Through a series of moves, the stable at cornerback was projected to be one of the deepest positions on the Eagles' roster entering the 2018 season. Both starters from the Super Bowl title run – Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills – returned along with ascending second-year player Sidney Jones to man the nickel position. The Eagles also had Rasul Douglas, a valuable reserve in his rookie season, and 2018 fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox.
Experience. Check. Youth. Check.
Injuries have ravaged the Eagles this season but none more so than at the cornerback position. Darby went on Injured Reserve with a knee injury in November. Mills joined him last month. Jones is sidelined with a hamstring injury that cost him seven regular-season games.
As the Eagles prepare for Sunday's Wild Card showdown in Chicago, Douglas and Maddox are the starters on the outside with Cre'Von LeBlanc, a midseason acquisition off waivers from Detroit, manning the nickel spot.
The combined playoff experience of those three Eagles? Zero snaps on defense.
"We feel good. We know we're the underdogs. Nothing was easy all the way up until this point," said LeBlanc, a 5-10, 190-pound corner in his third NFL season. "We know that we're going to have to come in and play our best ball."
LeBlanc knows the Bears as well as anyone on the roster. He spent the 2016 and '17 seasons there, playing in 28 games (10 starts) and accumulating 61 tackles, two interceptions, and a touchdown.
"It's always a lot of emotions that go into it," he said. "The Bears gave me my first opportunity after my first release from New England. I won't say it's personal, but at the end of the day, it is in the back of my head with everything I've been through there. It is definitely in the back of my head."
Douglas played a limited role in the Eagles' win over LeBlanc and the Bears at Lincoln Financial Field last season. As a rookie, Douglas was thrust into action after Darby fractured his ankle in the season opener. He started five games and picked off a pair of passes. He suited up for all three playoff games, but only played on special teams. He was utilized in spot duty once again to open 2018 but has played every snap starting with the Week 13 win over Washington. His team-leading third interception of the season came on the first play from scrimmage in last week's win over Washington.
"Knowing that my number is not going to be called, it is called. It's a mindset thing," said Douglas of the transition from backup to starter. "Just try to get better with the time that I was given. Then had to transition my body from being a part-time player to a full-time player with taking over the position. Just trying to get better every day."
Maddox has been the utility man for the Eagles' secondary this season. He battled Jones for the nickel position in the preseason then took over the safety position after injuries to Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham. He moved to the nickel when Graham came back but suffered his own injuries in New Orleans that kept him out of action for three games.
When he returned, he wasn't at safety. He wasn't in the nickel. Maddox was the starting outside cornerback against one of the premier offenses in the Los Angeles Rams. He had a pick in that game as the Eagles started their three-game win streak to get into the playoffs.
"It was definitely a roller coaster, up and down, and bumpy roads," Maddox said of the team's journey to this point. "You got a bunch of guys on this team that stay committed and never give up and love to face adversity. They don't put it behind them. They put it in front of them and attack it. It's a good thing about this team."
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said that this year's squad is a "maybe a little bit more battle-tested" going into the playoffs as a result of the injuries. The one constant in the secondary has been safety Malcolm Jenkins, who played all 1,039 snaps on defense in 2018.
"That's the general of our room. That's our leader," Douglas said. "That's who we look to when things are going wrong in a game. He's been valuable to all of us. He teaches us. He helps us get better. He knows the game."
"You've got a guy that's a leader, on and off the field. When you're on the field, you never see him panic. He's always normal," Maddox said. "When you're looking at your leader and you see he's not panicking or anything like that, it's like, 'Oh yeah, we got this.' He goes out and plays every snap. Never got to count on him missing one. He gives it his all. Perfect teacher. You get everything you want with him."
The 2018 season hasn't quite gone according to plan, but the Eagles are where they want to be – in the postseason. And there are three young, hungry cornerbacks who are looking to establish themselves and help this team continue the run.