What helped the Philadelphia Eagles make up their minds to not re-sign slot cornerback Patrick Robinson after last season was their strong conviction that they had more than enough qualified candidates to replace him.
That was before trading for Daryl Worley, adding Avonte Maddox in the fourth round of the NFL Draft and signing undrafted free agent Chandon Sullivan.
Worley, of course, is no longer in the picture, having been released following an April arrest. But based on what all their candidates have shown throughout organized team activities and the first two days of mandatory minicamp, the team’s intuition appears to be spot on.
There is one hell of a competition brewing among seven players. No frontrunner has emerged simply because all of the candidates not restricted by injuries have been making head-turning plays against a cast of wide receivers and quarterbacks that are, from top to bottom, almost certainly the finest this franchise has ever assembled.
“I see it dead-even right now,” defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said. “Not everybody is going to have the same amount of reps [at this point in the offseason], but everybody’s been in there at some point.
“… But right now I like all of them. They’ve all done a great job, open mindset, from Darb [Ronald Darby] to Jalen [Mills] to Sidney [Jones], Baus [DeVante Bausby], D.J. [Killings]. Avonte has been in there a bunch. He’s doing a good job, young guy.”
And don’t forget about Malcolm Jenkins, the veteran safety reminded everyone on Wednesday.
“I enjoy playing in there too,” he said.
Furthermore, Jenkins added, “I think the versatility of a lot of the guys is a good problem to have.”
Mills started on the outside all of last season but doesn’t care if he’s moved inside in 2018 to possibly make room for Jones, who missed almost all of last season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
“As long as I’m making plays for this team,” he said.
Bausby, as documented by The Morning Call last week, has the kind of hunger that can only be derived from a journeyman’s experience, and he’s making the most of his reps this spring for sure.
Maddox, at 5 feet, 9 inches, comes in as the shortest corner, but with no shortage of confidence whatsoever.
“Doing pretty good,” Maddox reported Tuesday. “Learning splits, leverages and where the help is. It’s just learning the playbook.”
That’s not an easy task, but at least Maddox has all day to do it, as opposed to his college days at Pitt, where football was an extracurricular activity.
“You come home, put the iPad right on, sit down and look over the practice,” he said. “You open up the playbook. You don’t have to worry about schoolwork or anything else. So it’s a good thing just doing strictly football. I’m excited.”
Playing inside requires a lot more alertness, according to all involved. A slot corner’s eyes must be trained differently, and he has to be prepared to stop the run on every play.
And it’s become every bit as important as the two outside spots.
Last season, for example, Robinson led the Eagles with four interceptions and 22 passes defensed. His 54 tackles were second among the team’s corners.
All this from a guy who struggled so much in the early portion of training camp that he was believed to be in jeopardy of not surviving the final cuts.
Based on the way everyone is playing this spring, it’s doubtful a similar scenario will unfold this summer.
The competition won’t necessarily be limited to just these seven players, either.
Randall Goforth, who spent all of last year on injured reserve and is still not fully recovered from his ACL injury, expects to be cleared to practice fully by the start of training camp and will be added to that mix when it happens.
Sullivan, a rookie who has been taking all of his reps on the outside, also was told it would be in his best interest to learn the slot too, just in case he’s called upon.
Ultimately, what Undlin is doing in an attempt to create an environment in which anybody can be trusted at any time to perform at a championship level is challenging everybody.
“Our room is highly, highly competitive,” Undlin boasted. “It’s not a comfortable situation on a daily basis. We don’t come in there and just flip the tape on. You’re getting called on and you better have your stuff together. If not, you will not make it.