Upon further review, Eagles' young DBs can flat-out play

Upon further review, Eagles' young DBs can flat-out play

Cre’Von LeBlanc is 24 years old, undrafted, released by three teams before the Eagles snapped him up on the waiver wire.

Tre Sullivan is 24 years old, an undrafted rookie and began the year on the practice squad.

Avonte Maddox is 22, a rookie fourth-round pick, missed a month of the season with injuries.

Rasul Douglas is 23, began the season buried behind Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones in the Eagles’ cornerback hierarchy.

This unlikely collection of no-name defensive backs that nobody else wanted — “The Legion of Whom,” as Twitter has taken to calling them — is one of the biggest reasons the Eagles are still playing football.

It took a while. The Eagles signed and released defensive backs all year before figuring this thing out.

But they return to New Orleans with a secondary that bears little resemblance to the one that began the season.

They’re really good, and Malcolm Jenkins knows it.

We have so many young guys who are contributing, and all of them have really been forced to elevate their games. They’ve been in the fire and they’ve been learning. … I think it’s a credit to those individuals and the time they put into it, how much it means to them. I’ve seen young guys come into the league and not really understand the magnitude of having to be consistent every single week, to detail your preparation every single week, to take care of your body every single week and find something to get better at every single week. That endurance is usually kind of short with young guys, but they’ve done a great job of really I think finding their role, improving and not trying to do too much but steadily (gone from) one of the areas that everybody kind of identified as the Achilles heel and have been playing well and it just elevated our entire team, our entire defense.

Those four defensive backs, Sullivan, LeBlanc, Douglas and Maddox, played a combined 228 of 256 snaps Sunday in the win over the Bears. Douglas and Maddox never left the field.

To watch their progress has been remarkable.

“Over the course of this entire season we’ve had a lot of young guys contribute, especially on the back end, and they’ve been thrown into the fire,” Jenkins said.

“Whether it was a good game or a bad game they’ve learned over time and gotten a ton of experience and I think grown substantially each week. We’ve seen that — and I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to excel as a team, especially on defense — these young guys getting that experience.”

The Eagles won a Super Bowl last year with Mills, Darby and Patrick Robinson playing virtually all the cornerback snaps.

Now they’re in the conference semifinals with an entirely different group of corners.

Without someone like Sullivan coming into his own, Jim Schwartz wouldn’t have been able to play six-DBs on nearly two-thirds of the Eagles’ defensive snaps Sunday in Chicago.

Without that flexibility, the Eagles probably aren’t still playing football.

Secondary coaches Cory Undlin and Tim Hauck deserve a ton of credit for coaching these young guys up and keeping them engaged and confident when the season looked lost.

They all survived 48-7 the first time around in New Orleans and instead of crying or pouting or giving up, they just rolled up their sleeves and worked harder.

And look where they are now.

We’re a prideful group, which is one of the reasons we’ve been able to even keep it together,” Jenkins said. “Because you’ve got guys that actually care about what we’re doing, that care about each other, that care about what they put out on the field and take pride in their preparation and pride in the way that they’re going to compete … and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to turn it around. It’s something we’re very proud to be a part of. It wasn’t what we planned, but we’re right where we wanted to be.

There’s an important lesson here for all of us. It’s not all about what you see at the beginning of the season or the middle of the season.

Things change. Players grow. Teams evolve.

It’s all about how you deal with adversity, and it’s hard to imagine this group of young defensive backs dealing with it any better.

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What the Josh McCown signing means for Nate Sudfeld

What the Josh McCown signing means for Nate Sudfeld

Let’s be clear about one thing.

Josh McCown has nothing to do with Nate Sudfeld.

The Eagles didn’t sign McCown because they don’t have faith in Sudfeld. They didn’t sign him because they’re concerned with Sudfeld’s ability to be their No. 2. They didn’t sign him in case Sudfeld doesn’t work out.

They signed him simply because Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson believe the Eagles are a better team with McCown on the roster than without him.

If anything, the move is a sign the Eagles are not too pleased with Cody Kessler, who's been uneven in practice and has done nothing in his two brief preseason appearances to inspire confidence.

Kessler has consistently shown a disturbing habit of holding onto the football too long, and that’s what got him hurt Thursday night in Jacksonville, hanging onto the ball and suffering a concussion. It was eye-opening — and out of character — to hear Pederson after the game directly blame Kessler for the injury. That speaks volumes about the Eagles' confidence in the former Browns third-round pick. 

The guess here is that Kessler’s days in Philly are numbered. Has he shown you a reason to keep him? 

Think about where that would leave the Eagles at quarterback.

Sudfeld is out into the regular season with a broken left (non-throwing) wrist, and rookie Clayton Thorson has followed a poor debut with a much more impressive second game. But he’s not ready to be a No. 2. 

There’s still no guarantee he’ll make the 53 (see roster prediction), although if he follows his encouraging performance against the Jaguars with solid outings against the Ravens and Jets, it might be tough to clear him through waivers. But I doubt it.

We knew as soon as Kessler got hurt, the Eagles had to go out and get a quarterback. But it makes sense that they were interested in McCown even before that, since Kessler has struggled since camp opened.

McCown brings nearly two decades of experience playing quarterback in the NFL, and when you have 26-year-old Carson Wentz, 25-year-old Sudfeld and 23-year-old Thorson in your quarterback room, there’s tremendous value in a guy who’s been around since before the Linc was built.

But the Eagles also desperately needed somebody who can be effective as soon as the opener on Sept. 8 — just 21 days away — if he has to play, and McCown fits perfectly. He played as recently as last December and has 37 TDs, 23 interceptions, a 63 percent completion percentage and a respectable 85.9 passer rating over the last four years.

He’s smart, he’s athletic and most importantly he’s at a point in his career and in his life where he’s OK being a temporary No. 2 and a No. 3 for the rest of the year.

It’s not easy finding a guy who’s capable of playing in a meaningful game now but also content to be a No. 3 most of the year. The Eagles found him.

As for Sudfeld, you have to remember this is a guy who the Eagles believed in strongly enough that they went into a stretch run, a playoff run, a Super Bowl, with him as their No. 2. They never even thought about bringing in a veteran then with only Nick Foles and Sudfeld available.

And Suds hasn’t done anything since then to change anybody's minds.

He hasn’t played much in the regular season, but when he has? He’s been sharp — 20 for 25 for 156 yards, a TD, no interceptions and a 106.0 passer rating in parts of two games.

And then he obviously was very good in the preseason opener against the Titans before he got hurt.

There’s a reason the Eagles gave Sudfeld a second-round tender, which pays him just over $3 million this year.

Who would you rather have? Wentz, Sudfeld and Kessler or Wentz, Sudfeld and McCown?


This isn’t about Sudfeld at all.

It’s about being as prepared as possible for whatever happens next.

That’s what Roseman does.

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Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after addition of Josh McCown

Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after addition of Josh McCown

I was ready to drop my latest 53-man roster prediction and then the Eagles signed Josh McCown.

And I don’t think they lured a 40-year-old out of retirement to cut him, so I had to re-work some stuff.

Anyway, here’s my latest 53-man roster projection after two preseason games.

QB (3): Carson Wentz, Josh McCown, Nate Sudfeld

The signing of McCown means the end for Cody Kessler in Philly. It’s a shame for him that he got a concussion so early in Thursday’s game. Perhaps if he played well this preseason, the Eagles don’t sign McCown. But now that they did, Kessler’s gone. And this also changed my view on Clayton Thorson. If I had to guess now, I think the Eagles take a chance and try to sneak the rookie fifth-rounder through to their practice squad. If he plays extremely well in the last two preseason games, maybe they have to keep him on the active roster and roll with four, but I’m not ready to burn that roster spot yet.

TE (3): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins

Richard Rodgers would be the third tight end, but he hasn’t been healthy. Rodgers has a foot injury and the Eagles called him day-to-day back on Aug. 3 and he hasn’t practiced since. We’re getting close to the season and Perkins is younger and having a good camp. I’m giving him the edge right now.

WR (5): Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins

Fans might be over Hollins, but his ability as a special teamer keeps him around. The Eagles aren’t ready to give him up on him. The biggest question for me was to keep five or six. I wanted six, but with injuries on defense, I’m giving that side of the ball an extra player. Sorry, Greg Ward and Marken Michel.

RB (4): Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement

I guess there’s a possibility the Eagles could keep five, but it doesn’t seem worth it to me. That means Wendell Smallwood, Boston Scott and Josh Adams are cuts. Smallwood will latch on somewhere else and either Scott or Adams (maybe both) will be back on the practice squad. As long as Clement is healthy — and he appears to be — I’m going with four here.

OL (9): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Jordan Mailata, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Stefen Wisniewski

I was very close to leaving Wiz off the list and that could still happen. His inability to snap the football has effectively made him a backup at left guard only. So I’m not ready to lock in his spot. For now, I have Matt Pryor off the team after five penalties in two preseason games. I know the Eagles kept him on the roster all of last season, but I think they’d be able to sneak him to the practice squad in Year 2 to keep developing him. It’s sort of what they did with Dillon Gordon a few years ago.

DE (6): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall, Shareef Miller

Miller is a candidate for a *wink, wink* injury, but he’s looked good in the preseason. I’ll admit six DEs is probably one too many, but Hall deserves to make the team and Sweat has looked better in practice than he has in games.

DT (5): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Treyvon Hester, Hassan Ridgeway

Ridgeway has a concussion, so we need to monitor that. But if he’s healthy, he should be on the team. Perhaps the Eagles keep just four defensive tackles, but for now, I’m not cutting at a position of depth. And Hester deserves to make the roster.

LB (5): Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown, Nathan Gerry, L.J. Fort

T.J. Edwards might not make the initial 53, but he will land on the practice squad and should stay ready. I think if he doesn’t make the team, he’ll be one of the last cuts.

CB (6): Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Orlando Scandrick

The Eagles might put LeBlanc on IR, but in order for him to return from IR this season, he needs to be on the initial 53-man roster. Maybe the Eagles play the game with Scandrick where they cut him and bring him back a week later to avoid guaranteeing his salary, but going into Week 1 with four healthy corners scares me too much.

S (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Johnathan Cyprien, Andre Sendejo

Blake Countess is gone and Tre Sullivan hasn’t done enough to make this roster. This is a very veteran group of safeties, but Sendejo has played well and Cyprien has done enough to make the team.

ST (3): Jake Elliott, Rick Lovato, Cameron Johnston

Go ahead and write these guys in permanent marker.

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