In Jalen Mills, Jim Schwartz Trusts
If you’re looking for goals in your personal life, here’s an easy one: Find someone you trust like Jim Schwartz trusts Jalen Mills.
Take the names out of the equation and you have a speed-deficient cornerback moving back to safety, a position he hasn’t played since college, to replace a three-time Pro Bowl selection who might have been the most versatile player in the entire NFL.
After Schwartz’s recent Zoom availability, however, you might think to swap out Malcolm Jenkins for Mills was about as uncomplicated as changing a light bulb.
“With Jalen, we’ve seen things from him that have matched the safety position,” Schwartz explained. “He’s tough. He’ll tackle. He has range. He has instincts. We like his vision at that position.”
The projection, in fact, has a lot to do with Jenkins, who entered the league as a first-round cornerback out of Ohio State before finding his calling on the back end.
“We’ve seen players in the past sort of transition the same way, whether it’s a Malcolm Jenkins … I think we’re seeing it across the league. (Tyronn) Mathieu has done it, made the sort of transition from a corner-nickel to a nickel-safety,” said Schwartz.
Schwartz has had this idea in the back of his mind for months.
If you rewind to Nov. 17 of last season the Eagles were coming off their bye week and facing a difficult part of the schedule with the reigning Super Bowl champions set to invade Lincoln Financial Field.
With the extra time to prepare for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Schwartz took notice of the lack of playmakers on the outside for the Pats. The DC decided to make a bit of a tweak, often taking Mills away from his duties at left cornerback to deal with what Brady depended on in what turned out to be his final season with New England, his running backs and tight ends.
The Eagles struggled offensively and weren’t able to get it done in a 17-10 setback, but Mills excelled in his expanded role.
“I had fun that game,” said Mills during a conference call back in the spring. “I was around the ball almost every play.”
Schwartz made a mental note at the time and when the Eagles weren’t able to work things out contractually with Jenkins this offseason, the defensive coordinator had the replacement in mind and urged Howie Roseman to bring Mills back on a one-year, prove-it deal.
Schwartz emphasized the positionless player narrative that is en vogue across the league and the Eagles GM quickly got on board.
"We feel like Jalen is a positionless player,” said Roseman. “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."
According to Mills, the Eagles were the only team to broach a move with him and the other suitors he had in free agency were planning to keep him at CB.
“As far as the shoes I’m going to have to fill with the name Malcolm Jenkins, of course, it’s going to be a task,” Mills said. “There’s been a standard set there — you could go past Jenk to Brian Dawkins — a tone-setter at that position in the city of Philadelphia. I know for sure it’s going to be a standard I have to rise up to, but I’ll be ready for it.”
Schwartz is trusting that Mills already is.
“We’re really excited about it. Jalen is a good leader for us,” Schwartz opined. “He’s tough, he brings an edge to our defense, and I think you might see that a little more when he’s inside at the safety position as opposed to being all the way out on the perimeter.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportMap Radio. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Get the latest Eagles news by joining the community. Click "Follow" at the top right of EagleMaven page. Mobile users click the notification bell. And please follow @kracze on Twitter.