson and their other quarterbacks. 

But now we can cross him off the list. 

Same goes for Engram, who was one of two former players of interest named in a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. The other was former NFL star Hines Ward, who spent this past season as an offensive assistant with the New York Jets. 

It has been over a week since the Eagles fired Mike Groh and they have been very quiet as they search for their next offensive coordinator. In fact, Urban was one of the first names even mentioned in reports. 

Some other names of interest still available are Chiefs OC Mike Kafka, Dolphins QBs coach (and former Colts HC) Jim Caldwell, former Redskins HC Jay Gruden and internal candidates Press Taylor and Duce Staley.

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Miles Sanders breaks down his case for Rookie of the Year

Miles Sanders breaks down his case for Rookie of the Year

Down the stretch of the 2019 season, Miles Sanders didn’t want to talk about his chances to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was focused on winning games. 

Now that the Eagles’ season is over, though, it’s a discussion worth having. Because Sanders should definitely be in the mix. 

On Thursday, the Eagles’ running back was on the FS1 show “Undisputed” and was asked about his chances to win the annual Associated Press award.

“I think I have a pretty good shot,” Sanders said. “With the other guys that's being nominated, there's Josh Jacobs, [he] had a good year too and Kyler Murray too. All had great rookie years. But I got a lot of confidence in myself based on the type of production that I gave, basically, I think, in half of a season, with (Darren) Sproles going down, going on IR, and Jordan Howard going down for the rest of the half of the season.”

While he didn’t want to talk about ROY late in the season, it’s pretty clear Sanders knows when he’s been slighted. 

The Eagles haven’t had a Rookie of the Year since tight end Charle Young won the award way back in 1973. But Sanders definitely has as strong case for his performance in 2019. 

After a pretty slow start, Sanders got better with every week and then he helped carry the Eagles once Howard went down and was a big reason why the Eagles got into the playoffs. He finished with 818 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards and six total touchdowns. 

Sanders set an Eagles rookie record and led all rookies this season with 1,327 yards from scrimmage. 

There’s plenty of competition, though. Jacobs was just named the PFWA Offensive Rookie of the Year a couple days ago but that doesn’t always match the AP list, which is considered the real award. Jacobs, fair or not, might have an advantage as a first-round pick. 

And then there’s Murray, who might have an advantage as a quarterback. 

Why does Sanders think he has a chance over an impressive rookie QB? 

“I think you can say how important those last four games were, that run that we went on. And just knowing that we had to win those four games in order to get to the playoffs. … I think those four games were big and I stepped up pretty well. They asked me to do a lot, they like to find ways to get me the ball. And I’ve been doing well as far as each game just getting better and better at it.”

Sanders is right. He stepped up in those big games. In the final four games of the regular season, he averaged 4.73 yards per attempt and averaged 112 yards from scrimmage per game. And unlike Murray and Jacobs, Sanders helped get his team to the playoffs. He was sixth in the entire NFL in scrimmage yards in December. 

Let’s take a look at the top candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year and their respective cases: 

RB Miles Sanders (Eagles): Finished with 818 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns, led all rookies with 1,327 yards from scrimmage, added 314 return yards earlier in the season  

QB Kyler Murray (Cardinals): Led rookie quarterbacks with 3,722 passing yards and 544 rushing yards, threw for 20 touchdowns (12 INTs) and rushed for 4 more. Led bad Cardinals team to a 5-10-1 record.  

RB Josh Jacobs (Raiders): Led all rookies with 1,150 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, finished second with 1,316 scrimmage yards, had five 100-yard games 

WR A.J. Brown (Titans): Finished with 1,051 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns to lead all rookies, averaged 20.2 yards per reception, team is in AFC Championship Game

There’s definitely some stiff competition this year. Any of those four guys would be deserving but Sanders definitely has one of the strongest cases. And a running back has won in four of the last six years. 

So does Sanders think he’s going to win? 

“I could just say I feel confident in myself,” Sanders said. “I just pray to God I could be blessed with the opportunity. That would be a blessing and a dream come true.”

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