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CB Mills Gets First Taste Of Game Life

By now the Eagles' position coaches have pored over the game film of Thursday night's 17-9 preseason-opening win over Tampa Bay and have compiled their talking points to the players for Saturday meetings. These are called "teaching points," and there were plenty of them in the opener.

For a rookie like cornerback Jalen Mills, a seventh-round draft pick from LSU, the experience was everything he wanted it to be. He was in the right place at the right time in some coverages, was penalized for pass interference on a third down to keep a Tampa Bay drive alive, bailed too deep and took a poor angle on a 30-yard completion to wide receiver Russell Shepard, had a miss on a block in a punt return situation, and generally learning in his first NFL game experience.

"It was fun out there. I really enjoyed it," said Mills, who has thrust his way into the conversation for playing time at cornerback with a productive spring and a strong Training Camp. "I had that one play on third down where my hands got kind of high, sloppy. That's not really characteristic of me. I went to the sidelines and coach (Cory Undlin) said, 'Man, you covered that guy, you've just go to fix your hands. Clean it up.' That's a very easy fix."

Nights like Thursday are perfect for players like Mills. He was a higher-round talent knocked to the seventh round of the draft in May for an off-the-field issue, so he's certainly not guaranteed anything as far as a roster spot here. But Mills has made enough progress in the spring practices and in camp to serve notice that he has a chance to be a productive player in this league and to potentially contribute as a rookie here.

With that, though, he knows there is a lot of room to grow and improve.

"Every day is a learning lesson for me," he said. "The tempo is always high and there's just not any margin for error. You have to be on point. Every day, every play. I take it all in, me being a rookie. I'm willing to learn, and I'm willing to learn from my mistakes. I know I can't mess up in games, but I also know that it is the preseason and that's what these games are for. 

"I have to eliminate my errors, no doubt. When you make a mistake, you know what you've done wrong and you have to get it right."

For every rookie, no matter how they feel going in, the challenge is to keep emotions in check in that first game exposure. Mills admits that he burned some energy being "excited for a couple of my teammates making big plays early," and that he will be better prepared in Pittsburgh on Thursday. 

"I had a lot of fun out there," Mills said. "I caught myself a little bit too high out there. Not butterflies, but excitement. This is where you want to be, and I'm going to take advantage of the situation."

Mills played 23 snaps on defense and had another 16 on special teams. He and the rookie class had their first taste of an NFL gameday and all that goes with it - the hotel time, the pre-game meetings, the on-field warmup and waiting for your number to be called.

It's too early to know for sure how it's going to shake out at cornerback. Leodis McKelvin gave up a couple of completions, including a touchdown pass on which he appeared to be in position to make a play and didn't. However, McKelvin has been the best of the cornerbacks since the spring. Nolan Carroll has come of late after recovering from his 2015 ankle injury. Ron Brooks had a solid stop on a third down on Thursday and is in the starting mix. Second-year man Eric Rowe has talent and is learning the new scheme. Then there is a host of young cornerbacks, including Mills, vying to emerge.

"That's the thing about the NFL. The competition level is always there. There are no breaks," Mills said. "No matter what happens on a play, good or bad, or what kind of day you are having, you have to focus on your next opportunity. You always have to be ready to go."

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