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High Hopes For CB Jalen Mills In Year 2

Posted May 9, 2017

It’s late in the afternoon at the NovaCare Complex and most of the Eagles players are long gone, having finished practice, and their conditioning and meetings, downing a quick lunch and heading out for the day. Cornerback Jalen Mills lingers ...

It’s late in the afternoon at the NovaCare Complex and most of the Eagles players are long gone, having finished practice and their conditioning and meetings, downing a quick lunch and heading out for the day. Cornerback Jalen Mills lingers, though, and he’s engaged in an animated show and tell with defensive backs coach Cory Undlin in the cafeteria.

Mills, in his second season as an Eagle, is telling Undlin what he saw as he studied film of some of the NFL’s top cornerbacks in the first offseason of his professional career. And, oh, how wonderful it was for Mills after the grind of a rookie season during which he had no, zero, zip downtime.

“I feel great, especially coming off a real break for the first time in a long, long time,” Mills said. “I came off my last season at LSU and went right into training for the Combine into OTAs, straight through Training Camp, and then into the season. It was a long, long season.

“So right now, I feel really good. I’ve got a year under my belt. I know the system better. I’m learning more about that every day. I know the strengths and weaknesses that I have and what I need to work on. Man, I feel so much better. I’m ready to get after it.”

Mills figures to be a key player in Jim Schwartz’s defense after playing 65 percent of the snaps with two starts mixed in as a rookie. Mills saw the best of the best in his first NFL season, going against the likes of Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Atlanta’s Julio Jones. He matched up against the speed of Washington’s DeSean Jackson, and saw plenty of the power group from the Giants, including Odell Beckham Jr.

In the NFL, you see, there is not a single “letdown” week. There are no gimmes. Every receiver is a star.

Mills was up to the challenge. He wasn’t great as a rookie, but he was good and he improved each week and, most important, he didn’t back down a lick. Mills showed he had the swagger, the thick skin, and resilience, to play the unforgiving position in the NFL.

“That kid,” Undlin says of Mills, “is such a competitor. He’s always fighting. I love him.”

Want an example of why the Eagles are so high on Mills, a seventh-round draft pick last spring? While he spent the offseason getting bigger, faster, and stronger – Mills said he refined his diet and says he is a “lot trimmer” – and catching his breath and seeing his family, he had the Eagles’ video department send him his team-issued tablet, which he turned in at the end of the season, and he watched every snap he played. Over and over again. Back and forth. Studying. Searching for clues on ways to improve his game.

“I killed it in the film room in the offseason,” Mills said. “I just watched film, literally almost every day, from last year. I watched myself, the things I did good and the things I did bad and things I can get better on. I watched some of the veterans in the league and studied what they did to play at such a high level.

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“I know I got a lot better as the season went along. I played with a lot more confidence. I wasn’t second-guessing myself, playing with a lot more energy. I was being more of myself on the field instead of being timid and being that rookie in the league.”

As Mills and the Eagles go through another week in the Phase Two portion of the offseason workouts, the situation at cornerback has changed dramatically since the 2016 season ended. The Eagles released starter Leodis McKelvin. The other starter, Nolan Carroll, signed with Dallas as an unrestricted free agent.

Suddenly, the Eagles are searching for two players to fill out the first-team defense. And Mills understands that the opportunity is there for him to take a very important step up in his career.

“That’s the plan, you know what I mean? But this is the NFL, and it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of job,” Mills said. “I’m coming in with my head down, my hardhat on, and I’m working every day to get better.

“I do not feel like I’ve arrived. No way. Never. Ever. Not gonna happen.”

And so Mills is off now, salad in hand, headed to his car in the NovaCare Complex parking lot. He still has the green hair, something that is, yes, a staple.

“I know the Philly fans love it. My mom loves it,” Mills says, laughing. “Of course, my girlfriend, she’s the one who dyes it, so I’m stuck with it now. I guess it’s a trademark. It’s fun.”

Fun and games, and a lot of work ahead. Mills has his chance to be a starter and to be a very good one, and he’s not about to change his mindset or his approach. The hard work, he knows, is just beginning.

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