Leodis McKelvin has one piece of advice for his new Eagles teammates who have not previously played for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz - take care of the deep ball.
"It's always the most important thing," McKelvin said this week during the Eagles' Organized Team Activities. "I always tell them is to take care of the deep ball. ... If we take care of the deep ball, everything will be fine."
Two years ago, McKelvin thrived in Schwartz's scheme as a member of the Buffalo Bills. McKelvin registered a career-high four interceptions. Buffalo led the league in fewest explosive pass plays allowed (20 yards or more) with 36 as well as touchdowns of 20 yards or more with three. Meanwhile, the Eagles were on the opposite end of the spectrum in 2014 with the most explosive pass plays allowed (72) and the second-most touchdowns (12).
McKelvin signed a two-year deal with the Eagles in free agency after spending the last eight seasons as a member of the Buffalo Bills. A first-round pick of the Bills in 2008, McKelvin was peaking just prior to Schwartz's arrival. In 2013, McKelvin ranked as the seventh-best cover corner in the league according to Pro Football Focus. He surrendered receptions on just 42.2 percent of passes thrown in his direction, per Stats Inc., which was the fourth-best mark among players who were targeted at least 50 times. He also had 19 passes defensed, which was tied for fourth in the league, while playing the most snaps of his career.
When Schwartz took the defensive coordinator job in Buffalo in 2014, McKelvin wanted to build on his brilliant 2013 campaign by getting his hands on the ball more. In a win over Minnesota, McKelvin intercepted Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on consecutive defensive plays becoming the first Bills defender to accomplish that feat since 1989. He had 48 tackles and was on pace to set a new career high until he fractured his ankle in a Week 11 contest with the Dolphins.
"The year I had him he was playing at a really high level before he got hurt," Schwartz said. "He broke his ankle against Miami, and really was playing at a high level. He's not the tallest guy around (at 5-10), but he can jump. He can play the ball in the air. Mentally and physically tough. I don't know if you see that just seeing his body shape, but he'll go throw his body around and hit. He was a first-round draft pick. He's played at a high level in this league."
McKelvin didn't make his 2015 debut until Week 9 because of the ankle injury. He posted 32 tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defensed in nine games (five starts). The Bills released him this past March. He wasn't a free agent for long. The connection with Schwartz brought him to Philadelphia four days later.
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"Jim Schwartz basically recommended me, so I have to come in and make sure I have his back," McKelvin said.
McKelvin knows Schwartz's scheme and adds a plethora of experience to a young and developing cornerback group. The team re-signed Nolan Carroll, who was a starter last season but is making his way back from a season-ending ankle injury. Last year, the Eagles drafted Eric Rowe in the second round and he took over as a starter following Carroll's injury. The Eagles also brought in another former Schwartz player from Buffalo in Ron Brooks. After those four, the Eagles have an additional seven corners on the roster with less than three years of NFL experience. McKelvin is looking to get back to that form from 2014 and emerge as a starter for the Eagles.
"As a corner, you got to have that mentality going in," McKelvin said. "You don't think anybody else can compete with you. That's my mindset of me going in trying to win. That starts by earning my trust from the other guys because I am coming from another team."