FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon disagreed with the notion that rookie cornerback Zech McPhearson has struggled recently.
OK, let’s call it a minor bump in the road.
“He got a couple balls caught on him where he's in tough duty,” Gannon said. “We put a lot on our corners as far as mentally and physically in this defense.”
McPhearson, the fourth-round rookie out of Texas Tech, got off to a fantastic start in his first NFL training camp so maybe he just set the bar a little too high, too early. Because against the Patriots in two joint practices, he gave up some plays and then he started the game against the Pats and Cam Newton attacked him.
Starting in place of Darius Slay, who got the night off, McPhearson was targeted seven times on Thursday night and gave up a game-high 73 receiving yards, according to ProFootballFocus. Again, nothing crazy … but worth noting.
“That’s just the game as a young guy,” Slay said. “You go from being a draft pick, to probably one of the best players on your team to being a guy on a team right now. He’s talented but he just has to learn.
“This game is about growth. That’s one thing I did as a young boy, I grew. I understood my rules, what I did for the team and I worked at it. I got better each and every day. I’m going to take him through the same steps I went through and hope he succeeds just as well as I am.”
All rookies struggle at times during their first NFL seasons. It’s inevitable. And it’s also inevitable that cornerbacks are going to give up plays. Even the best ones in the league do.
For McPhearson, it’s all about how he responds to those struggles … err, bumps in the road.
Because while the Steve Nelson signing before the season put McPhearson into a more obvious backup role, he’s one injury away from seeing significant playing time as a rookie.
At the beginning of this week, Gannon said the defensive staff gave each player one specific thing to work on.
“So his thing was just eyes and really alignment assignment, key technique,” Gannon said. “So do you know how to get aligned? Because if you're misaligned with certain coverages, it puts you in a hard spot to cover for the down.
“So a lot of that, he just needs to clean up is pre-snap, we control everything. He just needs to control that, which he's done a good job. But like I said we put him in some tough spots in the game, and you know, he'll learn and rebound and he'll have a good week of practice.”
So far, so good.
Slay said he spent some time with McPhearson the other day at practice, giving him some tips and he was pleased to see improvement from McPhearson — Slay calls him “the Rook” — on Tuesday against the Jets.
“Today, he showed off a good bit of it. He did a great job today,” Slay said. “Only thing he’ll do is go up and keep improving. That’s my only goal is to make the best player out of him.”
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