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Spadaro: Rookies making a difference in Eagles' defense

Kelee Ringo
Kelee Ringo

Kelee Ringo didn't want to let go and at one point, upon urging, held the football above his head for a departing Lincoln Financial Field crowd to see. His first NFL interception came at the perfect time – the final play of Monday's 33-25 win over the New York Giants, an end-zone theft that preserved the victory, and Ringo was in the moment.

"Every single chance I have to make a play, or help us win, that's the goal. Take advantage of every opportunity," Ringo said. "Having it come on Christmas, that made it even more special. I'm always expecting the ball to come my way. Stay ready and be ready. It was a great way to end the game. Beyond words that I can even explain."

Ringo is part of a youth movement the Eagles are introducing on the defensive side of the ball late in this 11-4 season – he was one of three rookies to start Monday's game, along with cornerback Sydney Brown and linebacker Ben VanSumeren – as signal-caller Matt Patricia continues to evaluate his personnel to find the right combinations when the postseason begins.

A fourth-round draft pick, Ringo is definitely in the mix. He has started the last two games with veteran star Darius Slay sidelined with a knee injury and Ringo has been up to the challenge. The Eagles' defense on Monday, with the exception of a 69-yard touchdown pass, handled the Giants; New York managed just 292 total net yards of offense and 14 first downs, and converted only 4 of 14 third downs.

It wasn't perfect for the Eagles – everyone talked after the game about the "things we need to clean up" – but it was a step forward.

And that's what the defense is looking for: Steady improvement in the final weeks of the regular season and growth in confidence ahead of the playoffs.

"Keep building on the little things," veteran defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "We aren't there yet, but we're getting there."

Ben VanSumeren
Ben VanSumeren

And they're getting there with a lot of young players on defense. Ringo played 51 snaps on Monday, VanSumeren logged a career-high 36, Brown played 26. Rookie cornerback Eli Ricks was on the field for 29 snaps, rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter played 21 snaps, and first-year linebacker Nolan Smith chipped in with 17 good defensive snaps.

"The more you play, the more experience you gain, and you just have a better understanding of the defense," Smith said. "You get that taste, man. You want more."

Patricia is likely to give them more on Sunday when the Cardinals come to town and then after that in the regular-season finale at the Giants. The Eagles are looking for energy and production on defense, and they are building depth by utilizing every corner of the roster. We almost forget that starting safety Reed Blankenship and key defensive tackle Jordan Davis are in their second seasons, adding to the abundance of youth on that side of the ball.

Really, though, rookies aren't rookies 15 games into a season. They've seen just about everything, and the way the Eagles have closed a majority of their games this season, with down-to-the-wire finishes, the young fellas are seasoned in a lot of ways.

"Every experience you have is a good one, something you can learn from," Ringo said. "You aren't going to win every single time out, but it just feels great to be out there doing what I can do to help. The vets have been great helping me throughout the season, so I'm taking what they've taught me and going out there and playing my game."

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