The game was spiraling out of control early for the Eagles in Arizona, going from 2-0 to 9-0 to 16-0 before the first quarter was over. Nothing was going right, from missed tackles to a blocked punt to a safety.
It could have been over early, but nobody panicked, and it was Jalen Mills keeping things calm on the sideline.
“Things didn’t always go our way, but when we got to the sideline, he did a good job of making sure everybody stayed calm, didn’t panic, and just stayed in the fight,” said safety Marcus Epps. “It was great to have him back there and on the sideline with us from that aspect.”
For some reason, the cornerback turned safety is seen as a liability on the defense by a segment of Eagles fans.
Truth is, the Eagles should make re-signing him a priority. He has shown versatility in switching from corner to safety and back to corner when needed has been just what the Eagles have needed this season, with injuries attacking their secondary game in and game out.
Mills has also shown leadership and is a proven tackler. Yes, he misses some, like the one he whiffed on in Arizona, but no player makes every single tackle.
His leadership has really picked up, first in the offseason, when the Eagles let Malcolm Jenkins walk, then, recently, after safety Rodney McLeod tore an ACL against the Saints and was lost for the season.
“He was working really hard during the game (against Arizona), sort of hand in hand with me to give me my eyes on the field, my ears on the field, ‘Hey, what's going on out there, what can we do to settle these guys down?’” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“J is outstanding on the sideline. I mean, he's intense. He's competitive. He is always positive. I've really been impressed by his demeanor. He was a little bit more sort of fiery as a corner and as a one-on-one game out there, but he's outstanding as a safety when it comes to communication on the sideline when it comes to getting the guys together, putting fires out, communicating with linebackers, communicating with his coaches. I think that's been a big step in his career.”
Mills is on the brink of the first 100-tackle season since being drafted in the seventh round back in 2016 out of LSU. He leads the team with 98, just ahead of linebacker Alex Singleton, who has 94, the same number as McLeod, but Mcleod cannot add any more.
In a season where interceptions have been hard to come by, Mills has one of the team’s five and he now has five of those in his career.
Mills has basically been steady as he goes this season, after some early-season struggles adjusting to safety.
As far as stepping up as a leader, especially in last week’s loss to the Cardinals, Mills said he didn’t feel like he stepped up at all. He just stayed consistent in his approach.
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve always learned, especially from veteran guys from my rookie year to now, is just go out there and play,” said Mills. “If something does happen during a game, during a play, good or bad, once you go to the sideline, you sit down and talk about it.
“You communicate, listen to coach as far as the correction goes, you fix it, then move on, you go back on the field and everyone has a clear mind how either the offense is attacking us and how we can fix it or individually a mistake or something you may have made to make that correction on the run.”
When he hit free agency last year, the Eagles weren’t quick to make him an offer. It was on March 20, when they finally landed him back with a one-year, $4 million deal.
If Schwartz returns for a sixth season, you better believe he will lobby the front office to sign Mills again. And this time, they shouldn’t wait, because other teams may look at him a bit differently given his new-look versatility.
“With him moving from corner to safety, you have to be a pretty good player to be able to play both corner and safety in the NFL, and I think so far, he’s done a good job of converting back there,” said Epps. “He can cover and do all those things but also shown a willingness to go into the box and stick his nose in there and make tackles as well. I think he’s been doing a really good job.”
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