Eagles Embrace Age of Positionless Player
If you’re wondering who Howie Roseman has penciled in to replace Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles’ general manager left plenty of bread crumbs while discussing the start of talent-acquisition season with the Philadelphia media on Thursday.
Jenkins has been Jim Schwartz’s Swiss Army Knife over the past four seasons moving all over the chessboard in the back seven of the Philadelphia defense depending on game plan, the opposing talent on hand or injury.
The defensive coordinator had Jenkins line up at seven different positions over the years, essentially everything on the second and third lines of defense from his natural strong safety position to middle linebacker in the dime package and even outside cornerback.
The versatility is something relatively new in the NFL as the game has evolved from run first to spread-and-shred offensively.
“When I first came into the league, you had your traditional strong safety, you had your traditional free safety," said Roseman via conference call. "Every team that was running our style of defense, a 43 defense, had three linebackers, you were playing much more base defense than you are now.
"The nickel corner was probably playing 40 percent as opposed to 65 or 70, and tight ends you had more traditional Y tight ends where guys were keeping that guy in and making sure they could block at the point of attack. The game has just changed.”
Changed to the point where the NFL is following the NBA’s lead into the era of the “positionless player,” a term Roseman used to describe Jalen Mills, who recently re-signed with the idea of moving to safety from cornerback where he spent the first four years of his Eagles’ career.
“We feel like Jalen is a positionless player,” Roseman said. “He can really play down in the box, he can cover a tight end, he can cover a slot receiver, he can play out wide, he's got range. He's played the [safety] position before, and when we were scouting him, he played the safety position against Alabama in a huge game for LSU, so we've seen him do that and his versatility.”
Schwartz has always loved Mills’ makeup, a tough-minded player who never waivers after good plays or bad and has handled the tough nature of the Philadelphia fan base which can be unforgiving.
There is an old cliche in sports about replacing legendsyou want to replace the guy who replaced the legend, not the legend himself.
Jenkins didn’t reach the level of Brian Dawkins in Philadelphia but he’s as close as there has even been so maybe putting the responsibility on a player that is no shrinking violet is the prudent decision.
“His mentality is something that we wanted to keep on the defensive side of the ball,” said Roseman.
And the varied skill set is about staying ahead of the curve.
“‘(The game) has gotten a lot faster and we have to be able to adjust some of our evaluations,” Roseman said.
The next step is trying to stay ahead of the curve and that also led Philadelphia to other players who have the ability to line up in different spots whether it's incumbents like Avonte Maddox or the recent signing of Philadelphia native Will Parks, who was a jack of all trades in Denver.
“(You) also try to figure out where the next wave is coming where maybe something is undervalued right now and two or three years from now we’ll be ahead of it because this is a trendsetting league and you want to be out in front of the trends,” said Roseman. “Those are the things that make our jobs interesting and also challenge us.”
John McMullen covers the Eagles for SI.com. You can listen to John every day at 4 ET on ESPN 97.3 in South Jersey and reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen