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June 10, 2023

How Reed Blankenship is 'taking that next step' into a leader at safety

Blankenship showed promise when starting for the Eagles last season, and with jobs up for grabs at safety, is maybe the most prepared to take on more.

Last fall against the Packers, Reed Blankenship was thrown right into the fire and didn't flinch.

After a midfield collision sent C.J. Gardner-Johnson down with what would later be revealed as a lacerated kidney, the undrafted rookie stepped in at safety and had himself a night.

He wasn't perfect, but he did well in anticipating the run and moving quickly to stop Aaron Jones and, in his signature highlight of the night, jumped a route to pick off Aaron Rodgers for his first career interception.

The Eagles won, Blankenship emerged as the game's unsung hero, and for the next several weeks that followed, he did admirably playing in an NFL starting role he was suddenly thrust into.

But he was ready for the moment.

"Make sure you're ready at all costs, no matter what position you're in," Blankenship said from the NovaCare Complex last week of his biggest lesson learned from last season. "Somebody can go down and you're number can be called. You gotta be ready to go."

And his number will be called again in 2023, though this time it could be for a full-time starting job depending on how the summer plays out.

With Gardner-Johnson and veteran Marcus Epps having both left in free agency, there's big opportunity at safety amongst a relatively unproven group compared to the rest of the Eagles' roster.

Terrell Edmunds brings some experience back into the fold and K'Von Wallace is still around, but beyond them, it's third-round rookie Sydney Brown, who could play from the get-go; Justin Evans, a wild card not far removed from a three-year layoff; and then Blankenship, who showed promise when starting last season and may be the most prepared to take the next step. 

"He's always been a hard worker," defensive backs coach D.K. McDonald said. "He's always been curious and that hasn't changed for him at all. Now what has changed is, naturally, going out in the field and having the success that he did, taking the lumps that he did, now he's playing with a little more confidence...But that's what you want from a guy who's been out there and played NFL games, been out there in the Linc. You want a guy now to be able to be a little more comfortable in his communication, take charge more. Then like we talked about before, having changes in the room, he realized this is an opportunity for him to really go and try to snatch this position. 

"I love how he competes. I love how smart he is and what he does on the field, and now he's taking that next step into being a leader back there in the back end for us, which is really fun to watch."

He has his to-do list of things to work on though between now and training camp. 

In terms of preparation and mentality, Blankenship said that not much has really changed about this offseason compared to his rookie one. He's clung to the team's motto that "the rent is due every day" and feels that he isn't anywhere close to having arrived yet. 

"I'm still staying humble, staying hungry, and that's gonna last throughout my career," he said. 

But what has changed are his own individual goals and expectations of himself. 

Last year, Blankenship was just trying to get noticed and earn a spot as he had no guarantees.

The Eagles picked him up as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennesee, and his focus was largely on learning the plays, nailing down his positioning, and absorbing as much information as possible – to which he heavily credited Epps for as a veteran presence he could always ask questions of and lean on. "I kind of looked at him as a big brother," he said. 

This year, it's more about refinement. For example, Blankenship keyed in on his anticipation when out in the field and wanting to be more "attentive" and better at identifying where the play is going.

And now that he's a bit more established, he wants to start paying forward the lessons learned from Epps, Gardner-Johnson, and the rest of the DB room on to any undrafted rookie just trying to get noticed too, because he was in the exact same boat not too long ago. 

"Just work hard," Blankenship said. "You gotta love the game at the end of the day. It's business, but if you show everybody you love the game and you go hard every day, you gotta have that mentality.

"You're gonna make somebody look at you."

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