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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