Eagles corners quietly showing off special capability this summer

Eagles corners quietly showing off special capability this summer

While Sidney Jones has naturally been one of the focal points of Eagles training camp, it’s time to give Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby their due. 

Both have been great so far this summer. 

Andt then when you start thinking about Mills and Darby and Jones and Rasul Douglas and De’Vante Bausby, we’re looking at a group of cornerbacks that are already deep and could be special. 

“We don’t have a ceiling,” Mills said confidently last week. 

Think about this: With how good Jones has looked this early, he’d be starting for most teams. After all, he was a first-round talent just a year ago. But Mills and Darby haven’t faltered even a little bit. Both have been shutdown guys through the first 10 days of camp. 

Everyone has taken notice. 

“They're both having outstanding camps,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “They’re making plays on the ball, they're playing with confidence. Those are two important things for corners. I think that both of those guys really elevated their games.”

This is really our first time to see Darby in training camp. The Jordan Matthews trade didn’t happen until Aug. 11. So this time last year, Darby was still up in Buffalo and the Eagles were still concerned about the position. 

Darby had to hit the ground running, pardon the cliche, when he arrived to the NovaCare Complex last summer. And then in the first week of the regular season, he dislocated his ankle and missed the next eight games. 

Schwartz said — and Darby agreed — that between coming late and the injury, it just felt like Darby was playing catchup all of last season. 

He’s caught up. 

“He's had an outstanding offseason,” Schwartz said. “I'm not just talking about training camp, I’m talking about OTAs and phase one, phase two. He’s in a different place than he was last year.”

Darby, 24, is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so a big season and a nice payday could follow. With Jones waiting to take over as a starter and cornerstone of the team, it’s hard to envision the Eagles’ handing Darby a huge deal, which is why trade rumors have been hovering over him. Darby on Monday joked that as long as his password worked on the team-issued iPad, he was still on the team. 

Sure, the Eagles could trade him still. But I’m pretty excited to see what he can do with a full offseason in the system. 

And Mills, who has never lacked for confidence, is coming off a season in which he really came into his own. No one thinks about him as the former seventh-round pick. He’s now the "Green Goblin," the guy who made some huge plays during the run that brought the Lombardi Trophy to Philly. 

And now, Darby, Mills and Jones have the potential to be great in 2018. This is what the Eagles have been building toward. 

This will be Schwartz’s third season as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator and there’s not one cornerback on the roster from when he was hired. We’ve seen a complete transformation of the position in less than three years. Heck, we’ve seen an incredible transformation from the 2016 season.

Within two years, the Eagles have gone from Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll to having a stable full of young, talented and cheap corners. 

They’ve gone from cornerback being a worrisome weak spot to an absolute strength, with newfound depth. 

“You have to come ready to compete every day,” Darby said. “That one day you're feeling lazy, tired, nicked up, another player out there is busting his a--, going all out. It helps you to push.” 

Darby and Mills have been definitely pushing every day during this training camp. The Eagles haven’t had a group of corners like this in a decade and there’s plenty of reason to be excited. 

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Eagles legend Tommy McDonald dies at 84

Eagles legend Tommy McDonald dies at 84

Tommy McDonald, the flamboyant, record-setting Hall of Fame receiver who starred on the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship team, died Monday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced. He was 84.

McDonald was the Eagles’ third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 1957 and in seven seasons with the Eagles, he caught 287 passes for 5,499 yards and 66 touchdowns.

Despite standing just 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, McDonald led the NFL in touchdowns in 1958 and 1961 and in receiving yards in 1961.

In the 1960 Championship Game, which the Eagles won 17-13 over the Packers at Franklin Field, he caught three passes for 90 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown from Norm Van Brocklin in the second quarter.

After the game, legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi famously said, “If I had 11 Tommy McDonalds, I’d win a championship every year.”

McDonald finished his career with the Cowboys, Rams, Falcons and Browns and retired after the 1968 season with 495 catches for 8,410 yards and 84 touchdowns. He was a four-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler.

When he retired, McDonald ranked sixth in NFL history in catches, fourth in yards and second to long-time Packers great Don Hutson in touchdowns.

Today, 55 years after he last played for the Eagles, he still ranks second in franchise history with those 66 touchdown catches, behind only Harold Carmichael’s 79.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

“I played with a lot of great receivers, including Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears with the Rams,” Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin said in a 2016 article on the Eagles’ website written by long-time NBC Sports Philadelphia contributor Ray Didinger.

“But if I had to pick one guy to throw the ball to with the game on the line, I’d pick McDonald. I know somehow the little bugger would get open and he’d catch the football.”

But McDonald was much more than a terrific player.

Long before Twitter and Instagram, he was a beloved personality who put on a show when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, dancing on stage to the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” telling jokes about his wife, tossing his Hall of Fame bust in the air and catching it,  and chest-bumping the other inductees.

His colorful life was immortalized in the play, “Tommy and Me,” written by Didinger, who first met McDonald as a kid attending Eagles training camp in Hershey in the 1950s.

Asked in a 2012 interview with Bleacher Report what his strengths were as a player, McDonald said: “Good instincts and good hands. I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1962 I think, and the headline was ‘Football's Best Hands.’ B-E-S-T! God also blessed me with S-P-E-E-D! I won 5 gold medals in track in my senior year of high school. Who wins 5 gold medals?”

Didinger wrote in that 2016 piece on the Eagles’ website that McDonald never wore gloves because he wanted to feel the ball into his hands.

“He sandpapered his fingertips before every game,” Didinger wrote. “He said it made his fingers more sensitive and helped him feel the ball. He scraped his fingers on the brick wall at Franklin Field before home games to achieve the same effect.”

Many of the legendary players from the Eagles 1948, 1949 and 1960 NFL Championship teams have died in the past several years.

Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik died in 2015 at 89, Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren died in 2012 at 91, Hall of Famer Pete Pihos in 2011 at 87 and Al Wistert, a five-time Pro Bowl lineman from the 1940s who should be in the Hall of Fame, died in 2016 at 95.

The only surviving Hall of Famers who spent at least half their NFL career with the Eagles are Bob Brown, who is 76, and 2018 inductee Brian Dawkins.

Derek Barnett comes through in clutch for Eagles

Derek Barnett comes through in clutch for Eagles

Brandon Graham couldn’t help but have a little Super Bowl LII flashback. 

Late in the fourth quarter, game on the line, they had barely touched the opposing quarterback, everyone knew they needed to make a play. 

All that should sound familiar. 

But this time, as Graham’s eyes widened on his way to Andrew Luck, he was chop blocked by a running back. It wasn’t Graham who made the play of the game. 

“But to see DB get it, boy,” Graham said, shaking his smiling head. “I was happy for him.”

On the crucial 4th-and-3 play, second-year defensive end Derek Barnett dipped under left tackle Le’Raven Clark and got just enough of Andrew Luck to send the Colts’ quarterback stumbling to the ground. 

After the defense had failed to hit Luck for most of the afternoon, Barnett came through at the absolute moment the Eagles needed him. 

Everyone on the team said they were impressed by Barnett, but the most effusive praise came from the head coach, which is a good sign for any player. 

Here’s what Doug Pederson said:

Yeah, great play. The kids keeps getting better and better. I have been pleased with how he works in practice. He’s an unselfish ballplayer. He’ll play special teams if you ask him. He’ll rush the passer if you ask him. He does so many great things and we’re so excited to have a player like Derek and a young player like Derek who can play extensively and work in the rotation. 

It just seems like somewhere in the game, 96 is going to show up and make a play. And he did that several times today.

Barnett, 22, didn’t have a sack in the first two games of his first season as a starter but left the Linc with 1 1/2 Sunday night. He and Fletcher Cox combined for the only other sack earlier in the game. 

The Eagles are obviously hoping for big things from Barnett this season. They used their first-round pick on him a year ago and after rotating him in last year, he’s been their starter opposite Graham this year, which means Michael Bennett and Chris Long are rotational plays. 

“I think Derek is a great player,” Fletcher Cox said. “I think the biggest thing is he understands the situation and knows what part of the field we’re in. You know, just doing his job. On that play right there, he didn’t do anything special. He just did his job around the edge, and that’s why we brought him here to rush the quarterback.”

Cox is right. On that big fourth-down sack, Barnett didn’t do anything special. He just used his unique bend around an overmatched offensive tackle and got a sack. But that’s what makes him so good. 

It felt like it took Luck about 40 seconds to finally fall to the ground after Barnett tripped him up. Graham watched and then tapped Luck on his shoulder while he was down to make sure the play was dead. Malcolm Jenkins said by the time he turned around, Luck was already tripping to the turf. Corey Graham was actually hoping Luck would throw the ball to his man in the slot. He thought he was about to make a play of his own. 

But instead, the honor went to Barnett. 

Graham said with their rotation on the line, every time a defensive end is on the field, they need to go 100 mph because they never know when the play they make could win the game. 

That was Graham in Super Bowl LII. And it was Barnett on Sunday.

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