It was the middle of the season, and the Eagles were desperate for cornerbacks.
Season-ending injuries had claimed starters Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones was hobbling around with a hamstring injury and Rasul Douglas was playing but dealing with a sore knee.
The Eagles tried to get something out of Dexter McDougle, but he was a disaster. They signed De’Vante Bausby and Chandon Sullivan off the practice squad, but they weren’t ready. Avonte Maddox was filling a desperate need at safety.
They couldn’t find anybody to cover a wide receiver, and the season was slipping away.
Then vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas found defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and said he might have a guy who could help.
His name was Cre’Von LeBlanc.
Joe Douglas came to me and said, ‘Hey, look, there’s this guy who just became available and our scouts have some good feel for him.’ Guys like Howie (Roseman) and Joe, they’re sort of up front, but some of those guys who work in those back rooms without a light and without a window, they’re poring over all these guys who get cut, but that might have been the key to our season. I never heard of Cre’Von LeBlanc before and they said they were thinking about claiming this guy … that was our scouting staff, particularly some of those pro scouts that aren’t guys that are up on podiums a lot of times. We owe a lot of our season to that.
The Eagles signed LeBlanc on Nov. 5, two days after he was released by the Lions — the third team to release him.
The move didn’t make much of a ripple. The Eagles had been signing and releasing corners nobody heard of for a while.
But this one stuck.
LeBlanc signed just before the first Dallas game but didn’t play on defense. The next week he was on the field playing nickel in the New Orleans disaster.
Since then? He’s taken ownership of a nickel corner spot that Schwartz had been trying to fill for weeks.
On Sunday, LeBlanc played his best game as a pro. He was largely responsible for shutting down Tarik Cohen in the Eagles’ 16-15 wild-card win over the Bears at Soldier Field.
The Eagles are now 6-1 since LeBlanc started playing more regularly, with a rematch against the Saints coming Sunday in New Orleans.
“I don’t know where we’d be without Cre,” Schwartz said Tuesday.
LeBlanc first made it onto the scouting department’s radar with a very good preseason in the summer of 2016 with the Patriots, and he impressed the Eagles in their 31-3 win over the Bears last year, when LeBlanc played 49 snaps.
LeBlanc made a big play in that game with the Eagles up 24-3 in the fourth quarter, chasing Jay Ajayi down the field and forced a fumble at the 5-yard line after a 30-yard run. Nelson Agholor recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
It doesn’t take long being around that guy to know that he’s competitive and he’s tough,” Schwartz said. “He needed to get up to speed quickly, but he was up for it. Plus, he played some outside corner, too. I don’t know if we win that Giants game if he can’t step in and play outside corner, which was a position that he had hardly ever played. And he had not practiced for us. But competitiveness and toughness go a long way and he brings both of those.
There are a lot of reasons the Eagles’ secondary has made a complete reversal after its midseason struggles.
A lot of reasons the Eagles are 6-1 after a 4-6 start.
This 24-year-old who’s been released by the Patriots, Lions and Bears is one of the biggest.
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