The rule for every player in the Eagles' locker room is that you prepare to be the starter, no matter the week, no matter the anticipated role on gameday. That way, you see, there are no surprises.
Reed Blankenship learned this on Sunday night. He saw starting safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson go down in the second quarter of the game against Green Bay, which meant that Blankenship was the "next man up." And all Blankenship did was register six total tackles, end a Packers' potential scoring drive with a diving interception off the right hand of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and announce himself to a national television audience.
The point is, Blankenship was prepared for the moment because he put in the work every day to that moment learning the defense, anticipating scenarios and making sure he was ready ... if ... his ... number ... was ... called.
It was, and Blankenship responded.
"It felt natural to me," he said. "I've played a lot of football and I understood my assignment on every play, so I just went out and played."
The week-of scenario is different for Blankenship with Tennessee ahead on Sunday in that he is in line to make his first NFL start with Gardner-Johnson sidelined with a kidney injury. He is still preparing the way he has prepared all season – copious notes in meetings, watching film until he is bleary-eyed, eating right, sleeping well, and conditioning to play a full game – but there is a difference: Blankenship's practice reps have increased and, with that, his comfort level within the defense has increased.
"It's been good. I'm taking every day like I've been taking it the whole season. I'm not changing anything," Blankenship said. "We're communicating a lot on the back end and everything has been smooth. The more I step on the field, the more I feel like I'm getting back into it. That's obviously what I thought would happen but I'm going to take each day as it comes."
Blankenship reviewed the 35 defensive snaps he took against Green Bay with a critical eye. The interception gained all the attention, and he displayed secure tackling. But as all players do, Blankenship focused more on the parts of the game where he could have done more. The only way to improve, is the saying in the NFL, is to continually move forward by correcting mistakes.
That's been Blankenship's mission this week.
"I made some mistakes. There is a lot I can learn from. But at the end of the day, you've just to fix those mistakes and learn from them," he said. "This is a new week. Tennessee runs the ball very hard and very well. We have to tackle well. Derrick Henry is obviously big and strong and fast. I would expect them to kind of come after me. I'm the new guy out there. That's how it works in football.
"I just have to be sound in what I do and work within the team defense. I know I'm going to be put in the best position to play my best, and the rest is up to me to go out and play the kind of football I know I can play."
Blankenship was one of three non-drafted rookies to make the initial 53-man roster and the Eagles were high on him from the jump. Back in August, before it became obvious to those watching practice that Blankenship had a real chance to make the roster, Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon was asked about the former Middle Tennessee State star who played five seasons there and was a three-time captain.
Gannon was effusive in his praise.
"He's very smart, he's instinctive, and has a unique skill set. When I say unique skill set, he's not a post safety or a box safety. He can do it all. He tackles and he processes fast, and he just needs some reps and time on task," Gannon said. "There are certain things, as a rookie, he hasn't seen like some of the older vets have seen. I really like, though, that he's a guy that when he makes a mistake, he's not a repeat offender. From that, you know he's going to continue to keep progressing. I'm excited about Reed."
Blankenship has progressed to this moment, where he is on the verge of making his first NFL start. If he does, Middle Tennessee State will be represented with two starters in the game – Blankenship joining Titans safety Kevin Byard, who has been in the league since 2016.
Just starting out, Blankenship knows Sunday will have some pinch-me moments before kickoff. And then it's all about football.
"I'm going to try to be as calm as possible and relaxed. I'm not going to try an overthink things," he said. "It's just football and I've been playing football for a long time. I will continue to do what I've always done from high school to college to now. I'm here to play football, be a kid out there."