It is Game Plan Tuesday for the Eagles at the NovaCare Complex, a time when the coaching staff puts the finishing touches on the plan to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. This is a game that has implications beyond, of course, the usual rivalry: Both teams are still alive in the division, remarkably. And, honestly, both teams are playing some of the best football they've played in a tough 2020 season as both the Cowboys and Eagles have dipped deep into their roster reserves to field competitive teams.
One of the players who bears watching for the Eagles is cornerback Michael Jacquet, a wide receiver during his first three seasons (including his redshirt freshman year) at Louisiana-Lafayette who then flipped to cornerback for his final two campaigns. He played well enough in his senior year to earn second-team All-Sun Belt honors. Even though he said at the time that "I'm an offensive player at heart," after playing his entire football life on that side of the ball – first at quarterback in high school and then wide receiver – he made the transition to cornerback. As he approached his senior campaign, he found that "there's not a lot of corners 6-2 and run a 4.4 (in the 40-yard dash), but there's a lot of receivers that do. I think I have an advantage."
Jacquet ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at Louisiana-Lafayette's Pro Day and that opened some eyes. His physical dimensions also helped – Jacquet is 6-feet-1, 203 pounds, and his wingspan and long arms make him even more intriguing. The Eagles signed him in the post-NFL Draft period in April and took a long look at him in Training Camp, but, honestly, he was just too raw. Two seasons of football at cornerback? Not enough.
Still, the team signed Jacquet to the practice squad a few weeks after he was released as the team reduced its roster for the regular season. He spent all of October and a couple of weeks of November there listening, learning, and absorbing every word from the mouth of Defensive Backs Coach Marquand Manuel. He was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster and ended up playing 30 snaps, with four tackles and a pass defensed, in the November 1 win over Dallas. On November 17, Jacquet joined the active roster and he continued to see action on gamedays on special teams. In Green Bay, Jacquet played another 21 snaps.
And then on Sunday at Arizona, Jacquet made his first NFL start in this improbable journey and hung in there against the Cardinals' Hall of Fame receiver duo – Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins. Jacquet made seven tackles, including five solos. He recorded half a quarterback sack against Kyler Murray. He forced Hopkins to fumble the ball and it was recovered by Alex Singleton early in the game. Even on the touchdown pass to Hopkins that provided the winning points, Jacquet was draped all over Hopkins, who proved to be, well, just better.
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And one is that the Eagles think they may have something in Jacquet. Nobody is throwing bouquets just yet, but there is something to work with here.
"He was set back in Training Camp because we didn't have preseason games. Every player goes through – every rookie goes through a system where they start off looking really good and then they go through the doldrums of Training Camp where they really struggle, and everything becomes overwhelming. It was easy at first and then it just becomes super hard. Everybody goes through that," Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday during his weekly virtual press conference with reporters. "And then they play some preseason games and get some stuff under their belt, and they gain a little bit of confidence, and that sort of carries them through, like 'Hey, I can do this.' But unfortunately, we never really had that with Michael this year.
"So. after we were able to get him back on the practice squad, he was able to keep practicing and then against the Cowboys the last time had to go in and play. One thing about him is he is a confident player, and that means a lot at the corner position. He doesn't get down if he gives up a play. He knows what the score is out there, meaning he knows that you don't pitch many shutouts on the outside part of the field. You're going to have to battle, particularly against great players. They're going to win some, you're going to win some.
"I think that's been the thing I've been most impressed by him. He is also, for a former wide receiver, he's played really tough. He hasn't been shy about contact, getting into the mix, and has played with a lot of spirit. I've really been proud of him. Just like a lot of other players, the whole process we've gone through this year has really stunted a lot of players' development. But he's gaining ground. He's improving every day, and I was – just like you, I was more impressed with the way he bounced back and the way he kept competing and the way he kept challenging as opposed to the plays that he gave up."
Jacquet is going to continue to play in the injury-depleted secondary and the assignment on Sunday isn't any easier with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup of the Cowboys' outstanding receiving corps waiting. Jacquet will play and he will make plays and he will make mistakes and he will learn and the Eagles will have a strong understanding of what he is capable of contributing moving forward as they put together their roster for 2021. Finding players like Jacquet – and even a linebacker like Singleton, who has been so consistently around the football with five double-digit sack games, including the most recent three weeks, in his eight games of all-in playing time – are crucial to building a championship roster.
Maybe the Eagles have something in Jacquet. They're going to find out, that's for sure. Avonte Maddox is out for the season at cornerback. Darius Slay missed Sunday's game as he remained in concussion protocol, and there has been no official update on him. Jacquet is in line for more playing time.
The former offensive player is now both-feet-in at cornerback, and he'll be watched closely as the player-development phase of roster building continues at a position where teams just can't have enough quality. Should Jacquet become someone the Eagles can count on would be a huge boost to the process for the present and, certainly, for the future.