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Jalen Mills: The Making Of An NFL CB

Posted Nov 14, 2016

Fifty out of 50. Jalen Mills played every defensive snap in Sunday's win over Atlanta, the first time the rookie has done that in his NFL career. He was man on man against the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones, for much of the second half and lived to talk about it. There is no room for delay as the Eagles bring along a cornerback who could be a valuable part of the defense for many years to come ...

Fifty out of 50. Jalen Mills played every defensive snap in Sunday's win over Atlanta, the first time the rookie has done that in his NFL career. He was man on man against the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones, for much of the second half and lived to talk about it. There is no room for delay as the Eagles bring along a cornerback who could be a valuable part of the defense for many years to come.

"I had so much fun out there going against Julio and competing," said Mills after the Eagles' 24-15 win at Lincoln Financial Field. "I understand why he's so great, the way he gets into and out of his breaks, how fast he is, how strong to go get the ball he is. It was a challenge and I accepted it."

Jones was targeted 16 times and had 10 catches for 135 yards. Great numbers, for sure. But Jones didn't destroy the Eagles' defense and he didn't break down Mills, not for a second. It's not in Mills' DNA to back down, one of the characteristics the Eagles like so much about a player they had rated much higher than the seventh round of the NFL Draft in May, where they eventually took him off the board.

In a season of "new" for the Eagles with all of the changes the team made after a plummet in 2015, the defensive backfield wasn't spared. The Eagles, after all, allowed a franchise-record 36 touchdown passes last season and they knew they needed to be more competent and competitive in the Jim Schwartz defense.

Some under-the-radar signings in free agency helped as the Eagles added Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, who both played well for Schwartz in Buffalo during the 2014 campaign. They retained Nolan Carroll, who had his solid 2015 season end on Thanksgiving with an ankle injury. Safety Rodney McLeod was a huge signing in free agency.

In the draft, the Eagles selected Mills with the 233rd overall pick. He's turned out to be a valuable piece and he's improving every week as he impresses with his tenacity, his competitive nature and his dedication to being as good as he can be.

"I thought we had a great player when we picked him, and after being with him in the spring and through Training Camp and into the season, he's exactly what I thought when we evaluated him. He's a good player," defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said. "He's smart, he plays fast and he competes. He can attack the ball when it's in the air and down the field. He's not anywhere near perfect yet, but he gets better every single day."

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Mills is one of six rookies now making a significant contribution to this season, joining quarterback Carson Wentz, offensive linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo, defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao and running back Wendell Smallwood. It's been quite a jump-in-the-water season for Mills, who has played more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps on the outside, in the slot and everywhere in between. Mills has covered the likes of Alshon Jeffery of the Bears, Antonio Brown from the Steelers, Golden Tate at Detroit, DeSean Jackson in Washington and, on Sunday, the best of them all in Jones.

Mills said after the game that he wished he could have two plays back - a deep crossing route that Jones beat him on and then a pass on which Mills was penalized for pass interference, but for the most part, it was another important step forward.

"My confidence has grown a lot especially with everybody trusting me," Mills said. "For coach to trust me with Nolan Carroll going down (concussion late in the second quarter), for him to tell me I was covering Julio, that boosted my confidence by 1,000 percent.

"Every week you have to accept the challenge. It's the best of the best that you're going against."

So the maturation of Jalen Mills continues. He's a battler who is improving with his technique and his instincts. Mills has a short-term memory, a must in this business. He's going to win some, lose some and still keep his head and his focus.

"You see the way he goes out there and battles and that's what you want," head coach Doug Pederson said of Mills. "Tough guy. Extremely competitive. Has those long arms. He's really improved a lot."

As the Eagles clinched the win on Sunday with a McKelvin interception, Mills joined him near the bench area and celebrated. Mills saw Howie Roseman, the man who took Mills in the draft, and the two hugged.

"Great job out there, Jalen," Roseman said. "Way to play hard and fight. Great job."

"I'm just going to keep fighting," Mills said. "Every week it's another great receiver on the other side of the ball. You don't get too high or too low because the next play is coming. But I feel like I'm helping the team win and I'm happy about that."

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