Head coach Doug Pederson spoke with the media Friday ahead of the Eagles’ battle with the Panthers and offered updates on players who had missed time this week.
Pederson said cornerback Jalen Mills, who was limited Thursday with a hamstring injury he suffered in practice, is fine and will play Sunday. He also said that offensive tackles Jason Peters, who is battling a biceps injury, and Lane Johnson, who was questionable last week with a high ankle sprain, will also both play Sunday.
Pederson confirmed that cornerback Rasul Douglas, who filled in at the safety position last week against the Giants but missed practice time this week for personal reasons, is back with the team and will be good to go this weekend.
When breaking down the matchup against the Panthers, Pederson spoke of the versatility of running back Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers’ backfield weapon has 71 rushes for 349 yards in five games and adds 238 receiving yards on 34 receptions with a touchdown.
“Well, he’s definitely an explosive player,” Pederson said. “He’s really everything that, coming out of the draft, if we were fortunate enough to get him, the way we would use him. And he doesn’t come off the field.
“Great athlete, a player we have to account for where he lines up, and you’ve got to tackle him and get him on the ground. He can make the first guy miss and stretch the field and our work is cut out for us defensively to make sure we tackle him and get him on the ground.”
Pederson also focused on the importance of the linebacker position in the defense. The Panthers have a star in linebacker Luke Kuechly who exited the game in the second quarter last season against the Eagles. So far this season, Kuechly has 47 tackles, an interception, and a sack.
Pederson said it will be a chess match between Kuechly and center Jason Kelce when lining up their respective units at the line of scrimmage.
“He’s going to study our offense. He’s going to know every little intricacy. He’s going to know every call that Kelce makes during the game. He’s going to study that. He’s going to go to the sideline and make adjustments like he did last year in the game,” Pederson said. “And he flies around. He’s a high energy guy, great tackler ... He’s a great player for them, a leader obviously, and very disruptive.”
But on the Eagles’ side of the ball, Pederson likes what he’s seen out of linebacker Jordan Hicks. In his first six games of the season, after missing most of last year with a torn Achilles, Hicks has a team-high 50 tackles as well as 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, a fumble recovery, and four pass deflections.
He tipped Eli Manning’s pass on the second play from scrimmage in last week’s win over the Giants which was intercepted by linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who returned the ball to the New York 16-yard line. Three plays later, the Eagles took the lead.
While Hicks’ playmaking ability is impressive, he shines with his leadership. And he will be responsible with lining up the Eagles’ defense against a tough running back in McCaffrey and a dynamic playmaker in quarterback Cam Newton.
“I feel like he is back to his old self and is making plays,” Pederson said. “One of his strengths is getting our defense lined up, getting the call out, and he does a great job at that. It’s good to have him back.”
In Friday's practice, linebackers D.J. Alexander (quad) and Nathan Gerry (ankle, knee), safety Corey Graham (hamstring), cornerback Sidney Jones (hamstring), and running back Darren Sproles (hamstring) did not participate. They have all been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Panthers. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is listed as questionable with a calf injury that limited him in practice all week.