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.
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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