Eagles' young DBs face DeSean Jackson and live to tell the tale

Eagles' young DBs face DeSean Jackson and live to tell the tale

Imagine this: You’re a young 20-something defensive back with maybe one chance to make it in the NFL, or at least one chance to make it with the Eagles. And that chance is now. You’ve prepared your whole life for this moment. You’re ready. 

Then this happens. 

“I lined myself up and got situated,” said Eagles rookie cornerback Jay Liggins, from NAIA school Dickinson State. “And I looked up and I saw 10. ‘Oh s—, that’s DeSean Jackson.’”

In the flesh. 

“It was pretty crazy,” Liggins said. 

Liggins, 23, said he’s really gone up against Jackson just once and the ball didn’t come their way. Still, he thinks he held his own. 

Liggins’ experience isn’t all that different than some of other defensive backs on the Eagles’ roster. Since Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are both still on the shelf, a bunch of younger players this spring are getting a chance to cover the three-time Pro Bowler, who has led the NFL in yards per catch four times during his 11-year career. 

If that doesn’t force you to grow up in a hurry, nothing will. 

It’s not like Josh Hawkins, 26, hasn’t seen great talent before. In fact, when he was with the Packers, he actually covered Jackson some in a game on Dec. 3, 2017. In that game DeSean had just two catches for 24 yards. But now, Hawkins is getting an even better sense of just how good Jackson is, even during practice. 

The one thing everyone always says about Jackson is that he has great straight-line speed and that’s very true. But the first thing Hawkins mentioned is Jackson’s shiftiness. 

“He’s all over the field,” Hawkins said. 

In recent practices, Jackson has shown the ability to go deep but has also shown his ability to attack the seams and the middle of the field. He really isn’t a one-trick pony. 

Godwin Igwebuike, 24, was a teammate of Jackson’s briefly in Tampa Bay, so he saw him some during practice in Florida. He’s seeing more of him this spring. As a safety, Igwebuike isn’t lining up to cover DeSean 1-on-1, but he is trying to help his cornerbacks as much as possible. He better know where No. 10 is at all times. 

“As a post safety, the first thing you’re doing is ID’ing, so usually I get out there and you see a couple guys … when you see DeSean out there, you know, you might need to show a little more effort on that side,” Igwebuike said. 

“You might need to show a little more over the top. Even so Carson (Wentz) knows, ‘OK, maybe I shouldn’t … I see the safety cheating over there, maybe I shouldn’t take that gamble.’ But DeSean’s going to do what he does regardless. You kind of just stay at the top and help that corner out and hope for the best.” 

Igwebuike said through laughter that his key to facing Jackson is to get his depth early. Yeah, that’s good advice. 

Jackson says he’s matured since his first stint in Philadelphia and he’s off to a good start this time around. These practices aren’t mandatory, but Jackson has been around all spring and Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Jackson has “been a joy to be around.” 

Remember, he’s still lightning quick, but Jackson is 32 now. 

“DeSean Jackson’s 32?” Hawkins shot back in disbelief. “I did not know that.”

Even in his 30s, Jackson still has it, to the disbelief of his much younger teammates charged with trying to shut him down during practice. 

“It’s hard to really imagine (he’s 32),” Igwebuike said. “I’ve heard his name since I was a youngin. To still be playing with him now, see that he’s still moving the way he does, I mean, I don’t want to imagine what he was like when he was younger.

“He still says he’s the fastest out here. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is.”

Now, you’ve got to cover him. Good luck. 

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Eagle Eye podcast: Last look before Lions game

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Eagle Eye podcast: Last look before Lions game

On the latest Eagle Eye podcast, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro go over the Eagles’ laundry list of injuries and talk about the two young receivers they need to step up. 

The situation at defensive tackle is worrisome, but at least Derek Barnett is getting pressure. Kamu Grugier-Hill is nearing a return. Why did Doug Pederson have a walkthrough Wednesday? 

Plus, Eagles-Lions matchups and predictions for Sunday’s game. 

• A ton of injuries 
• Relying on young WRs 
• One LB is getting healthy
• DT depth is concerning 
• Barnett is playing well 
• Matchups vs. Lions 
• Predictions 

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Greg Ward waits patiently for his chance to play

Greg Ward waits patiently for his chance to play

If the Eagles are planning to activate Greg Ward from the practice squad, nobody’s told him.

Not that it matters.

Ward’s job doesn’t change whether he’s on the 53 or the practice squad.

Honestly, I stay ready every week because you never know. I’m just staying ready. Whenever my name is called, it’s called. If it’s not this week, if it’s not next week, I’m still going to prepare like I’m playing  every single week. It doesn’t really matter to me.

With DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery banged up, the Eagles have only three healthy receivers on the roster — veteran Nelson Agholor, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and rarely used Mack Hollins.

Even though Doug Pederson left the door open for Jeffery and Jackson to possibly play Sunday against the Lions, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles would go into the game with only three healthy receivers.

And since they haven’t gone out and signed anybody, the logical assumption is that Greg Ward, who had a terrific training camp, will be promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

Why hasn’t that happened yet? 

Probably because Howie Roseman doesn’t want to tip his hand. Whoever the Eagles release to make room for Ward is someone the Eagles don’t want to lose. And the later in the week the Eagles release someone, the less likely it is that another team will claim that player.

None of this matters to Ward. 

You attack practice like you do any other day,” Ward said. “If they need you to take reps and you already know you’re not active that week, you still take every single practice like you’re going to play. Stay ready, stay positive. Just prepare mentally and physically.

Ward, a quarterback at Houston, first joined the Eagles in 2017 and spent the season on the practice squad. He was in camp again in 2018, then spent this past winter with the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, catching 22 passes for 214 yards in eight games. When the AAF folded, he rejoined the Eagles.

During training camp and the preseason, Ward showed excellence in running routes, getting open and catching the football. He caught six passes for 87 yards and a 38-yard touchdown from Clayton Thorson in the preseason.

It’s very exciting,” he said of the possibility. “It’s something me and my family have talked about ever since I got into the league. Whenever God is ready for me to play, that’s when I’ll play. Right now I’m doing whatever I can to help the team and just stay ready.

Ward, 24, has never played in an NFL game and hasn’t yet been on a 53-man roster.

It’s going to happen. Just a matter of when.

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