There are two dates that Cre’Von LeBlanc awaits with all the patience and fortitude he can summon.
The first is his season debut at cornerback with the Eagles, which could come as soon as this Sunday at Miami, with LeBlanc finally back practicing again, four months after suffering a Lisfranc foot sprain on the first day of training camp full-squad workouts.
The second is more definite -- Dec. 9 in a Florida courtroom, he said, where his older brother, Craig LeBlanc Jr., will finally get a new trial after being granted an appeal of his conviction in a shooting outside an Orlando nightclub in 2011.
The Eagles host the Giants on Monday Night Football on Dec. 9, but LeBlanc said he is going to ask permission from his coaches to go down at some point around that date. He and Craig, 33, who is serving a life sentence without parole, stay in touch mostly through the Internet. Craig’s arrest for the shooting closely followed his release from a previous prison term. For Cre’Von, it would be a treat to see his brother away from the Wewahitchka, Fla., correctional facility.
LeBlanc didn’t want to say too much about the circumstances that caused an appeal to be granted, but he said they have to do with a cousin involved in the incident who is supposed to testify to a different version of events than the one presented at Craig’s trial.
Compared to all that, coming back from a foot injury almost seems trifling, but Cre’Von’s journey to the NFL has been a beacon of hope to his family back in Belle Glade, Fla., a place known for sugarcane fields and poverty. Cre’Von LeBlanc has a big tattoo on his chest proclaiming him “The Chosen 1.”
LeBlanc became an Eagle last Nov. 5, claimed on waivers from the Lions after playing two seasons with the Bears. The Eagles were in the midst of a defensive backfield injury crisis (when are they not?), and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz eventually credited LeBlanc with helping save the season. In the playoff loss to New Orleans, LeBlanc made a leaping interception of Drew Brees on the first play.
LeBlanc dedicated himself to getting in perfect shape during the offseason, determined to maintain his hold on the nickel corner spot. But working that first day of camp as a special teams gunner, he felt something go in his foot.
“Just a freak accident. … I didn’t think it was as serious as it was,” LeBlanc recalled Tuesday. “When I got the MRI, obviously, it was much more serious than expected.
“I definitely dedicated my offseason [to training]. I barely saw my mom,” LeBlanc said. “It was definitely on my mind to come in here with a purpose. … For me to get injured, it [stunk].”
Miami, where the Eagles play this weekend, less than a two-hour drive from Belle Glade, was where LeBlanc did all that offseason work. It might be a bit of a long shot for him to play this week. The Eagles started the 21-day clock Tuesday on bringing LeBlanc back from injured reserve. Schwartz said he wants to see LeBlanc on the field and how the week goes for a guy who has missed four months of practice and games. But this would be an ideal spot for his return, LeBlanc said.
“I’d be very excited. Back in my hometown with the fam'. A lot of family, a lot of friends, a lot of supporters coming to the game,” LeBlanc said.
Rehabbing the injury, missing the first 11 games, has been “very challenging,” LeBlanc said. “Just taking it day-by-day, being patient with the process, trusting the trainers, trusting my instincts with going out there and knowing where I was [in relation to] rehabbing and where I should be.
“It was very painful, because I love the game. That’s how I deal with some of my off-the-field issues. My head starts to get scrambled with a lot of things.”
Not having worn pads since July, “I wouldn’t say that I’m all the way in football shape,” LeBlanc said. He said his focus when he takes the field Wednesday will be to “get out there and trust what Jim has for me, take it play by play.”
Schwartz indicated Tuesday that he hasn’t forgotten what LeBlanc can do.
“If he looks good, then we'll get him back into the swing as quick as we can. It will be nice to have him back,” Schwartz said. “He was an important member of our defense last year, and we certainly have roles that he can fill.”
This year’s Eagles defensive backfield injury crisis has abated. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills have settled in as the outside corners, Avonte Maddox as the nickel. The grouping has totally turned around what for a while was the worst pass defense in the NFL. Eagles opponents have scored just 61 points over the last four games. The Eagles now rank 12th in passing yards allowed and in opposing quarterback passer rating.
“You have experienced players that are used to playing together. I think that makes a big difference,” Schwartz said.
LeBlanc said he will go “wherever they need me to play.”
LeBlanc said Mills was a tremendous resource during his recovery. Mills suffered the same injury last season, didn’t want to have surgery, tried to rehab without it for quite some time, then got the problem fixed and ended up missing an entire calendar year of football. But Mills has steadily improved in the five games since his return.
Early in the season, Mills and LeBlanc collaborated on scouting reports, watching film and briefing the other defensive backs on upcoming receivers. It was a good way to ensure they continued to feel they were part of the group.
“I’m kind of following behind his trail right now,” LeBlanc said of Mills. “It’s amazing. The guy ain’t played football in a year, and he didn’t miss a beat. He’s creating energy and making plays.”