Eagles' DBs built in Malcolm Jenkins' image, but ready for 'Old Head' to return

Eagles' DBs built in Malcolm Jenkins' image, but ready for 'Old Head' to return

It was strange seeing the Eagles take the field for practice and not see a No. 27 flying around on defense. One would think it would be even stranger for a young group of defensive backs that at times leans on Malcolm Jenkins for guidance.

But while Andrew Sendejo and Tre Sullivan may have been the first-team safeties on Tuesday, it was business as usual for the remaining members of the Eagles’ secondary at OTAs – even if it’s not business as usual for Jenkins right now.

“I would say no,” said Sullivan, responding to whether the defensive backs room is any different without Jenkins. “The only reason I say that is because Malcolm, he does a great job being a leader, really just making us focus on every task at hand.

“It’s the same thing without him being in the locker room.”

Jenkins is a no-show at voluntary workouts so far, purportedly in pursuit of a pay raise. The three-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game in his five seasons with the Eagles. Prior to April, he had barely taken so much as a snap off during that span, much less skipped or been held out of a practice or meeting.

As much time as Jenkins has spent making plays that bring Lincoln Financial Field to a roar, he’s spent more setting an example for players in the locker room. He’s tutored young defensive backs, demonstrated how to handle success and failure in the NFL, been an outstanding citizen away from the field.

The 31-year-old safety has been the definition of a pro, and his actions appear to have rubbed off on teammates.

“Everybody holds each other accountable in that room no matter if we’re young or older,” said Avonte Maddox, reciting the line about accountability Jenkins has used often. “It doesn’t really matter.”

The DBs were putting in extra work after Tuesday’s practice and weren’t easy to track down in the locker room. Those who did speak didn’t sound your typical 25-year-old athletes with three-and-a-half seasons in the league – the average age and experience level of the group sans Jenkins.

Just another day at the office. They sounded like leaders themselves.

“It’s been kind of the same,” said Cre’Von LeBlanc. “We just have to keep focusing on what we can focus on today, the plays, we tell everybody who’s here. I wouldn’t say that it’s any different. The guys are the guys once the day is over.”

The room is not completely devoid of veterans, either. Sendejo, though he just arrived in free agency, is 31 with eight years NFL experience. And Rodney McLeod, who will likely start alongside Jenkins at safety, is rehabbing from injury and not practicing but is in the building.

Still, you can see Jenkins’ fingerprints all over this secondary. You could see it when a struggling, injury-depleted unit with Jenkins as its sole survivor turned its season around and became a strength of the team in 2018. You can hear it while speaking to younger players who sound wise beyond their years.

Without a doubt, Jenkins is far more valuable than what he brings to the Eagles defense as a multi-dimensional weapon that lines up at safety, cornerback, linebacker, wherever is asked – and he’s pretty good at all those things, too.

“When he is back, he makes his presence known,” Sullivan said. “Malcolm is a very vocal guy and outstanding leader. He’s a great guy to lean on.”

Right now, there’s no talk Jenkins might not return, or the Eagles might not reward him. Everybody seems to expect him back eventually, probably a little richer.

Then again, Jenkins has his troops trained so well and on such an even keel, it would be difficult to tell if there was a pang of concern.

“The room’s still the same,” said Maddox. “Still have energy, still holding each other accountable.

“Guys are still working together, laughing, playing around, so when it comes down to it, it will be great when he gets back in there and we’ll be able to have ‘Old Head’ in there.”

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

The Eagles let a promising-yet-oft-injured potential star walk in the offseason, though the team was not idle, adding two quality players to mix. Will the linebackers be better off as a result in 2019?

Key additions: L.J. Fort (free agent, Steelers), Zach Brown (free agent, Redskins) 

Key departures: Jordan Hicks (free agent, Cardinals)

Why they could be better: Depth

Last summer, the battle for the Eagles’ third linebacker job was between Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry, neither of whom played much up to that point, and Corey Nelson, who didn’t even make the team. Grugier-Hill and Gerry are still in the mix here, though the competition for spots two through seven behind Nigel Bradham will be much stiffer.

Jordan Hicks’ departure does create another hole in the starting lineup, one likely to be filled by either L.J. Fort, Zach Brown or Grugier-Hill. But that trio all bring experience to the table — Brown has been to a Pro Bowl — plus Paul Worrilow returns from a torn ACL, offering another veteran presence. Gerry got some opportunities last year, and even he’ll be pushed by CFL star Alex Singleton and undrafted rookie/ All-American T.J. Edwards. How much deeper is this group? In 2018, the guys behind LB4 Gerry were all exclusively special teamers.

Why they could be worse: Down a playmaker

How much will the Eagles miss Hicks? Hard to say. They won a Super Bowl without him in 2017, and after missing more time last season, he eventually returned to find Bradham had taken over as the defense’s No. 1 linebacker. Can’t blame the club for its unwillingness to match $36 million over four years for somebody who’s injured so frequently.

That being said, there’s no denying Hicks seemingly has a nose for the football. He played only 43 games over four seasons, yet managed to amass 19 pass breakups, 7 interceptions, 5.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, six fumble recoveries and 12 tackles for loss. Only a small handful of players even come close to matching that big play production during the same span – none with at least as many of each, and all in at least 10 more games. When he’s on the field, Hicks is a difference-maker, an ability as difficult to replace as it can be to quantify.

The X-factor: Who takes Hicks’ spot?

It was kind of surprising Brown was still on the street in May. Sure, he turns 30 this year, coming off a season in which he lost his starting job in Washington and is nowhere near the impact player he was earlier in his career. He still posted over 200 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 22 tackles for loss over the last two years.

Brown may be best suited for LB3 snaps in the Eagles’ defense. There’s not a lot of blitzing, minimizing one of his best attributes of rushing the passer, and as he’s aged, his coverage ability has seemingly diminished. Yet, he’s still stout against the run, and who else is it going to be? This could wind up becoming more of a platoon role, with Brown seeing first- and second-down snaps, then either Fort or Grugier-Hill in the nickel. There’s potential in such an arrangement. The question is whether opponents will be able to attack the shortcomings of Hicks’ part-time replacements.

Are the Eagles’ linebackers better or worse?

There’s a chance the Eagles let a special one go in Hicks, but the bottom line is he’s seldom available anyway — an issue that issue dates back to college, by the way. On paper, you probably take Hicks over the field, including Bradham. However, in reality, having a bunch of competent, experienced players who will actually be in uniform might be the safer route at this point. BETTER

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

I get why people are so outraged by the comments made Monday by a Kansas City radio host who linked Tyreek Hill’s off-the-field issues with the death seven years ago of Andy Reid’s son Garrett.

The guy tried to make a case that Big Red’s inability to be a strict disciplinarian as both a parent and a coach was responsible for both. 

“It did not work out particularly well in his family life,“ is what Kevin Kietzman of Sports Radio 810 WHB said. “He’s had a lot of things go bad on him, family and players. He is not good at fixing people. He is not good at discipline.”

Of course, these sort of remarks are irresponsible, hurtful and off-base. But you consider the source and they're probably not all that surprising.

And let's be honest. We all understand you don’t record the eighth-most wins of any NFL head coach in history and the seventh-most playoff wins without being able to discipline players when it’s necessary. We’ve all seen coaches who truly are bad at this stuff, and they don’t have three losing seasons in 20 years. They don’t last three years.

So yeah, this isn’t about that. Andy doesn’t need to be defended. Not about this.

And outrage distracts us from the real point. The real shame of Kietzman’s comments is that he connects a lack of discipline with heroin addiction.

Garrett Reid, Andy’s oldest son, died during training camp in Bethlehem seven years ago from a heroin overdose after a long battle with addiction, and the notion that his death somehow was the result of his father not disciplining him enough shows such a lack of understanding of addiction and substance abuse.

Addiction is a mental health disorder. It’s a disease.

It’s not a weakness. It’s not a character flaw. It’s not a lack of discipline.

Treatment can help, but it’s a long and difficult process. The changes substance abuse cause in a person’s brain, the addictive traits of heroin and other opioids, make recovery difficult and in some cases impossible.

Garrett was a good kid, a smart kid, and he and his family battled his addiction for years.

Here’s part of Andy’s statement the evening Garrett died:

“We understood that Garrett's long-standing battle with addiction was going to be difficult. He will, however, always have our family's love and respect for the courage he showed in trying to overcome it.”

This guy doesn’t know Andy and the battle he and his family fought to try and help Garrett through that battle.

Addiction and substance abuse have become such an epidemic in our communities. Big city. Small town. Everywhere. All of us know someone who’s lost a family member. All of us have either directly or indirectly felt that pain.

What Kietzman said is wrong in so many ways, but worst of all is how he trivializes addiction by implying that a little parental discipline would have saved Garrett Reid’s life.

This was a horrible thing to say for a lot of reasons, and it’s been nice to see so many of Andy’s former players rallying behind him on social media.

No parents should have to go through what Andy and his family went through seven summers ago at Lehigh. No parents should have to go through this either.

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