PHILADELPHIA - Jim Schwartz can turn a phrase and one of the go-to's for the Eagles defensive coordinator involves gold stars.
And let's just say Schwartz is not fond of giving many out.
Alex Singleton took on the brunt of Schwartz's high-expectations on Tuesday after a stellar performance in Cleveland where the former CFL star cemented his case for the mythical throne of Eagles' best linebacker with 11 tackles, one of them for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery against a Browns offense that features two top-tier running backs and perhaps the best offensive line in football.
Schwartz, however, used the time-tested compliment sandwich to express that there is plenty of room to grow for Singleton, originally an undrafted rookie by Seattle out of Montana State back in 2015.
The compliment-sandwich feedback idea is to start with a bit of praise, then get to the criticism, before finishing with an accolade or two.
"He's always been a good football player," Schwartz said of Singleton. "He's still learning. I'm going to quote Bill Parcells, ‘let's not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet.’ And I say that with a lot of respect for Alex. He plays tough and really brings some things to our defense."
It's fair to say that Singleton doesn't belong in conversations with the best linebackers in the NFL like the Seahawks' Bobby Wagner, who the Eagles will see on Monday night, or players like Tampa Bay's Lavonte David and Minnesota's Eric Kendricks but he has settled in as the Eagles most productive option on the second level since his playing time picked up due to injuries, first to T.J. Edwards then Nate Gerry.
Over the past two games, Singleton has been on the field for 100 percent of the defensive snaps, piling up 23 total tackles over that span.
For those breaking down the film, Singelton has been graded by ProFootballFocus.com as No. 33 of the 86 options who've played enough to be ranked, not bad for a guy who was often pigeonholed as a four-core special-teamer for Dave Fipp, something, by the way, Singleton has continued to do despite being a full-time starter on defense.
"He's done a great job for us," said Fipp on Tuesday. "He's been a four-core player for us this year. He did the same last year for us when he's been up. I know his role on defense has changed a little bit. Those guys' roles have fluctuated throughout the year and in the beginning of the year he wasn't playing as much, Nate Gerry was playing more. Obviously, there's been some injury at that position.
"I think there's been some adjustment in some of those guys’ roles at that position, also. But no, we're happy with his performance for us, certainly, and we're going to try to use him as much as we can."
Of the other Philadelphia LBs, who've played enough to be graded by PFF Singleton is ahead of original starters T.J. Edwards (No. 33), Duke Riley (No. 48), and Gerry (No. 68). In run support, Singleton is graded better than everyone but Edwards, who is a bit skewed by a monster performance against Dallas, and in both pass coverage and as a pass rusher Singleton has been the best Philadelphia LB.
He's run with his opportunity.
"We’ve always held Alex in high regard," linebackers coach Ken Flajole said earlier this month. "Sometimes it’s hard to ascend through the depth (chart) early because we’ve had some veteran guys who have been with us before. But the thing I like about Alex is he comes in - and he’s a little bit like an old-school linebacker - in the fact that he really gravitates to the physical part of the game.
"He’s been very active and very productive for us in the run game. So I like his touch of physicality that he brings us. And, again, he’s played a lot. Even though a lot of the snaps have been up in the CFL, he’s played a lot of competitive snaps of football, and it shows. ... he’s one of those guys that can play with that high-speed Internet, and he’s able to unwind some problems before they occur."
Schwartz wouldn't commit to Singleton staying in his current role when Gerry returns but the veteran DC is also loathe to offer up anything related to strategy and could just be keeping the matter close to his vest.
"There's still things that he's developing through and he's still working at," said Schwartz. "But just knowing him and his character, he's going to work at it to get it right. There were a couple plays left on the field (against Cleveland) and this goes to all great players, and probably any player in the NFL, they don't really think about their success. They think about the plays that they gave up on the field, the plays that they had a chance to make, but maybe took a wrong step or looked at the wrong thing and that's the only way you get better.
"That's the only way you keep improving. You have to be critical of yourself and you have to look at the things that you need to clean up and not just sort of get drunk on your success so to speak."
A player with 15 different NFL transactions on his resume before you even bring Canada into the equation, Singleton is not the type to rest on any laurels.
"I really like Alex's mentality that way," said Schwartz. "Makes mistakes like a lot of young players do or players that are playing for the first time. Gets them corrected and moves on. I think that he's definitely earning his wings, so to speak, but he's still a work in progress and he's still a guy that needs to grind through and iron some things out.
"But I like where he's trending, and I think it's a nice plus for our defense right now."
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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