Cre'Von LeBlanc, Eagles' young CBs hold own in season-saving win

Cre'Von LeBlanc, Eagles' young CBs hold own in season-saving win

Just 20 days after the Eagles claimed him off waivers, cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc lined up on 3rd-and-4 from the Eagles’ 11-yard line in the fourth quarter of a three-point game Sunday and looked across the line of scrimmage to see Odell Beckham Jr. staring back at him.

OBJ vs. Cre’Von LeBlanc. On an island. Game and season on the line. 

“I think everybody in the stadium knew where that ball was going,” Malcolm Jenkins said. 

Everyone in the stadium was right. 

But it didn’t go the way everyone probably would have expected. Beckham ran a post and LeBlanc — perhaps with a hold or two that went uncalled — was able to force a huge incompletion to keep the Giants out of the end zone. A field goal tied the game, but the Eagles won it 25-22 on the next possession. 

What went through LeBlanc’s head when he lined up on Beckham for that play? 

For me, it’s a dream come true. That’s the highest paid receiver in the league. That’s Odell. Everybody knows what type of receiver he is. He’s definitely phenomenal and crafty at what he does; hats off to him. For me, just trust my technique. I know what type of player I am. I fear no one. I fear no man. At the end of the day, he put his pants on, I put my pants on and we gonna play ball.

LeBlanc, 24, was just one of three newcomers in the secondary the Eagles featured Sunday out of necessity. Without Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox and with Rasul Douglas still hampered by injury, the Eagles relied on a trio of cornerbacks who have been with the team one month or less. 

Chandon Sullivan, who joined the team on Oct. 25, and De’Vante Bausby, who was promoted from the practice squad on Nov. 17, both started outside. LeBlanc began the game as the nickel cornerback. 

The trio didn’t play a perfect game. There were mistakes made and plays given up. 

But Eli Manning didn’t roast this secondary. OBJ and Sterling Shepard didn’t run free. This group of young and relatively inexperienced cornerbacks sort of held its own. 

“They hung tough. They battled,” Doug Pederson said. “Nothing is easy. Nothing is pretty. You just have to fight and scratch and get the job done. They did that today. Proud of those guys.”

By the end of the day, Manning threw for 297 yards and Beckham caught five passes for 85 yards, but the Eagles will take that. If you’re wondering why the Giants didn’t make more of a concerted effort to target the Eagles’ young cornerbacks, you’re not the only one. 

Jenkins said the Eagles didn’t really roll their coverages much to help Sullivan, Bausby or LeBlanc, which jibes with what Bausby said about the coaching staff. Throughout the whole week, he said, the coaching staff treated them like they were Mills and Darby — the normal starters — getting ready to play. 

“They didn’t change anything,” Bausby said. “They believe and that’s definitely been beneficial for us. You have to go out there and do what you have to do.”

Even though the Eagles made it out of Sunday with a win, their situation at corner didn’t magically get better. In fact, Sullivan got hurt during the game, something that brought a smile of disbelief from Jenkins when he brought it up at his locker. 

But if the Eagles need to roll with these young guys for a while, at least they got some decent experience Sunday. 

“They’ll continue to get better next week,” Jenkins said. “It’s a race to get them just 1 percent better than they were this weekend.”

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Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Connor Barwin spent a lot of time at the Eagles’ complex the last couple months of the season, and now we know exactly why.

The Eagles on Friday afternoon announced that Barwin, who spent four years playing for the Eagles, has joined the team's front office in the role of special assistant to the general manager.

I'm done playing football, but my football career is not over," Barwin said in an interview on the team’s web site. "I want to stay involved. I want to help this team wherever I can and also learn the other side of the game from the coaches and the personnel side. There's still a lot that I can learn about the on-field part of the game, as well. I love being around the game. I still want to win a Super Bowl, multiple Super Bowls.

According to the Eagles’ web site, Barwin will work with the player personnel staff during the offseason and work on player development during the season, with an emphasis on mentoring players making the challenging transition from college to the NFL.

Barwin, 33, retired after spending last year with the Giants. He began his career with the Texans before signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles before the 2013 season.

He spent four of those seasons here and made his only Pro Bowl in 2014, when he had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks - the most by any Eagle over the last eight seasons.

Despite playing only four years here, Barwin ranks 15th in franchise history with 31 1/2 sacks, tied with Mike Mamula.

When Chip Kelly and his staff were fired after the 2015 season and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz switched from a 3-4 defense under Bill Davis to a 4-3, Barwin moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. He had five sacks in 2016 and was released after the season.

Barwin spent 2017 with the Rams and 2018 with the Giants. He had 56 1/2 sacks in 10 seasons.

"I got to play for a bunch of really great coaches and look inside how other organizations are run," Barwin said. "That's some insight that I can bring to the Eagles."

Even after he left the Eagles, Barwin always considered Philadelphia home. He has made a huge impact in the community with his Make the World a Better Place foundation, which refurbishes and rebuilds parks and rec centers in Philadelphia.

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Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

We have a new and interesting name in contention to be the Eagles’ next offensive coordinator.

The Eagles on Friday interviewed Southern California offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.

This is an interesting approach from the Eagles and Harrell would certainly qualify as an outside-the-box hire. 

Harrell, 34, spent last season at USC but notably has an extensive history with Mike Leach and his Air Raid Offense. Harrell played for Leach at Texas Tech from 2004-08 before going to the CFL and NFL and then coached under Leach at Washington State from 2014-15. 

So Harrell would likely be able to bring some new and potentially exciting concepts to Doug Pederson’s offense. Remember, Jeff Stoutland is the Eagles’ run game coordinator, which meant that Mike Groh was pretty much the pass game coordinator for the last two seasons before he was fired. Since he wouldn’t call plays, that would basically be Harrell’s role if he got the job in Philly. 

At USC, Harrell was hired by head coach Clay Helton when Kliff Kingsbury left after a month to take the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. USC wanted to have an Air Raid style, so they turned to Harrell. 

In his one year as the offensive coordinator at USC, the Trojans improved drastically in major statistical categories on offense from 2018: 

Points per game: 26.1 to 32.5
Yards per game: 382.6 to 454.0 
Passing yards per game: 248.2 to 335.8  

Check out this interesting excerpt from an Aug. 1 story in Sports Illustrated about Harrell’s hire at USC and his thoughts on the offensive system he comes with:

“People hear Air Raid and they think five wide receivers, no tight ends, 60 pass attempts and 50 points a game. To Harrell, the Air Raid is something else. It is working to death a small number of plays, with shorter playcalls, perfecting those plays and out-executing — not out-scheming — the opponent. Option-based coaches, like former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, operate under similar mentalities, but with a different focus: rushing the football. Leach does it through the air. “You can’t do everything. I think a lot of people try to take a little bit of everything offensively,” Harrell says. “If you do that, you don’t have much of an identity. You’re just O.K. at everything and not really good at something.”

At times over the last few seasons, the Eagles have found success after simplifying. They’ve also found success using an up-tempo pace to get Carson Wentz into a rhythm. These seem like concepts that would mesh with Harrell’s philosophy. 

And we also know that Pederson values coaches who, like himself, were once players. After he left Texas Tech, Harrell played one season (but was injured) for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and then was a backup quarterback in Green Bay for a few seasons and with the New York Jets for a season in 2013. Harrell’s only NFL game action came in 2012 as a member of the Packers. He played in four games and threw just four career passes. 

Since then, though, he’s been a quick riser in the coaching world. And he has some fresh ideas that might help an Eagles offense that has been far too stagnant at times over the last couple seasons. 

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