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August 02, 2017

Sidelined by injury, Eagles rookie Sidney Jones staying busy at training camp

When the Eagles drafted Washington cornerback Sidney Jones in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, many Eagles fans had similar reactions.

First, it was joy over the fact that the Eagles not only got a guy with first-round talent but also addressed their team's biggest defensive need. 

That joy, however, quickly subsided once they remembered that Jones was still recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon and wouldn't be out on the field for a while. And it got worse once they took a look at the Eagles' depth chart and remembered what they'll likely be stuck with this season.

In the months since, the Birds have done very little to otherwise upgrade their secondary. So far in training camp, that's been showing. It's been one of the most-covered topics of the offseason – and it's one that even has Eagles coaches paying extra attention to the position.

"We're four days in, three days in. We said it before. I'd love to have some continuity there. But, we also have to let it play," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of his cornerbacks on Wednesday. "We have to be able to see who can survive the slings and arrows of training camp. There are going to be some situations that are bad.

"The one thing that I don't know that you guys always understand is sometimes there are periods in practice where you're sort of handcuffing guys. The offense knows what the call is. The period is nothing but one coverage or something, and it might not look like a guy is particularly doing well, but it's hard. [I'll just] say this: it's hard to judge how it goes in there. When the quarterback throws the ball one time, when he doesn't, seven-on-seven, if he pumps and then goes. There are a lot of other things that go into it other than that.

"But, we're sort of the same way as you guys. We're very interested in the cornerback competition. It's a daily thing for those guys. We not only need play-makers, but we need consistency."

That consistency likely won't begin to arrive until Jones is fully healed, but there's still no timetable for when Jones might return to the field. For now, he's making the best of his first NFL camp by learning as much as he can so that when his time comes, he'll be ready.

That's something the Eagles have been preaching to the 21-year old. And so far, they like the way he's approached his summer.

"It's a tough situation. It's tough," Schwartz said. "First of all, training camp is a grind anyway. You're out there. You're practicing and you're meeting, you're lifting, you're doing all those things. It's harder when you're not the one that's on the film. He has a tough job. He's been very good at staying up with things. This is [what] we told him. 

"At some point, he's going to play. Who knows when it's going to be? We don't know. But his job is to make sure he's mentally ready when he's physically ready."

It's a difficult thing to ask from a rookie, but the Eagles need Jones to do it because, well, they need Jones. 

"When he's physically ready, he can’t say, ‘Okay, now it's time to get mentally ready,’" Schwartz continued. "He has to stay ready and do that stuff. It's tough duty. It's tough duty for anybody. We talked about Ron [Brooks] and other guys that have had injuries that are veteran players. It's all new for him."

That's the right approach to take, because camp would otherwise be a total waste for Jones if he didn't use the time to learn as much as he possible about the NFL and particularly the defense in which he'll be playing. Otherwise, he'd get very little out of the experience – aside from "tired legs" from standing around watching his teammates practice all day. 

So does the veteran coordinator and former head coach foresee a problem with Jones' mental development?

"He's a smart guy, picks things up quick. He asks good questions. Those are all important things for him," Schwartz said. "Just, even if he's not out there, he can experience something from the competitiveness of a red zone drill and see the way that veteran players react. He can see the way that Malcolm [Jenkins] and Rodney [McLeod] practice after a bad day and things like that. 

"There are still a lot of things he can learn."

Hopefully, for his sake, Jones is learning the right things from the right people. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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