Eagles

Eagles Mailbag: Moving Rasul Douglas, keeping Donnel Pumphrey

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Eagles Mailbag: Moving Rasul Douglas, keeping Donnel Pumphrey

We split up your questions, so Part I of the mailbag ran yesterday (see story).

Just a reminder: training camp starts July 25 and the first practice will be July 26. 

Let’s not waste any more time. 

I’ve heard this a ton from people and it makes sense. Douglas seems to have what you’d look for in a safety and the Eagles value coverage skills in that position, something Douglas clearly has. So I see that as a possibility, but the Eagles have seemed hesitant to move him or even to really cross-train him. For me, the time to do it would have been during the OTAs and minicamp. Why not slide him back there for a few days to see how he handles it? That’s how I would have handled it. Without any extended time at safety in the spring, it’s hard for me to envision real cross-training in the summer. Eventually, though, you’re right; this makes sense. 

I don’t think so. Pumphrey looked a little better this spring, but he better have a great training camp. Right now, I have the Eagles keeping four running backs: Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Matt Jones. If they keep five, Pump has a real chance; he’d just need to beat out Wendell Smallwood for that final spot. I think he has a decent chance, but I haven’t seen enough to give him a roster spot. He’s a player I’ll be watching extremely close at training camp. 

I’ll preface this by saying I’m no punter expert, but Cameron Johnston looks pretty solid to me. He was a really good punter at Ohio State and seemed to boot the ball pretty well this spring. The Eagles were comfortable enough with him to move on from Donnie Jones. 

To answer the second part, he will be the holder for Jake Elliott. The two have been working together this spring. While Johnston held last summer, Elliott was still in Cincinnati. They have to gel. 

https://twitter.com/jerseyjerry16/status/1010188019058475009

In my latest 53-man roster projection, I actually don’t have Tre Sullivan in there. Instead, I went with Corey Graham, who is still on the street. I agree with you that in most situations going with the younger guy is the move, but not with this team. Not this year. Graham was such an important part of last year’s team. And because the Eagles have a legitimate shot to repeat, I’d try to bring him back. The Eagles have about $6 million in cap space. Get it done. 

Hi, John. Mango. Always mango.

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Rodney McLeod on Eagles secondary: ‘It’s time to live up to that standard’

Rodney McLeod on Eagles secondary: ‘It’s time to live up to that standard’

“The Eagles’ secondary __________”

You can fill in the blank with whatever word you want, but you get the idea. The Eagles’ secondary has struggled the last two years, and Rodney McLeod has had enough.

Time to do something about it.

Part of it is pass rush, part of it is situational, but over the last two years, the Eagles’ secondary has allowed the 5th-most passing yards in the NFL and the 2nd most passing TDs of 40 yards or more and has the 5th-fewest interceptions.

Enter new secondary coach Marquand Manuel. Enter all-pro cornerback Darius Slay. Enter Nickell Robey-Coleman in the slot. Enter Jalen Mills at safety. Enter Will Parks and K’Von Wallace. Good-bye Malcolm Jenkins and presumably a few other familiar faces.

It’s time for this secondary to be a strength of the Eagles. Not a weakness.

As a secondary, I felt that we were a little bit disrespected at times and I think now it’s time to live up to that standard,” McLeod said Thursday. “A standard that’s been set with people that played way before us. The Brian Dawkins of the world. The Troy Vincents. Malcolm (Jenkins). I think when you think of guys who have put on the jersey before us, we owe them that. And so we want to get back to the secondary taking over this defense and winning the game and putting the game on our back, and that’s the standard 'M' (Manuel) is holding us to as well as the players in this room.

The Eagles were 29th in pass defense in 2018 and 19th last year. A lot of that was injuries. But a lot wasn’t.

A lot was just a unit that needed to be overhauled.

The Eagles haven’t had a top-10 pass defense since – believe it or not – 2012, when the 4-12 team was ranked 9th.  Mainly because everybody was always up big against them and just ran the ball.

Their last top-5 pass defense was the 2008 unit, with the late Jim Johnson’s last year as defensive coordinator and current Bills head coach Sean McDermott as secondary coach.

Manuel replaces Corey Undlin, now the Lions’ defensive coordinator.

McLeod said Manuel is already emphasizing to his group that it’s time for the Eagles’ secondary to get back to playing like the Eagles’ secondary of old.

“I think people respect him because he’s played the game, because of his passion and because of the way he coaches this group,” McLeod said. “And because the expectations that he has for us. It’s a very high standard. He’s coached a lot of good secondaries and we want to be another group to be respected in this league and treated as such. He’s going to fit perfectly. We’re going to be good.”

This is the first time since 2013 that Jenkins won’t be lining up at safety for the Eagles, but it’s also the first time they have a Pro Bowl cornerback in his prime on the field since Asante Samuel in 2011.

A lot of newcomers, a lot of change. And McLeod is determined to put out a product on the field that fans can appreciate and opposing players will respect.

It’s been a while.

“It’s a talented group,” he said. “It’s a room full of depth and talented individuals and hungry guys too, willing to compete, and that’s what we have to do. We have to create that culture and bring out the best in all of us in order to be the best.

“We’re all professionals and guys are committed and that’s what you need in order to win. For this season, it’s all about who is able to eliminate distractions and adapt and sacrifice. Both in and out of this building. That’s what it’s going to take.”

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The biggest hurdle as Jalen Mills attempts to change positions 

The biggest hurdle as Jalen Mills attempts to change positions 

The good news is that Jalen Mills knows the Eagles’ defense. And he knows the safety position. 

Now he just has to learn the safety position in the Eagles’ defense. 

The effectiveness with which he does so will have major implications for the Eagles in 2020 as the team tries to have the former cornerback replace their veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins in the secondary. Jim Schwartz thinks Mills has all the tools to play safety in his defense but Mills has to prepare to play it in a most unusual offseason. 

The toughest part of this transition for Mills comes down to one word: Communication. 

That’s why once the virtual spring began this offseason, Mills and returning free safety Rodney McLeod put in extra time on their own. The two had private film sessions to work on chemistry and communication. At Mills’ request, they started with Week 1 and went through the Eagles’ opponents for the 2020 season. 

I really just wanted to hear the way that he communicated,” Mills said. “Because, of course, he’s been on the back end and I was playing on the outside. Now, me hearing how he’s communicating. I told him I didn’t want to switch anything that he did because he’s been successful at that spot. Just more of learning from him and the different type of verbiage that he uses. 

“So I don’t get out there and say something and it may throw him off or slow him down. I just wanted to make sure that he’s still playing fast. At the end of the day, I know the defense, I just want to get the exact verbiage that he may have been using on the back end.

For the last four years, McLeod has played next to Jenkins and the two developed a rapport. While McLeod has played with Mills, it has been in a completely different capacity. They need to be way more in sync this year to make things pop. 

Mills explained that when he played outside corner, if he couldn’t hear a call from the MIKE linebacker, he’d look to the sideline for a hand signal and then be ready for the snap. But as a safety, Mills will have more responsibility. Once he gets a call, it’s part of his new job to relay that information. He’ll have to make sure everybody — corners, linebackers, defensive linemen — knows the call. 

And to do that, it’s all about communication, knowing how to communicate with the rest of the defense. That’s where those extra sessions with McLeod came into play. 

Mills also needs to get rid of some of the rust when it comes to just thinking like a safety again. It’s been a while since he played the position at LSU. 

“Making sure he sees the game the right way as he’s now switching positions and the hardest part for him is not defense, right?” McLeod said. “Like he knows all the schematics but it’s now lining up in a different spot. It’s now him understanding, ‘Where do I need to have my eyes here?’ ‘How are you seeing things?’ 

“I believe the chemistry, man, is going to be a lot easier than people think. And so far, so good. It seems like within the couple of days that we’ve been together as a unit, he’s really taken a step further. I’m very confident that we will be good once Week 1 hits and he’ll be ready to rock and make a lot of plays at his new position.”

While the Eagles are technically already in training camp, their first practice won’t happen until Aug. 12. After that, their first padded practice won’t be until Aug. 17. 

So from the time the Eagles begin padded practices they’ll have less than a month to prepare for their season opener in Washington on Sept. 13. That means less than a month of practices for Mills to make his position switch. 

That’s where that extra time might really pay off. 

If Mills doesn’t work at safety, the Eagles also have free agent Will Parks and rookie K’Von Wallace on the team. But it’s pretty clear that Mills is the guy to get the first crack at the job. 

“Though he is making a position switch,” McLeod said. “I think he will thrive in his position.”

We’ll find out soon enough. 

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