Eagles

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: How cornerback shakes out

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: How cornerback shakes out

As we near the start of the Eagles’ 2019 training camp, we’re taking a closer look at some key position battles to watch this summer. 

Up first: Cornerback

Names to know 

Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Josh Hawkins 

What to watch 

The Eagles have a pretty deep stable of young and talented cornerbacks and after last year’s disaster at the position, that should let DBs coach Cory Undlin sleep a little easier at night. In 2018, the cornerback position was completely decimated by injuries, but it allowed younger players to gain valuable experience. Now, we’re not sure who the starters are anymore. 

On the injury front, Ronald Darby (ACL) and Jalen Mills (foot) both didn’t participate in OTAs as they recover from injuries that ended their 2018 seasons early. But both were the starters at the beginning of the 2018 season. During the spring, we saw Darby working on side fields, but didn’t see that from Mills. Will these two be ready for the start of training camp? If not, are their positions guaranteed when they return? In Darby’s case, that answer is probably a yes. The Eagles re-signed him to a one-year deal and they didn’t bring him back to sit on the bench. But after that, the other two cornerback spots seem up for grabs. 

In the absence of starters last year, Douglas, Maddox and LeBlanc all got significant playing time and all three performed fairly well. Douglas has gotten chances to start after injuries in his first two NFL seasons and might be ready to simply have a starting role. Maddox was a rookie last season but didn’t play like it; he played three positions and although he looked like a rookie at times in the Saints playoff game, he had a fantastic first season for a fourth-round pick. And LeBlanc might have saved the season after he was claimed on waivers from Detroit. Jones had an up-and-down second NFL season thanks to a lingering hamstring injury, but he’s supremely talented and was about to be a first-round pick just a couple years ago. And Jones started last season as the nickel cornerback and played better than you probably remember. Despite his success last season, it seems like LeBlanc is firmly behind those other five; but having him as a sixth corner shows their depth. 

During OTAs — without Darby and Mills — the starters were Douglas, Maddox and Jones. The key here will be to see who gets first-team reps when the entire group is healthy. I’d expect we see a few combinations during training camp as the Eagles figure out their best combination. That also means moving some players (namely Maddox and Jones) inside and outside to find the right fits. 

Prediction 

Darby is going to start. Like I said earlier, they didn’t sign him to sit him. So that leaves the other two jobs open. I’m not going to give Mills his job back before I even seen him on the field; his foot injury has been a long one, so until he’s really back, I won’t predict him to be a starter (although this is where I should mention how much Jim Schwartz has seemed to like Mills over the last three years). 

So for now, I’ll guess Darby, Douglas and Maddox are the starters barring a trade. I’m still bullish on Jones; I’m just not sure how the Eagles can start him over Douglas or Maddox based on what we’ve seen. But this should be an open competition in training camp, which is where these jobs should be won. 

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NFL Free Agency: Eagles could face Jadeveon Clowney next year on NFC East rival

NFL Free Agency: Eagles could face Jadeveon Clowney next year on NFC East rival

Jadeveon Clowney is Public Enemy No. 1 for Eagles fans right now, after his dirty hit in the Wild Card round injured Carson Wentz and ended the Birds' playoff hopes.

Can you imagine facing Clowney twice in 2020? That might end up a reality, according to a report from none other than ESPN's Josina Anderson, another villain from the Wentz hit fallout.

Anderson reports that Clowney is opening to returning to the Seahawks in 2020, but is also open to other opportunities, and could be courted by an Eagles rival:

Ignoring the football implications for now - Clowney, antics aside, is good at football - let's think instead about the absolute mayhem that would meet Clowney when the Giants visited The Linc.

It would probably be... a lot. For a fanbase willing to boo its own guys, that's nothing compared to the wrath Philly fans unleash when they feel they've been wronged by a player, justified or not. Just ask Sidney Crosby how his last decade-plus of visits to this side of the state have been, without anything nearly as malicious on his rap sheet.

The entire organization was angry about the play, from guys like Jason Peters in the hours after the hit to Howie Roseman talking about its lingering effects just this week (see story), which means we'd likely see a fired-up team take the field in that first Giants game, especially if it happened to be at home, emotions swirling in the South Philly winds.

Roseman encapsulated most fans' feelings when he spoke at the NFL Combine on Wednesday:

"We thought that was a foul. We’re sick to our stomach about the way our season ended for our team and Carson in particular. (...) Doug’s sick. Jeffery’s sick about it. Our whole organization is sick about it. We’re there, we have a home playoff game, eight plays in? Come on."

Luckily for Eagles fans seeking to voice their frustration, even if Clowney goes back to Seattle, he'll still visit the Linc next year. But it would be doubly satisfying to beat him while he plays for a division rival.

Can you imagine the roar of the crowd as Wentz spins out of a Clowney sack attempt, rolls to his right, and rifles a pass to Dallas Goedert to go up by two scores? The Linc might not survive.

We'll see what happens.

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Eagles doing homework on top WRs in draft, but can they find the right one?

Eagles doing homework on top WRs in draft, but can they find the right one?

INDIANAPOLIS — The Eagles’ biggest need this offseason happens to line up with the biggest area of strength in the NFL Draft. 

It seems too easy, right? 

There’s a reason why just about every mock draft has the Eagles taking a receiver with the 21st pick and while there’s no guarantee they go that way, the thought process checks out. 

And as the Eagles are in Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine, they are doing their homework on the top receivers in this class. As of Tuesday, players like Henry Ruggs III and Justin Jefferson had already met with the Eagles and guys like Tee Higgins and KJ Hamler were expecting their meetings with the Birds the following day. 

The Eagles will have plenty of options at receiver in April when it comes to the draft. NFL Network analyst and former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah raved about this class of receivers last week, saying he thinks there are 27 receivers worthy of grades in the top three rounds.

While it seems like everyone throughout the league is raving about how great this receiver class is, Howie Roseman on Tuesday played coy. 

“We don’t have all the information,” Roseman said. “I think we look at all these positions as we go here, the medical’s a big part of it, the interviews are a big part of it. How they learn. The testing is a part of it, so you throw that all together. 

“We’ve been in a position where there’s a bunch of guys we like and maybe they’re a medical reject or something happens off the field as we dig as we go through the process. And then all of a sudden, we think we have 12 guys that we like and we’re at 8. Let’s see where all the information comes in and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Maybe Roseman is downplaying how good this class is because he’s been burned before by statements about the greatness of a position class. Remember in 2017, when he called the running back class “historic” and then the Eagles ended up with Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round? 

That’s not the only time the Eagles have gone into a draft heavy at a certain position and not come out with a top guy. And Roseman even cautioned against going into a draft preoccupied with the idea of needing to get a player at a position just because of how good the class is supposed to be. 

“I don’t think it’s a mistake not taking guys early in the strength of that draft, because what happens is, guys at other positions fall to you, because of that, and that gives you an opportunity to still get value,” he said. 

Fair enough, but the Eagles need a receiver and this class is full of them … maybe don’t overthink it. 

The Eagles’ recent history picking receivers won’t exactly instill a lot of confidence. After all, the reason they need to find receivers this offseason is in part because they’ve struggled to draft them. 

But the Eagles shouldn’t be thinking about their past failures drafting receivers. Learn from those mistakes? Sure. But they have a real opportunity to find a playmaker in April. 

Before testing, it seems like the top three receivers in the class are Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III. Then there might be a bit of a drop-off to guys like Tee Higgins, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk. And Laviska Shenault is talented but has significant injury concerns, which might scare the Eagles off. And then there’s another drop-off to players in the second round. 

Here’s how NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks ranks the top five at the position: 

1. Jerry Jeudy 

2. CeeDee Lamb

3. Henry Ruggs III

4. Laviska Shenault 

5. Tee Higgins

The player most Eagles fans seem to be enthralled with is Ruggs and for good reason. Despite his smaller stature (5-11, 188), Ruggs is an absolute burner. The Eagles need speed and Ruggs has it. 

His goal for the 40-yard dash is a lofty one. 

“I’m trying to hit the lowest ever,” Ruggs said. “So 4.22 or lower.”

If Ruggs runs a 4.22, you can kiss any hope of him being available at 21 good-bye. Heck, that’s probably a pipe dream already. 

But after having just five draft picks in 2018 and 2019, the Eagles expect to have 10 picks in April. Plenty of ammunition to trade up for a player they deem worthy. 

“So if there is a guy that we thought was an incredibly highly valued, and we could go up and go get him,” Roseman said, “we couldn’t take that off the table.”

In April, the Eagles will have their opportunity to draft a big-time receiver to give Carson Wentz a much-needed weapon for the next several years. Now, they just have to figure out which one. 

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