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October 03, 2017

Eagles may soon have an overabundance of cornerbacks

Eagles NFL

By far, the biggest concern heading into the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2017 season – as well as four weeks into their regular season – was, and is their cornerback position.

The two cornerbacks most key to the long-term success of the franchise are third-year pro Ronald Darby, and rookie Sidney Jones, both of whom the Eagles invested valuable resources to acquire. As most Eagles fans are aware, Darby has missed all but two quarters of this season with a dislocated ankle, and obviously, the Eagles drafted Jones in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft knowing that he would miss a substantial chunk of the season – and possibly the entire season – after suffering a ruptured Achilles during his pro day in March.

Darby’s gruesome-looking injury was given a four-to-six week recovery time. 

"He's progressing well," Doug Pederson said a week ago. "He's progressing well. He's right on schedule in that time frame that you alluded to, and again, don't want to rush him back until he's 100 percent."

While this upcoming Sunday would mark four weeks after the injury occurred, Darby is likely to miss at least the next two games, the first being against the Cardinals this Sunday, and then the Eagles' road game against the Panthers five days later on Thursday Night Football.

A more realistic date of return for Darby could be October 23, when the Eagles will play their third divisional game of the season against the Redskins.

When Darby is ready to play, he will play. Jones’ situation isn’t quite as black and white. As a rookie who did not play in practice during OTAs, minicamp, training camp, or the preseason games, the Eagles will have to decide how soon they are comfortable with carving out a role for Jones, even when healthy.

Schwartz said he is proud of the way Jones has worked toward the mental side of the game while on the shelf.

"There will be a time that we have with NFI or whatever it is to get him on the field and practice," said Schwartz. "I think we can cross that bridge when we get there. I know he's very engaged. He travels with us on games. He goes to every walk-through. And it can be tedious sometimes going out there and watching everybody stretch. Going out there and going to a meeting the night before the game, knowing that you're not going to play.

"But I think that it's all beneficial for him in the long run and when he is able to play; again, whenever that is, he'll have benefited from those experiences mainly because of the effort and the conscientiousness that he's put into that. I've been proud of him that way, and it's a difficult situation to stay engaged, but he asks questions in the meetings and is up on just about everything we do and he's been working hard to rehab, also."

The "NFI" that Schwartz alluded to is the "non-football injury" list. Being on NFI, Jones will be on the shelf until after Week 6. At that time, he can practice with the team for three weeks, at which point the Eagles will have to decide whether to add him to the active roster or put him on IR.

Back in May, PhillyVoice spoke with Dr. Larry Miller, who is the chairman and chief of orthopedic surgery at Cooper University Hospital, and the head of the division of sports medicine. While he is not Jones' doctor, he was able to provide insights into potential timetables for return, and the likelihood of Jones returning to 100 percent. Dr. Miller indicated that anything under a six-month recovery time would be unrealistic, though a suitable recovery shortly thereafter was possible.

Jones had his surgery on March 21, which means that his six-month minimum recovery time-frame passed two weeks ago.

With Darby and Jones out, Jaylen Watkins started one game before injuring his hamstring. That paved the way for rookie third-round pick Rasul Douglas to get valuable playing time. Douglas has shown early on that his instinctive and aggressive ball-hawking play could carry over from college into the pros, though he has had his shaky moments as well.

Schwartz liked Douglas' confidence to that of starter Jalen Mills, a Schwartz favorite.

"He gave up a couple plays in the game," said Schwartz. "He's a competitor. He's a lot like Jalen in that way. They are young guys. They are competitive. You need to have a short memory to play corner. Last week, Jalen had given up a couple plays and when it came time to get a stop, he made two big plays to help get us stops. You have to play that way when you're a corner.

"We need to play more consistently at the corner position. It's not just about a singular flash play. It's about consistency over the course of the game, and those guys are still working their way through that."

Meanwhile, after a brutally bad start to training camp, Patrick Robinson has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the team, playing at the nickel corner spot.

"I think he's performed at a really high level," said Schwartz. "He's really taken that position over. He's limited his focus to that position. I think that's helped, also, and has quietly done his job. I mean, sort of offensive tackles, maybe quiet is a good word. Corners, it can be a good one. Certainly, don't want to be quiet when it comes to pass breakups or interceptions or things like that, but he's given us good, consistent play."

During the home stretch of the season, if they are able to stay healthy, the Eagles could have Darby, Mills, Jones, Robinson, Douglas, and Watkins at their disposal. What is a very thin group at corner at the moment could soon be extraordinarily deep.

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