Eagles' rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas ready to fill in for Ronald Darby vs. Chiefs

Eagles' rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas ready to fill in for Ronald Darby vs. Chiefs

Rasul Douglas, standing at his locker Wednesday, was asked how much he's improved since the start of training camp, and he made a sound kind of like, "Pfffshew."

Then he shook his head and said, "No comparison."

Douglas, the Eagles' rookie third-round cornerback from West Virginia, will likely make his NFL debut Sunday when the Eagles face the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

Douglas was inactive for the win over the Redskins, but with Ronald Darby out for at least a month with a dislocated ankle, there's a good chance Douglas will play a significant role this weekend.

"I'm ready," he said. "When I came here, I was all over the place. Wasn’t technique sound. Now I got a lot better. Cory (Undlin, secondary coach) has worked with me, the guys in the room have worked with me, I’ve worked with B-Dawk after practice, worked with a lot of guys after practice, so I’ve just gotten better since I’ve gotten here."

When Darby went down early in the second quarter in Washington, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz moved slot corner Patrick Robinson outside and used a combination of Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham in the slot.

Schwartz wouldn't reveal his plan for Sunday, but he could use that lineup again, or he could leave Robinson in the slot, where he's grown comfortable since moving inside a few weeks ago and use Douglas outside.

Or Robinson and Jalen Mills could start outside and in nickel, Robinson would move inside and Douglas would move outside.

There are a lot of possibilities and most of them involve some sort of role for Douglas.

"He's an improving player," Schwartz said. "He made a lot of strides from the beginning of training camp until the end of training camp. Like a lot of rookie players, it slowed down at some point for him. Early on he was inundated with all the new things and everything else, and then at the end, it was able to go a little bit slower for him. 

"Very competitive. You saw that in the preseason games. He's long, he can get his hands on the football and he's tough. He'll tackle. I thought he had a very good training camp after a slow start."

You could see Douglas get better with each passing week. But his projected role definitely took a hit when the Eagles went out and acquired Darby in the Jordan Matthews trade on Aug. 11.

He said Brian Dawkins, who is in the Eagles' scouting department, had some valuable advice for him.

"Just picking his brain is great," he said. "Pro Bowl guy, one of the best safeties to ever play the game. 

"He told me always understand the 'why.' 'Why does Schwartz call this defense or why are you playing outside leverage and not inside leverage,' stuff like that."

Douglas also has the luxury of a Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring in the meeting room every day in Malcolm Jenkins.

"Malc helped me learn that when the offensive guys are coming out of the huddle, see route concepts or what they might run or who’s coming out to your side and what route does he always run and things like that," he said.

"So when I get into my stance, I have a glimpse of what’s going on or what’s about to happen."

Douglas' career arc has paralleled Mills' in a lot of ways. Mills did play last year in the opener, but only 12 snaps on defense. But he went on to average 43 snaps after that, and by the end of the year, was a pretty solid cornerback.

Mills is now a starter and has been impressed with Douglas's improvement.

“He’s a lot better," he said. "Coming to OTAs, you see him kind of confused, not really sure of himself. Then, in camp, you see him breaking up passes. Even in preseason, he could have had two pick-sixes. You just see him developing and growing. 

"Me, being in that same spot last year, I kind of smile in the background and tell him good job here and there, but he’s grown, for sure. …

"He's 6-2, big aggressive guy, like to make plays on the ball. He did that at West Virginia and he’s doing it here. He’ll be ready if he gets a chance to go out there."

And if he gets beat? Like every young cornerback gets beat at some point?

“Just tell him you’ve got to trust yourself, regardless," Mills said. "Those guys get paid to catch the ball. If they catch the ball, good one. One for the bad guys. 

"But you’ve got to pick yourself up and go play the next play."

Eagles hoping no-risk, high-reward veteran signings can rekindle past success

Eagles hoping no-risk, high-reward veteran signings can rekindle past success

When you’re in salary cap hell, you have to be creative when building a roster.

And one tactic Howie Roseman used when putting together the Eagles team that begins training camp Thursday is signing a handful of no-risk, high-reward guys.

Players trying to revive their careers. Players trying to reclaim past glory. Players running out of chances.

These are no-risk, high-reward guys. They could become contributors, but if it doesn’t work out? The Eagles can release them before the season with modest or no cap ramifications.

When you’re in salary cap hell, you can’t sign all the free agents you want. So you sign the free agents that you can. And you do that by signing players nobody else wants. Guys with no leverage.

One tool Roseman likes to use is the NFL’s minimum-salary benefit, which gives teams some salary cap relief when they sign veteran players to certain deals.

The minimum-salary benefit can be used only for veterans with at least four years of experience who sign one-year minimum-wage deals with combined bonuses equalling $90,000 or less. 

Here’s a look at four of these no-risk, high-reward players the Eagles added this offseason.

Markus Wheaton

The Eagles signed Wheaton to a one-year deal with a $790,000 base salary (sixth-year minimum) with a $45,000 signing bonus, a $45,000 workout bonus but a cap number of $720,000, thanks to the minimum-salary benefit.

If the Eagles release Wheaton before the season, he would count just $90,000 against the cap, the value of his two bonuses.

Wheaton is only 27 and should be in his prime but has done nearly nothing the last two seasons after two very good years.

In 2014 and 2015, he combined for 97 catches for 1,393 yards, seven touchdowns and a 14.4 average. He had seven catches of 40 yards or more during those two years. Pretty good production.

But the last two years, Wheaton had just seven catches for 102 yards and one TD for the Steelers and Bears.

If he’s healthy and can be even half the player he was in 2014 and 2015, he could really help as a fourth receiver.

Matt Jones

The Eagles signed Jones to a two-year, $1.51 million deal that includes base salaries of $705,000 this year and $805,000 next year with no bonus money, which means no dead cap money if he’s released.

Even though Jones’ deal is not subject to the minimum-salary benefit, his base salaries of $705,000 and $805,000 are minimum wage for a third-year veteran in 2018 and a fourth-year vet in 2019.

Jones was one of the NFL’s best running backs the first half of 2016. Through seven games, he had 460 yards and a 4.6 average with three TDs. In a mid-October win over the Eagles at FedEx Field, he ran for 135 yards, the most rushing yards against the Eagles the last two years.

But he hurt his knee and never got his job back, then was released before last season. He resurfaced with the Colts but had only five carries all year.

Jones is only 25 and is a good enough receiver that he caught 19 passes for 304 yards and a TD as a rookie reserve.

With LeGarrette Blount gone, Jay Ajayi on a pitch count because of chronic knee soreness, Corey Clement’s role still undefined and Darren Sproles likely to be limited on offense at 35 years old, Jones will have a chance to work his way into the mix.

And if it doesn’t work out? No cap hit.

Richard Rodgers

The Eagles signed Rodgers to a one-year, $880,000 contract that includes a $790,000 base salary, a $45,000 signing bonus, a $45,000 workout bonus and a $720,000 cap figure, courtesy of the minimum-salary benefit rule.

If the Eagles release him, he’ll count $245,000 in dead money, the amount of guaranteed money in his one-year deal.

As recently as 2015, Rodgers caught 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns, which ranked him 12th among all NFL tight ends in catches and fifth in TDs. But he dropped to 30 catches in 2016 and just 12 last year.

Rodgers is only 26 and should be in his prime, but he’s reached only 30 yards twice in his last 31 games.

With Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Eagles have a potent 1-2 punch, but if Rodgers can regain his form of 2015, it would give Doug Pederson even more options in a ridiculously talented array of skill players.

LaRoy Reynolds

The Eagles signed Reynolds to a one-year, $880,000 contract that includes a $790,000 base salary, a $90,000 roster bonus and a reduced $720,000 cap figure.

Because there’s nothing guaranteed in his contract, the Eagles would not absorb any dead money under the cap if they release him before the season.

Reynolds, now with his fourth team in four years, has played in 68 games with seven starts. He’s only 27 and is considered an above-average special teamer and adequate depth linebacker.

The Eagles have some big question marks at linebacker, with Paul Worrilow (Reynolds’ former teammate) out for the year, Mychal Kendricks now with the Browns, Nigel Bradham suspended for the opener and Jordan Hicks able to finish one of his first three seasons.

Reynolds will have a chance to work into that mix. If not? No harm done.

More on the Eagles

Eagle Eye: When does a contract negotiation become a problem?

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Eagle Eye: When does a contract negotiation become a problem?

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, John Clark and Barrett Brooks are pumped for the start of training camp. Following MLB Commissioner's comments on Mike Trout's marketability, the guys discuss if it's on the player or the league to market an athlete? The Falcons said they will not give Julio Jones a new contract. At what point does a public contract negotiation become a distraction in the locker room?

1:00 - Guys are excited for the start of training camp.
4:45 - Is it on a player or a league to market an athlete?
11:00 - When does a Julio Jones contract situation become a locker room distraction?
18:00 - When money starts dividing a locker room.

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