Ronald Darby's wild journey to the Super Bowl

Ronald Darby's wild journey to the Super Bowl

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Ronald Darby took a second to soak it in. 

As the 24-year-old corner prepares to start for the Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday, just thinking about all it took for him to get to this point is unavoidable. It's been a wild few months. 

Darby began training camp in Buffalo with the Bills before the Eagles packaged Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to get him to Philadelphia. He immediately became a starter for the Eagles, then dislocated his ankle in the first half of the season opener in Washington. 

Eventually, he came back and will now start in the Super Bowl. 

"It's a blessing," said Darby, who had 34 tackles and three interceptions in his first season with the Eagles. "It is crazy, everything that happened this year. At the end of the day, I'm happy to be here." 

Like most football players, Darby has always dreamed of playing in the Super Bowl. He already won a national championship with Florida State in 2013, so he wants to reach the pinnacle of the professional ranks now too. 

How does he think winning the Super Bowl would compare? 

"Super Bowl will probably be more of a better feeling," he said. "I feel as though that's a lot harder than college. There's guys that have been playing in this league forever and haven't even been to the playoffs. So it'll be a blessing because you don't ever know when you'll make it back to the Super Bowl. You gotta take full advantage of this opportunity."

The Eagles traded for Darby on Aug. 11 and at the time, Darby now admits, he didn't know much about his new team. After all, he spent his first two years in the NFL in the AFC East. Different division, different conference. 

It didn't take him long to think the Eagles had the makings of a special team. After seeing how hard the team worked, he thought the Eagles were a special team in his second week in Philadelphia. 

"I knew we had all the pieces," he said. 

Darby was certainly one of those pieces. Back then, cornerback was considered the weakest position on the team. Had Rasul Douglas played well from the jump, there seems to be a good chance the Eagles would have never pulled the trigger. As it worked out, though, once Darby went down, the Eagles really discovered how deep they were at corner. 

Darby's injury was gruesome. At the time, it looked like his season was over and Darby now admits just how mad he was at the time. Incredibly, Darby missed just eight games and returned to the field on Nov. 19 in North Texas against the Cowboys.  

Because he missed so much time, Darby knew he wasn't going to return as the same player immediately. He tempered his early expectations. Looking back, the Eagles were lucky Darby's injury came in Week 1, because not only has he been back for the playoffs, but thanks to the extra time, he's also been back to his top form from before the injury. 

"That's a good thing that it happened early on, rather than later," he said. "I'm able to play through the postseason and things like that. It was a blessing."

The Eagles are certainly going to need him on Super Bowl Sunday. They're going to be going up against the greatest quarterback of all time in New England's Tom Brady as they attempt to bring the Birds and the Philly fans their first Lombardi Trophy. 

After all he's been through, Darby can't wait.  

"I know it's going to be crazy," he said. "I know Philly fans are going to show up and it's going to be a crazy atmosphere, almost like it was here during the playoffs." 

Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

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Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

In February, Brandon Graham won a ring. In the six months since he’s gotten in one.

Graham said Monday he’s been doing some sparring as he rehabs from postseason ankle surgery.

Graham, who had a career-high 9½ sacks last year, returned to practice Monday after spending the last three weeks on the Eagles' physically unable to play reserve list (see story).

“Boxing is real good, especially with using my hands,” he said. “I always do that during the offseason. Always focus on my hands, because as a D-lineman that’s our goal, you’ve got to use your hands in everything.

“So while I’ve been hurt I’ve just been trying to work on my coordination and make sure everything stays tight.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Graham will be limited for a while here as he works off the rust.

"There are steps he's got to take along the way,” Schwartz said. “This is an important step getting back on to practice with his teammates. Probably be limited to just some individual stuff and we'll sort of work him along. But it is great to have him back.”

Graham won’t play against the Browns Thursday night and almost certainly won’t play against the Jets in the preseason finale a week later.

All he’s got on his mind is the Falcons on Sept. 6.

“All I can say is when I do start hitting people, I’m going to be so sore, but then you’ve got to work through that soreness like we always do and eventually that starts to become your armor and you build on that,” he said.

“I’m excited. Just excited to be back out there with the boys. It’s been hard standing back because you don’t want to feel behind. I don’t feel like I’m behind but they got a lot more reps than I got, so I’m just trying to catch up.

“Everybody knows when it’s time to go it’s going to be time to go. I’m just excited. We’re all excited because it’s the first step.”

Graham, who had the legendary strip-sack of Tom Brady in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl, said his ankle is fine, it’s just a matter of conditioning at this point.

Week 1?

“I’m not going to make any promises, but I’m working my butt off every day,” he said. “Putting money in the bank every day.”

Graham has missed only one game since opening day of 2012, and that was the meaningless season-ender last year against the Cowboys.

Only four defensive ends — Jerry Hughes, Cameron Jordan, Julius Peppers and Ndamukong Suh — have played more games (96, obviously) over the last five seasons.

“I’m really just focused on Week 1 right now and focus on today and how everything goes,” said Graham, now 30.

“I feel like I can get myself ready for Week 1, for sure, because I’m already doing two-a-days and sometimes two-a-days. It’s on me to make sure I continue to get my shape up and that’s just running and doing drills and pushing and pulling on people.

“I think as I continue to feel better, I’m going to continue to go harder. I’m just excited because now I can start counting down the days. I’ve got 17 days to get right.”

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Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is concerned enough about the NFL's new rule banning tacklers from lowering their head to initiate contact that he held a defensive meeting Monday specifically so his guys could study film of exactly how the league is calling the new rule.

Through two preseason weekends, the Eagles have been cited a league-high five times for personal fouls for lowering the head.

“The instructions we’ve given guys is, try not to lower your head and try to take your head out of it, and I think our guys are trying to do that,” Schwartz said.

“I can confidently say we don’t have any guys that are trying to play outside the bounds. We don’t have any guys that are head hunting, that are being selfish. They’re trying to play within the rules.

“I think you can see Nigel [Bradham’s] play, he’s trying to get his head out. I think even Rodney [McLeod’s] play, he’s trying to get his head across and get it out. The problem is they’re dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets. A little bit easier said than done. 

“And those fouls have hurt us in those first couple preseason games and we’ve got to get to a point where they don’t hurt us in the regular season.”

Cornerback Sidney Jones was called for a lowering-the-head penalty on Steelers receiver Damoun Patterson in the preseason opener, and tight end Richard Rodgers was also cited in the opener for an illegal hit on Justin Thomas on a punt return.

Last Thursday night, McLeod was called for a hit on running back James White, Bradham was cited for a hit on receiver Julian Edelman and safety Jeremy Reaves was penalized for a hit on running back Mike Gillislee.

“It’s going to be very important work over the next couple weeks, not just learning from our own mistakes but learning from other teams,” Schwartz said.

“There’s some other good feedback. We get clips from the league that show not just penalties that were called but penalties that should have been called. So there is a learning process.”

Eagles veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said it’s going to be tough to eliminate these penalties simply because the game moves so fast, and even if your intention is to use perfect form tackling, it doesn’t always end up that way.

“It’s tough because sometimes the runner’s ducking his head just as much as you’re ducking,” he said. “But they just don’t want to see the crown of your head hitting his crown or hitting his facemask.

“Just really try to keep your eyes up. You’re going to get ran over sometimes. Hey, you’re going to get ran over. But some people do like to use the crown of their head and it’s just to protect them because you don’t want to be paralyzed from hitting someone the wrong way. 

"So I try to keep my face up and hit with my facemask and this will force people to start doing stuff like that.”

One challenge Schwartz noted is getting his guys to play hard, fast and aggressive without thinking about how they’re tackling.

“You want to play fast,” he said. “You want to play confidently on the field. But any time there’s something new, there is going to be an adjustment. 

“It’s a difficult thing. We're trying our best to work through it, but it does add a layer of difficulty to what we're trying to do.”

According to penalty stats on NFLgsis, an official league statistical web site, there have been 48 lowering-the-head penalties called in 32 preseason games or 1½ per game.

Eight of the 32 teams haven’t been cited at all. The Eagles and Titans have been called a league-high five times each.

“It’s real sensitive right now, but as professionals, we’re going to adjust,” Graham said.

“They want to make it an emphasis in preseason, and I’m happy it didn’t cost us a real game. We’ve just got to continue to keep our head out of things and I think we’ll make that adjustment."

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