The march toward the 2019 season is on as the players report Wednesday to the NovaCare Complex for the start of Training Camp. We're looking at the biggest storylines and today it's all about a position group that will surely be in the spotlight – cornerback.
Dave Spadaro: Ahhhh, this is a big question. Cornerback is one of the most fascinating positions to watch in this Training Camp because the Eagles have so many balls in the air in this room. They've got a lot of talent at the position, and they've got a lot of unknowns.
Most of the unknowns have to do with injuries. Both Ronald Darby (knee) and Jalen Mills (foot) are coming back from season-ending injuries and so the first obvious question is how quickly can they rebound and how much can the Eagles count on them at the start of the regular season. We'll get a good feel for both players throughout camp, if not in however many preseason games they're going to play.
I'll take the optimistic view (naturally) and believe that both players return healthy and can play at their top levels. If that's the case, then cornerback is going to be as competitive in this camp as any position could possibly be. The Eagles want to see Avonte Maddox in his second season. They were excited by what they saw from third-year man Sidney Jones in the spring. Third-year corner Rasul Douglas made some very positive strides last season and expects to continue that in 2019. Cre' Von LeBlanc was a real find at the nickel position last season and he's going to compete for more playing time again this summer.
The Eagles have invested a lot at cornerback. They've developed their young talent nicely. They've been able to take a player like LeBlanc and integrate him into the defense on the fly, a credit to both LeBlanc and the coaching staff. Teams in the NFL can't have enough cornerbacks, and the Eagles, in a perfect world, have a great situation.
But they do have questions, starting with the injuries. And then there is Jones, who had his second season muddied by injury. They know now that teams have a book on Maddox, so he's got some adjusting to do. The pieces are promising, the position is well stocked, and now the Eagles hope that everything falls into place at one of the game's most critical positions.
Chris McPherson: I recall Training Camp last year when Darby and Mills both looked like they were headed for monster seasons. Darby was comfortable in the defense, remember he joined the team in Training Camp 2017 after being traded from Buffalo then suffered the fractured ankle in the season opener that cost him half the year. His outstanding athleticism was showing up time after time again in coverage. Mills, meanwhile, was a shadow, utilizing his awareness and route recognition to clamp down on the Eagles' pass catchers.
The big question as the ever-so-optimistic Spadaro pointed out is how quickly can they return to full form. Now, the wild card for me in Training Camp is Maddox, the second-year players who benefited from the injuries in 2018. He pushed Jones for the nickel job in the summer last year. After Rodney McLeod's injury, Maddox was thrust into the starting lineup alongside Malcolm Jenkins for four games. Then the injuries at cornerback forced Maddox to shift to both the nickel and outside spots.
In all, Maddox played in 15 games, starting 11 (including playoffs). He was also a key player on special teams. Maddox had a strong spring playing at cornerback. Man, the competition is going to be outstanding at this position as it has been for the past few seasons.
Fran Duffy: Chris and I had a discussion this past week about what we were most excited to watch at the start of camp, and I gave him the answer I've said each of the past three summers: the secondary.
The Eagles continued to add young pieces to that group year after year through a variety of avenues. The result? A young, hungry, competitive group with plenty of live game reps. Due to injuries in 2018, a lot of these guys had to play, as we saw extended stints from players like Rasul Douglas and Cre'Von Leblanc and cameos late in the year from players like Josh Hawkins. As we enter the summer, the injuries come into focus. Where are Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby in their rehab from 2018? Can Sidney Jones continue to stay healthy, as he did this spring? And where does Avonte Maddox fit?
This is a really, really fun group that I love to watch under the tutelage of Cory Undlin, and I'm excited for things to get going this week!