In January, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said nickel cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc had helped save the season. A few days later, LeBlanc intercepted Drew Brees on the New Orleans Saints’ first snap of what became, despite LeBlanc’s best efforts, a 20-14 Saints victory in the divisional-round playoffs.
More than four months have passed since those events, and it’s been more than six months since the Eagles claimed LeBlanc on waivers from the Lions, in flat-out desperation. The team that used 10 cornerbacks last season projects to start the 2019 slate with at least six it seems to really like: original 2018 starters Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, who are still recovering from knee and foot injuries, respectively, plus Rasul Douglas, 2018 rookie surprise Avonte Maddox, LeBlanc, and 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones, whose early career has been clouded by an inability to stay healthy.
Despite all LeBlanc accomplished down the stretch, playing 77 percent of the Eagles’ defensive playoff snaps after being on the field for at least 63 percent in the final seven regular-season games, LeBlanc entered this week’s organized team activities with no assurances of anything in 2019 beyond a chance to compete.
“That comes with the game,” LeBlanc said Tuesday. “We all compete. We’re going to go out there. We’re going to have fun. We’re going to push each other. May the result be what it is.”
Life and the NFL have taught LeBlanc to not expect much, except what he can earn. Maybe you recall the outline of his story: raised in hardscrabble Belle Glade, Fla., by a mom who was advised to terminate her pregnancy because it was endangering her life. Lawanda LeBlanc and Cre’Von survived, only to see his father, Craig LeBlanc Sr., die suddenly at age 44, and his older brother, Craig Jr., sentenced to life in prison after shooting a man to death outside an Orlando nightclub.
Cre’Von LeBlanc, 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, went undrafted out of Florida Atlantic in 2016, signed with the Patriots, impressed in training camp but was cut and immediately caught on with the Bears, for whom he played 28 games during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, with 10 starts.
Waived by Chicago last September, he went to Detroit, which apparently hoped to stash him on its practice squad in November, but the Eagles swooped in, and he hit the ground running, for a team that was forced to play De’Vante Bausby and Chandon Sullivan as the outside corners in the second half of a blowout loss to the Saints on Nov. 18. Bausby and Sullivan are not part of this year’s team.
“All my life I feel I’ve been fighting through adversity, back against the wall. A kid who’s fighting for every inch that he has,” LeBlanc said. “When your number’s called, you’ve gotta play, gotta play big. Can’t be shook. It’s a dream come true, when your number’s called and you get an opportunity to get out there and showcase what you can do.
“Just coming from where I come from, we kind of grind, push each other. It was a next-man-up mentality, and that’s what we did.”
LeBlanc said he wouldn’t call the 2018 stretch drive the best football he has played, but he agreed that his play was more appreciated here than it ever was in his previous stops.
Here’s Schwartz’s testimonial from January, which was offered in praise of the team’s pro scouts as much as it was to LeBlanc:
“I don’t know where we’d be without Cre’Von. 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.’
“Some of those guys that work in those back rooms without a light, without a window and stuff like that, and they are poring over all these guys that get cut. … Well, that might have been the key to our season, putting the waiver claim in on — I had never heard of Cre’Von LeBlanc before.”
Now he has, and one of the top narratives of the spring and summer will be how Schwartz sorts out the secondary. Tuesday, in the only OTA practice reporters were allowed to observe this week, LeBlanc was in the slot with the first-team defense, but again, Darby and Mills aren’t on the field yet. Maddox also looked really good in the nickel last season, when he wasn’t playing safety or outside corner.
“Wherever Coach needs me, that’s where I’ll be at,” LeBlanc said. “Until then, we’re going to just keep strapping it up, keep pushing each other and competing. We’re just going to go from there.”