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May 27, 2019

Eagles' Swiss Army knives Avonte Maddox, Cre'Von LeBlanc show value in doing it all

Eagles NFL
Maddox-LeBlanc-Eagles_052319_usat USA Today Sports/File

Eagles defensive backs Avonte Maddox and Cre'von LeBlanc

The real question for Avonte Maddox and Cre'Von LeBlanc is what position can't they play?

As the Eagles pieced together a defense with duct tape and bailing wire last season on their remarkable run to the playoffs, players were shuffled in, out and all over the field as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz showcased his ingenuity down the stretch in 2018. The players he was relying on showcased something else. They were Swiss Army knives.

"Wherever coach needs me that's where I'll be at," LeBlanc, now on his fourth NFL team, said Tuesday during OTAs. "All my life I have been fighting through adversity, back against the wall, a kid who fights for every inch he has. When your number is called you have to play and play big you can't be shook."

"I take a lot of pride in whatever I do," Maddox, a surprise contributor as a fourth round draft pick in 2018, said. "As a person, athlete, wherever they put me I give it my all."

LeBlanc bought some consistency to a cornerback position group decimated by injury last season, playing all over the field. He also proved to be the Eagles best nickelback down the stretch. Maddox, initially expected to play cornerback, played inside corner, outside corner, and safety for the Eagles during his rookie year. Both players also made an impact on special teams. Here are their snaps from 2018:

 CBSLBST
Leblanc33741117
Maddox291249152


Think of a utility man in baseball. LeBlanc and Maddox will have fierce competition for a roster spot among a slew of young talented defensive backs. Here is Jimmy Kempski's latest depth chart at the position:

 CBJalen Mills Rasul DouglasJosh Hawkins 
 SMalcolm Jenkins   Andrew SendejoBlake Countess
 S Rodney McLeodTre SullivanDeiondre' Hall Godwin Igwebuike
 CBRonald Darby Avonte MaddoxJay Liggins (R)Jeremiah McKinnon
 NickelSidney Jones Cre'Von LeBlanc 
 


Both players could be borderline earners of a 53-man roster spot. Or maybe not. There is immense value in having players with versatility and who can start anywhere in the backfield.

“I think Cre'Von, in particular, has really solidified that nickel,” Schwartz said last season. “That nickel position is a really important position, and it's a tough position to play. You have to be a combination of a lot of things. He's been good tackler for us; he's been tough; he's been quick; he's been able to play zone; he's been able to play man. So all those things go into that spot.”

As for Maddox, Schwartz said: "We'll figure out what's best for him, what's best for us, over the course of his career, but that flexibility is very helpful from a defensive standpoint."

Malcolm Jenkins — not currently in camp — has been the model for LeBlanc and Maddox. Often times in back-to-back plays, Jenkins will line up as a nickel cornerback, as a strong or free safety or even at linebacker. All throughout the Eagles roster, players with the ability to play multiple positions are beating out players with less mobility.

"I don't know where we'd be without Avonte, I don't know where we'd be without Cre'Von," Schwartz said back in January. "Our scouts, midway through the season, [Vice President of Player Personnel] Joe Douglas came to me and said, “Hey look, there's this guy that just became available and our scouts have a good feel for him.”

A year ago, LeBlanc wasn't even in Philly and Maddox was figuring out how to be a pro football player, weeding through the transition from playing at Pitt to playing in the NFL. 

This year, both are leaders in the locker room and willing to say yes to any challenge.

"I feel more confident," Maddox said. "Last year I came in and didn't really know what was going on and now I know what to expect, I know most of the positions. I am pretty comfortable in them all right now. When I get out there wherever they put me I am focused on that."

Injuries nearly derailed the Eagles Super Bowl run in 2017, and played a gigantic role in forcing the Eagles into a miracle Wild Card spot last season. They will happen in 2019 too, and having players cross-trained and competent at multiple positions is a real strategy for overcoming setbacks.

Overcoming adversity is what sport is all about. And something LeBlanc is no stranger to.

"Just coming from where I come from, we are here to grind, count on each other and push each other," LeBlanc said. "It was a next man up mentality last year I came up and did what I had to do."


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