Cornerback Avonte Maddox was on the field Sunday morning at the NovaCare Complex going through his pre-practice stretches when he received the news from defensive backs coach Cory Undlin. Maddox was going to line up with the first-team defense as the slot cornerback.
"I've got to be able to compete so I can be here to make sure those guys can trust me out there on the field," Maddox said. "When you're out there with those guys, they give you a lot of confidence."
The rookie fourth-round pick got a taste of what it was like to work with the starters on Saturday, as he rotated in with De'Vante Bausby. Sidney Jones, who has received the majority of first-team reps in the slot through Training Camp, was limited Saturday with the ankle injury he incurred in the preseason opener against the Steelers. Jones was a full participant on Sunday, but he took all of his reps with the second-team unit.
"Like a lot of rookies he has ups and downs, but I think if you look at his trend line he's trending up, which is a good sign," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of Maddox. "There's always going to be things that those guys struggle with over the course of camp. He's very competitive. He's been playing inside and outside. That's potentially something he might have to do. Maybe not, we'll see. But he's also done a really good job – I don't want to speak for (special teams coordinator Dave) Fipp – but he's done a really good job on special teams. We like where he's been so far."
At 5-9, 184 pounds, Maddox didn't play inside at Pitt where he had eight career interceptions. He also led all ACC defensive backs with four sacks and that was evident in Sunday's practice as he was disruptive in the team blitz drill.
The two pivotal battles in Training Camp on the defensive side of the ball have been at weakside linebacker position - Kamu Grugier-Hill got the first-team reps Sunday - and nickel cornerback. Patrick Robinson was one of the league's best slot cornerbacks for the Eagles last season and parlayed that into a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints. Maddox embraced the challenge of competing for the role but has maintained trying to improve on one thing each day.
That one thing on Sunday was the width of his stance at the line of scrimmage. By cleaning up his footwork, Maddox said that he can keep his hands on receivers longer in press coverage while still maintaining his leverage.
Maddox praised his teammates and Undlin for all the wisdom they've shared since he first arrived in the spring. He joked that you couldn't help but listen to Undlin when he's been coaching longer than he's been playing.
"When you go out there and apply it to the field and it starts working, you want to work on it every day and make sure you get that thing better," he said.
The 22-year-old has every intention of winning playing time as a rookie whether it's on defense or special teams. He was a gunner in punt coverage at Pitt up until last season.
"Special teams is a game-changer," Maddox said. "If I can play gunner, I'll definitely go out there and play gunner. Coach Fipp has a lot of energy, brings a lot of energy to the field. He's out there running with us so it's definitely a fun time out there on special teams, a lot of work, but it pays off."