Jalen Mills

Ronald Darby's strong debut should ease some concerns about Eagles' secondary

Ronald Darby's strong debut should ease some concerns about Eagles' secondary

Despite coming up with an interception, Ronald Darby wasn't quite satisfied with his Eagles debut.

"My next one, I'm going to end up in the end zone," Darby said following the Eagles' win over the Bills on Thursday night.

Don't be surprised if he follows through. Darby actually had two opportunities to score a touchdown during the Eagles' second preseason contest. There was the interception the third-year cornerback returned 48 yards before he was finally cut down at Buffalo's 18-yard line.

"It was a double move," Darby said. "I played it well, stayed patient, stayed over top and I made a play on the ball."

Darby had another opportunity at a pick-six earlier, but couldn't hang onto the pass after getting a nice break on the receiver's route.

"They tried to run a speed-out," Darby said. "I was trying to undercut it, react to him first and make sure that's actually what he was running. I got my head back around, got my hand on it, and dropped it."

That was all in the first quarter, by the way. Not a bad start for Darby, who the Eagles acquired less than a week ago in a trade for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round draft pick.

"It's very impressive," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "Very exciting. Encouraging, obviously. He's definitely going to help us there in the back end.

"It's great to see our defense come up with takeaways and put the offense in good situations."

After all the questions about the Eagles' cornerbacks entering training camp, Darby's performance should put a lot of minds at ease.

"I just have to keep on making good impressions," Darby said. "I want to carry it over to the season, keep learning, and make my mistakes early so when it's time to really go, I'm on top of my game."

The transition has not been as easy for Darby as he made it look.

The trade went down exactly one week ago last Friday. Not only did Darby have to come into a locker room and new scheme, but six days later, he was also lining up against his old teammates.

"It was one of the hardest things I've had to do," Darby said. "I was with them since OTAs. Since I was drafted, that was my team.

"It was difficult, but on to new things."

There's also something to be said for going out and showing the team that just traded you away exactly what they are going to be missing.

"It's a great feeling to do good against the team you were just with," Darby said.

Darby seems to be embracing the change in scenery, right down to the vibe at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday. Attendance was relatively strong for an exhibition game, and the loudest cheer of the night was for Darby's 48-yard interception return.

Afterward, Darby called the fans "great," adding that the play, in particular, gave him an adrenaline rush.

"It was a great feeling," Darby said. "Felt like prime time. You get a lot of energy. They build you up."

So what's next for Darby, besides finishing a play for a pick-six? Coming off a whirlwind seven days, a break would probably be nice.

"This whole week has been fast, fast, fast," Darby said. "I need a lot of rest."

The way Darby was zigging and zagging across the field during that interception return, who can blame him?

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."

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 1: Derek Barnett up, Chance Warmack down

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 1: Derek Barnett up, Chance Warmack down

It would be easy to look at the performance of the Eagles' offensive line against the Packers on Thursday and declare the unit’s stock is down. Such a strong assertion wouldn’t be entirely fair or accurate, either.

The Eagles managed to run for just 47 yards on 19 attempts – a 2.5-yard average. Green Bay was able to generate consistent pressure on quarterbacks as well, forcing Carson Wentz to work some magic on his one and only series. It was not pretty.

Fortunately, this is an example where the preseason was likely playing tricks. The Packers were blitzing on just about every play, which is unusual for an exhibition game. It also tends to be a very effective strategy against an offense that wasn’t game-planning for its opponent or running schemes specifically tailored to stop those packages.

The exotic looks Green Bay threw at a vanilla Eagles offense missing right guard Brandon Brooks explains a lot. As much as the O-line appeared to struggle, this was still far from a simulation of what a real game would look like.

With that in mind, there were still plenty of other worthwhile takeaways from the preseason opener.

STOCK UP

Derek Barnett
Green Bay’s backups were no match for the 14th overall draft pick in his NFL debut. Barnett was consistently disruptive throughout the game, registering four tackles and 2.0 sacks. He was effective rushing the passer as well as defending the run. The 21-year-old also demonstrated an ability to beat offensive tackles to the inside or outside. On one such move to the interior, Barnett made the blocker look like he was standing still, then finished with a sack.

Clearly, making the jump from the SEC to a game against NFL reserves won’t be an issue for Barnett. It’s time to see what he can do with some snaps versus starting-caliber talent next week.

Jalen Mills
If you were searching for a reason to be optimistic about the Eagles' secondary, Mills offered a beacon of hope. The second-year cornerback had tight coverage throughout, shutting down a wide receiver screen for no gain, stopping a receiver short of the sticks on third down and breaking up a pass. Mills was early on the breakup and could’ve been called for pass interference, but he was in excellent position. Even though Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not play, Mills’ performance was a bright spot.

And after the Eagles obtained third-year cornerback Ronald Darby from the Bills on Friday, suddenly the secondary doesn’t look too bad.

Mack Hollins
While all the talk has been about Nelson Agholor gunning for Jordan Mattews’ job, I’m not so sure it wasn’t Hollins that made the Eagles comfortable trading their starting slot receiver. Everybody saw the fourth-round draft pick stiff-arm two would-be tacklers to the ground on his 38-yard touchdown gallop. Hollins shook another tackle attempt later in the game to convert a third down, part of his four-catch, 64-yard effort.

In fact, Hollins looked like a more explosive Matthews on Friday. The rookie could be headed for a far bigger role than anybody would’ve imagined in April.

Bryce Treggs
Treggs was beginning to stand out at training camp heading into this game, and it carried over in a competitive setting. The second-year wideout led all players with seven receptions for 91 yards, catching all but one pass that came his way. We knew Treggs had speed, and that was on display when he hauled in a 38-yard bomb. Perhaps more impressive is the growth he’s shown on underneath and intermediate routes, demonstrating more versatility than a year ago.

The wide receiver position is crowded, but Treggs is making a strong case that he belongs in the mix.

Carson Wentz
This might seem too obvious, but watching Wentz stand calmly in a collapsing pocket, elude pressure and make multiple perfect throws on the move on third and fourth downs only instills more confidence in the franchise quarterback. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was wreaking havoc in the Eagles' backfield, but the second-year signal caller kept the chains moving, and eventually hit on the big catch-and-run to Hollins.

Wentz didn’t even have his full complement of weapons on Thursday, going 4 for 4 for 56 yards and a score while Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Darren Sproles all sat out. Imagine what the 24-year-old signal caller could do once everybody is on the field.

STOCK DOWN

Chance Warmack
It looked like Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland still has a long way to go with his offseason reclamation project. Warmack often seemed confused about his assignments on Thursday. To be fair, Green Bay blitzed a ton – unusual for preseason – for which the Eagles did not scheme, and we don’t necessarily know who’s supposed to block who on a given play. Yet, there were plenty of occasions when Warmack didn’t block anybody at all, or flat out lost one-on-one battles.

Warmack started at right guard, where he hasn’t practiced a ton with the Eagles. But he wasn’t much better when he moved back to left guard, against the second-team defense no less.

Donnel Pumphrey
It was difficult to evaluate the touches Pumphrey got in his NFL debut. There was no room to run, no chance to make a move on just about every pass that came his way as he finished with 17 yards from scrimmage on nine total touches.

Pumphrey’s lack of production wasn’t really the problem, either. The fifth-round draft pick fumbled on his first carry of the game – though he was ruled down – and appeared to run his route incorrectly on an interception. He also muffed a punt, but was able to recover. Maybe it was simply a case of rookie jitters, but after missing time in training camp with a hamstring injury, Pumphrey needed to show why he deserves to be in the mix at running back. Didn’t happen.

C.J. Smith
Smith endured a particularly rough series in the second quarter. First, he was beaten on a short slant on 3rd-and-4, the exact same type of play the 24-year-old corner scolded himself for not making in practice last week. Two plays later, Smith bit on a double move, giving up a 20-yard touchdown pass to Packers wide receiver Jeff Janis.

To his credit, Smith exhibited a short memory on the following series and broke up a pass, finishing with one tackle and one deflection. Nonetheless, consistency remains an issue. With the Eagles bringing in Darby the next day, this looks like the end of any conversation about Smith competing for a starting job.