Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles' incumbent corners welcome Ronald Darby, increased competition

Eagles' incumbent corners welcome Ronald Darby, increased competition

"Bring it on!"

That's the message from Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, the two young Eagles cornerbacks who potentially stand to lose the most playing time with the acquisition of Ronald Darby.

Mills is a 2016 seventh-round pick out of LSU, Douglas is a rookie third-round pick from West Virginia.

"Let’s compete, you know?" Mills said. "Regardless of whatever they brought him in for, it’s a great addition to the room. I know him, I know his game from when he was at Florida State. I actually thought he’d be a first-round pick. He’s a great player, I love the move."

Mills and veteran Patrick Robinson have been the de facto starters throughout camp, but Robinson has been inconsistent and isn't even guaranteed a roster spot.

Rookie second-round pick Sidney Jones won't play for most or all of the season because of an Achilles injury.

Darby, a two-year starter with the Bills, was brought here to start, although everything beyond that is unknown.

“Man, it’s just focus on the task at hand," said Mills, whose 662 snaps were second-most among Eagles corners last year. "When I’m out there, make my plays and let those guys decide.

"As far as my approach, it’s not going to change. You can only control what you can control. When I’m out there, when my number is called, make my plays.

“As far as upstairs goes? I’m still trying to learn how that process works, but I know Darby is a great player, a great corner, had a great first two years in Buffalo, so it was a great pickup for us.”

The Eagles have been unsettled at cornerback for nearly a decade. Since the franchise last won a playoff game in 2008, with Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown at corner, they've used an astonishing 20 different starting cornerbacks in eight seasons.

Including Roc Carmichael, E.J. Biggers, Brandon Hughes, Trevard Lindley and, yes, Eric Rowe.

That number will rise this year.

The plan is for Douglas and Jones to eventually be the long-term starters. Darby is only signed through next year.

But the Eagles clearly want to win now, and Darby gives them a dimension of experience none of the other young corners on the roster has.

Douglas, like Mills, said he sees the addition of Darby as nothing but a positive.

“That’s not up to me, whether we need a corner or we don’t," he said. "I’m a player. Everyone’s here to compete and try to play.

"Doesn’t matter if there’s another corner here or 10 more corners come in, football’s all about competition anyway, so you like that. The room gets better. When we’re all competing at a high level, it brings everybody up. It brings out the best out of everybody. Competition is good."

There are now 11 corners on the roster. Darby, Mills, Douglas, Robinson, Jones, former CFL Grey Cup winners Aaron Grymes and Mitchell White, incumbents Ron Brooks and C.J. Smith and camp long-shots Tay Glover-Wright and Jomal Wiltz.

Jones and Douglas are 21, Mills and Darby are 23 and Smith is 24. This is what Howie Roseman has been looking for at corner. Young talent instead of the same old tired retreads.

"We're all young, we're all learning, we're all competing," Douglas said. "We’re going to get better. … You have no choice but to get better. That’s what I like. I see it in myself that I’m getting better. Things I didn’t catch on in OTAs, I’m seeing it now. We’re going to get better, definitely.

“I don’t worry about playing time. I just try to get better every day. When my number is called, I’ll be ready.”

Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins has been here three years and has already played alongside nine starting cornerbacks, not including guys who’ve gotten first-team reps this year.

He said he likes the current philosophy of going young at corner and finally trying to build a secondary that can grow together.

"The biggest thing is just finding guys who can get as much experience as they can and get evaluated that we feel comfortable with that can go compete and don’t have to worry about somebody taking their jobs," Jenkins said.

"That’s the point of training camp. Get that evaluations, get those reps, and you just added that much more competition with this acquisition.

“Just from a feel standpoint, it’ll be good for us to kind of know who that starting four or five is and we can kind of work together making sure we see the game the same way, getting used to who you’re tandem with a lot.

"I think it’s important from a secondary jelling standpoint. That part is down the road. We’ll get there."

Ronald Darby has potential to change how frequent Eagles blitz

Ronald Darby has potential to change how frequent Eagles blitz

The Eagles blitzed early and often during their second exhibition game against the Bills last week, and unlike much of what we see in preseason, it actually could be a sign of what’s to come.

No NFL defense used a standard four-man pass rush with greater frequency than the Eagles in 2016 at 79.3 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders Almanac. (Conversely, the team that rushed four the fewest was the Jets at 49.2 percent.) This has long been the philosophy of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who prefers to generate pressure from the front four without drawing on help from linebackers and defensive backs.

Schwartz also may have been more hesitant to blitz than usual last season out of fear a weak secondary would not be able to hold up in coverage. Now that the Eagles acquired cornerback Ronald Darby in a trade, the defense may have the freedom to send additional pressure.

“A lot of times, your blitz really depends on how well your corners are going,” Schwartz said Monday after practice (see 10 observations). “The more help you're getting in the corners, obviously, the less guys that you can use to blitz, so they certainly both go hand in hand.”

The Bills game almost certainly does not represent a fundamental shift in Schwartz’s strategy. The Eagles are not expected to go from blitzing the least in the league to sending extra rushers on every other play.

It’s only preseason — a time when coaches are evaluating everything.

“We didn't scheme up, we used more of our scheme,” Schwartz said. “Everything that we ran in that game, we had run 50 times in training camp. It was all sort of base stuff, but there were some different things we were looking at.”

So nothing to see here, right? Maybe, but if nothing else, this goes to show Schwartz is working from a larger playbook than it might have seemed in '16, when the Eagles rigidly sent four rushers down after down.

Having a potential shutdown cornerback in Darby, or at least a competent tandem along with Jalen Mills, could provide the Eagles' defense with the flexibility it sorely lacked last season. It may merely be a matter of getting Darby up to speed in the system, considering his arrival was less than two weeks ago.

“He's pretty close,” Schwartz said. “There are some situations that don't come up very often where he's still maybe a step slow when a safety makes a call, but everything is installed.

“He has it. It's just a matter of repping it enough times that he feels comfortable with it, and we're still a work in progress there.”

Darby impressed in his Eagles debut last Thursday, recording one interception and letting another go through his fingertips (see story). However, the third-year defensive back is coming off of a down season in Buffalo, so it’s not necessarily a given he’ll continue producing at a high level.

In order for Schwartz to feel comfortable with getting creative, Darby must continue to demonstrate not only his individual ability, but that he’s also able to work in concert with the rest of the secondary.

“There is something with a corner and safety communication,” Schwartz said. “The safety is making calls, there’s a lot of moving parts — motion can change a technique the corner makes, and anticipating that motion, and sort of being one step ahead — so it certainly would help a corner to have that.”

Since his arrival, Darby has already changed the complexion of the defense, putting another playmaker in the secondary. The Eagles are making some tweaks to his technique — he’s working with legendary safety Brian Dawkins, and catching balls from the JUGS machine in the hopes of converting more pass breakups into picks.

And if Darby turns out to be everything the Eagles hope, he may even allow the Eagles' defense to get after the quarterback a bit more.

Eagles trade Matt Tobin to Seahawks

Eagles trade Matt Tobin to Seahawks

The Eagles have traded another backup offensive lineman.

This time, Howie Roseman sent veteran guard/tackle Matt Tobin and a 2018 seventh-round pick to Seattle in exchange for the Seahawks' 2018 fifth-round pick.

The move saves the Eagles $850,000 in cap room. The Eagles had $12.2 million coming into Monday, according to NFLPA records.

Tobin, 27, joined the Eagles in 2013 and played in 42 games, with 21 starts, over the last four seasons. In 2015, he started 13 games at right guard.

The move to trade Tobin comes just a little less than a month after the Eagles dealt Allen Barbre to Denver for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2019. (They were planning on releasing Barbre before the Broncos called.) Both Tobin and Barbre were versatile backups who could play guard and tackle for the Eagles.

Last summer, the Eagles traded another backup offensive lineman, Dennis Kelly, to Tennessee for Dorial Green-Beckham, who didn't even make it to training camp with the Eagles this year.

Because Jason Peters missed the second preseason game last Thursday for personal reasons, Lane Johnson started at left tackle. And because Halapoulivaati Vaitai missed the game with a knee injury, Tobin actually started at right tackle. Perhaps Seattle saw enough in that game to think he can help them this season.

Meanwhile, the two trades in the last month probably speak to the Eagles' confidence in their depth along the offensive line. They still have Stefen Wisniewski, Chance Warmack and Dallas Thomas as their top backups inside and Vaitai and Dillon Gordon as their top backups at tackle.