Eagles pass D will be challenged early and late, but who will be up to the test?
Right out of the chute, the Eagles pass defense figures to get tested, with September games against the likes of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Exactly who will be taking those exams is still very much to be determined. The Eagles’ secondary at the moment is like one big jigsaw puzzle, particularly muddled on the corners.
Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are assumed the starters, except who knows if they will be ready to play as they continue to recover from injuries suffered midway through last season that sidelined them both. Darby told reporters he will be ready to go, but, again, that’s not a definite.
VIDEO: Cory Undlin talks about Sidney Jones
If anything, the Eagles will likely take it slow with both Darby and Mills once training camp begins on July 25.
“I would say we’ll determine (the starters) when we get to the end of training camp and we get ready to play the first game,” said defensive backs coach Cory Undlin. “We’ll base it on who’s ready, who’s healthy, and then we’ll go from there.
“Obviously, a different situation with those guys not being able to practice (n OTAs and minicamp) but those two guys, they’re in every single meeting. They haven’t missed anything all spring. I call on them, and expect them to be in the meetings just like they were playing. And they’ve done that. It’s been great; both outstanding.”
The good news is the Eagles have options, options with experience gained last year when neither Darby nor Mills played past the midpoint of the season.
Rasul Douglas stepped into the void nicely and led the team in tackles in four of the last five games, including a 13-tackle monster game against the Rams in Week 15. He also intercepted two of his three passes for the season in two of the final four games.
“Rasul has played a lot of ball for us here in the two years that he’s been here,” said Undlin. “The more you play, the experience is obviously invaluable for him, and he’s had a good spring. I would say, I’m probably more impressed with him this spring, with his demeanor and his presence in the meeting room. He’s grown up a lot in the two years - going into the third year - that he’s been here. So I’m really impressed with where he’s at from that standpoint.”
Also flashing were Cre’Von LeBlanc, who started the five final regular season games then both playoff games. He intercepted Drew Brees in the Divisional round at New Orleans and, like Douglas, proved to be a sure-handed tackler.
Then there’s Avonte Maddox, who may be the best of the group, and Sidney Jones, who has a lot to prove after being mostly injured in his first two years in the league.
“Here is what I would say about Sid, and he know this, and this is not sarcasm at all; he’s been out there for every (spring) practice, which is big,” said Undlin. “The fact that he has gotten through the 10 practices and he’s still out there, without saying anything else, has been the biggest positive. He’s grinding. He’s working hard.
“He’s got a lot of ball production here in the spring, so he’s doing a good job, both inside, outside. Again, impressed where he is as far as maturity. He’s been here for three years, so he should be that way. But he’s getting better, and we’ll keep going.”
There are also some young guys trying to earn a spot, including Jeremiah McKinnon, who seemed to be around the ball during OTAs, and Josh Hawkins, who played 21 snaps in the playoff loss against the Saints, and undrafted rookie free agent Jay Liggins.
“I wouldn’t make any statement on who’s starting until we’re at the end of training camp, and we know who’s going to be out there,” said Undlin. “I’m not going to forecast that. I have no idea.”
While Undlin and Tim Hauck (safeties coach) and Dino Vasso (assistant secondary coach) sort it all out, there is one thing for certain.
If the Eagles can’t stop the pass more effectively than they did in 2018, their playoff lives would be seriously jeopardized, especially with rugged row of quarterbacks early that will be followed by back-to-back November weeks facing New England’s Tom Brady and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.