One of the biggest challenges for the Eagles next season, as they try to make the postseason for the first time since 2013, is how they’ll approach the monumental task of handling the potent offenses in their division.
The NFC East boasts some of the most intimidating wide receiving corps in football, and recent history has shown that the Philly secondary has not been up to the task of stopping guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant.
“Since I’ve been here the last three years we’ve asked a lot out of that corner position,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “To play man-to-man, against the NFC East which continues to get better — this year we will try and relieve some of that stress with a few different coverages so that they’re not out on an island the entire game. But there will be a lot of opportunities to go out and play press man-to-man and to win. Right now we are trying to evaluate the guys that we have that can win.”
Jalen Mills, returning for his second season, has had experience covering big-name wideouts like Julio Jones and OBJ. His rookie year was up and down, but he’ll be relied upon heavily in the upcoming season and the Eagles coaching staff is cautiously optimistic.
“I’ll sum his rookie season up: It was a rookie season,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “There was some things that he did well, and he flashed. And there were times when he didn’t play as well as we needed him to.”
Incoming free agent Patrick Robinson is also expected to be a big piece of the secondary in 2017. He and returning Eagle Ron Brooks have been solid in OTAs thus far and have not only stated their cases to start at outside cornerback, they’ve also stepped up in the role of mentor for rookie Rasul Douglas.
At 6-foot-2, Douglas has the intangable speed and size to create a favorable match up against, say, 6-foot-4 Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He just has to show he deserves playing time, as he did in practice Tuesday when he broke up four passes in a row during Eagles team drills.
“It boosts confidence,” Douglas said. “I’m still waiting for my first interception — it is great to get a feel for the ball and route concepts.”
With his impending task of shutting down NFL wide receivers, it is players like Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith Douglas is paying attention to to help him mentally and physically ready himself to be an NFL cornerback.
“Little tricks, they have a lot of tricks they know and you see it when they do it,” Douglas said of going up against Philly’s stacked receiving group. “The other day Torrey Smith ran a great route against me and I had to pull him aside after and he told me about it. It’s important to me just to see how they’re running routes, how they release their routes, it is good for me to know. When you see it in a game you think ‘OK I’ve seen that. I know what it is.'”
Whether it’s via scheme, talent or sheer good luck, something needs to change for the Eagles’ dreary secondary as they look to compete in the NFC East in 2017.