Sorting Out the Secondary With Schwartz, Jenkins
The Eagles’ 10-10-10 practice lasted just an hour and a half this morning, so instead of observations, here are four thoughts about the state of the secondary after talking to Malcolm Jenkins and Jim Schwartz in the past 24 hours.
1. Eric Rowe still seems to be struggling, but it’s unlikely he’ll move to safety.
You can add Jenkins to the list of people who didn’t mention Rowe when discussing the cornerback battle. After Doug Pederson said Rowe has had some “hiccups” this offseason, and Schwartz also excluded the second-year defensive back from the conversation, I thought Rowe would step up when the pads came on because of his physical nature.
Perhaps Rowe has made some strides, but Jenkins listed Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills and even undrafted free agent C.J. Smith when answering a question about who will start opposite of Leodis McKelvin. So could the Eagles move Rowe to safety, the position he played for three seasons in college? Schwartz was asked that question yesterday, and while he acknowledged Rowe’s ability and experience there, he didn’t seem too keen on the idea.
“We like his skill set at corner,” Schwartz said. “He’s tall; he’s hard to throw over; he’s tough at the line of scrimmage. There are some other things he’s working on, and he just needs to improve those other things. Again, we’re still talking about a very young player there.”
2. Speaking of Smith, he’s made a very strong case to make the practice squad, and he’s a sleeper to make the 53-man roster.
One undrafted free agent often comes out of nowhere to make the team, and this year much of the focus has been on defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao and linebacker Myke Tavarres. Both of those guys appear to have a good chance of at least making the practice squad — if not the final roster — because of the Eagles’ lack of defensive tackle and linebacker depth, but don’t leave out Smith. His coaches and teammates speak very highly of him, as Jenkins did today after practice.
“C.J., the rookie who’s been having a phenomenal camp, especially the last week and a half, played really well in the game and has really continued that in the practices here after,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think we’ve seen anybody catch a ball on him in about four days. His production really speaks for itself. I think there’s a big difference between him in the spring and him in the summer. I think it’s just that opportunity to grasp the playbook, grasp the technique and work on it day in and day out. You see the improvement in his game daily.”
3. Jaylen Watkins continues to impress, and he and Chris Maragos appear to be the favorites to make the 53-man roster at safety.
It’s entirely possible the Eagles keep five safeties instead of four, which means Ed Reynolds or Blake Countess would probably get that last spot, but Maragos isn’t going anywhere, and Watkins has come on strong during training camp and the preseason. Watkins still isn’t a great tackler, which both Schwartz and Jenkins pointed out, but the Eagles are happy about his coverage skills against a few different offensive positions.
“Everybody knows what Chris Maragos can do, and he came in the game and had a phenomenal game. But I think they’ve been giving Jaylen Watkins a lot of reps, and he’s been getting better and better,” Jenkins said. “He does a great job covering tight ends man-to-man. He’s working on his presence in the middle of the field and being able to overlap. But I think his value really is in that man-to-man role where he can cover tight ends, cover receivers, being a former cornerback. So I think it’s between Chris Maragos and Jaylen Watkins right now [to be the third safety].”
4. Jenkins really, really, really wants to play nickel corner, so don’t be shocked if that happens — at least from time to time.
It seems like whenever we talk about the slot corner position, Brooks is nearly the unanimous favorite to start, while Mills is labeled as a guy who could steal some snaps away. But Jenkins has been very clear he wants that job, and the coaches are aware of that. The Eagles’ third cornerback will most likely be better than their third safety, but you’re almost playing Jenkins out of position if you line him up on the back end every snap.
“That’s what I want to do. Every year, my best years in this league since I stepped in, playing the slot has been my most productive seasons,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully that role is still available, but we have a lot of depth at corner right now. A lot of guys we’re evaluating. I probably won’t know for sure until Week 1, to be honest. That’s how it was last year, and that’s how it’s going to be this year just because they want to get a fair evaluation of all of the corners, all of the guys who are fighting to make the team just to see who we can fit in. Once we know who our top five DBs are, it’s just what position they’ll play.”
Still no Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Matthews, Jalen Mills, Mike Martin, Hunter Sharp
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) August 15, 2016