Each day, Ronald Darby sees progress. The goal is to come all the way back from an anterior cruciate ligament that ended his 2018 season in November, and Darby understands that there are no shortcuts. He has hit "all my marks," in his recovery, and there are many "marks" still to come.
Darby on Tuesday signed his one-year contract with the Eagles for 2019 after agreeing to terms on Friday and spoke with optimism and energy looking ahead to the season.
"I feel great," he said. "I love my teammates and my coaches, I'm where I want to be in my recovery and I'm continuing to work hard with the training staff. For me, it was just the right thing to come back to the Eagles. I love it here."
And the Eagles love having Darby back as he prepares for his third season in Philadelphia. They wanted him to return with the belief that his recovery is on track and that he'll be on the field and playing with the speed and aggressiveness that makes him the team's top cornerbacks and one of the very best in the free-agent market, the injury notwithstanding. Darby's game is built on speed, and for him to get all the way back, he's going to have to demonstrate that he's got the top-end speed that allows him to run with every wide receiver in the game.
"I'm just taking this day to day, putting in all of my hard work and moving on to the next day," Darby said. "It doesn't make any sense to look too far ahead. Just keep working and getting better."
Acquired in a trade with Buffalo prior to the 2017 season, Darby has played well when he's been healthy. But he's had two significant injuries to overcome – a gruesome ankle injury suffered in his first game as an Eagle in a game against Washington to open the '17 campaign that kept him out for half of that season, and this ACL injury that happened last November 11 against Dallas. So, the first key for Darby is to get healthy and stay healthy.
Then he's got to go out and help take the cornerback room to a new level.
"We're going to have a lot of guys fighting and competing and that's a good thing," said Darby, who made a free-agent visit to Kansas City last week before deciding to stay with the Eagles. "We had so many injuries last year but the guys came together and kept fighting. I was so happy for those guys. I was just upset that I couldn't be out there helping them. Obviously, my goal is to change that this season."
It remains to be seen when Darby will be able to get on the field and help the defense, as he still has a ways to go in his rehab. The Eagles value Darby for his competitiveness and a skill set that allows him to turn and run with any receiver in the game. He has been a valuable part of the defense the last two seasons.
"Philly is home for me," Darby said.
One player Darby won't have to tangle with twice a year is Odell Beckham, Jr., traded by the Giants last week to the Cleveland Browns. While the Browns are on the 2019 schedule, Beckham Jr. leaves the NFC East and, trust this, the Eagles won't miss seeing Beckham, who caught 61 passes for 732 yards and six touchdowns in nine games. The Eagles won eight of those games, but Beckham always taxed the defense.
"He made some plays and we made some plays against him," Darby said. "I enjoyed playing against him. He's got all that speed. He's a great player and it's fun to go against the best. He's one of those players who can change the game instantly. Great route runner, makes you be on your A game."
The focus for Darby is on what he's doing, not on the outside world. He's still in the daily grind at the NovaCare Complex rehabbing the injury and he's doing it with a lot of confidence. Each and every day, Darby feels that much healthier.
"It's coming along and I'm glad the way the trainers are working with me and doing a great job," Darby said. "I'm going to get there. I just have to stay patient and keep my head down and work hard. That's all I can do. I'm excited about this season and what we're doing. We've gotten a lot better on defense, I think. I can't wait to line up with the guys."