Philadelphia Eagles News

New position, new number: Can Jalen Mills maintain the standard at safety?

When Rodney McLeod arrived in Philadelphia in 2016, he formed one of the best safety tandems in the NFL alongside Malcolm Jenkins.

Over the course of the next four seasons, McLeod and Jenkins got to know each other like the back of each other's hands. The chemistry they created helped the Eagles earn three consecutive trips to the postseason, one ending with a Super Bowl Championship.

But then Jenkins returned to New Orleans to play for the Saints during the offseason, leaving McLeod in Philadelphia to start all over again with someone else. That someone turned out to be Jalen Mills, who will be making the transition to safety after spending the first four seasons of his professional career at cornerback.

Jenkins' departure left a considerable void in the Eagles' secondary, but McLeod and Mills are confident that they can pick right up where the old tandem left off.

The key, obviously, is Mills' getting comfortable in his new position, which from an on-field standpoint, is apparently easier than most would think. At least that has been the word from Mills and McLeod. To Mills' credit, he played safety during his last two seasons at LSU and earned All-American honors from

"You just got to be a ballplayer at the end of the day," Mills, who changed his jersey number from 31 to 21, told reporters Thursday. "For one, you have to know, of course, the defense, but I think it's no different as far as playing corner and safety other than just a little bit more tackling."

The biggest adjustment for Mills, however, has been how he and McLeod communicate on the field. When Mills played cornerback, he did not have to worry as much about verbalizing signals amongst the defense. At safety, however, he will have to be more vocal, especially with McLeod.

Mills told reporters Thursday that he has gone out of his way to get on the same page with McLeod during the offseason, as that is paramount to their success this season. Mills didn't necessarily want to create a new lingo with McLeod, as much as he wanted to learn how McLeod was already used to communicating, so that there is no confusion come game time.

"I really just wanted to hear the way he communicated because, of course, he's been on the back end and I was playing on the outside, so now me hearing how he was communicating, I told him that I didn't want to switch anything that he did because he's been successful at that spot," Mills said.

"I just wanted to make sure that he's still playing fast because at the end of the day, like I said, I know the defense. I just wanted to get the exact verbiage he may have been using on the back end," he later added.

It is early, but after what McLeod has seen so far, he believes Mills will thrive in his transition.

"It seems like even within the couple of days we've been together as a unit that he's really taken a step further," McLeod said. "I'm very confident that we will be good once Week 1 hits and he'll be ready to rock and make a lot of plays at this new position."

Unfortunately, no preseason games will mean no game action for Mills in his new position until the season opener, but going against the likes of Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz every day during Training Camp will help sharpen his skills in time for the showdown at Washington.

Iron sharpened iron for four seasons with McLeod and Jenkins. McLeod and his new partner Mills will be looking to do the same in 2020.

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