Life kicked Cre’Von LeBlanc in the teeth at an early age. He was a high school freshman when he lost his 44-year-old father to a heart attack. Then, as a sophomore at Florida Atlantic University, he dealt with his brother being sentenced to life in prison for murder.
The Eagles cornerback knows there are no guarantees in life. He knows that not everybody lives happily ever after.
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An undrafted free agent, he has been cut three times -- by New England, Chicago, and Detroit -- but he has managed to land on his feet and survive for four years in the NFL.
So, in March when the Eagles signed free agent Nickell Robey-Coleman, who happens to play the same position -- nickel corner -- as he does, LeBlanc didn’t sulk or feel sorry for himself or stick pins in a Robey-Coleman doll.
“I can only control what I can control,” LeBlanc said Sunday after the Eagles’ training camp practice at the NovaCare Complex. “I’m focusing on the task at hand. Gelling with the guys, getting into the playbook a little more, and just oiling up the engine, man. Just jelling with the new guys like Nickell and [Darius] Slay and building that chemistry.”
Two years ago, the Eagles, their secondary in complete disarray, signed LeBlanc off waivers from the Lions midway through the season. It didn’t seem like a significant move at the time. But defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz plugged in LeBlanc at nickel and he helped stabilize an injury-ravaged secondary as the Eagles won five of their last six games and made the playoffs.
Last summer, LeBlanc had a foot injury in training camp and spent most of the season on injured reserve. He was activated in late November but played just 82 snaps in four regular-season games and 54 in the Eagles’ lone playoff game.
This was going to be his redemption season. But that all changed in March when the Eagles signed Robey-Coleman, a seven-year veteran who not only is one of the league’s top slot corners but also is extraordinarily durable. He’s missed just one game to injury in his career.
Schwartz values versatility in his corners and safeties. That versatility is going to be even more important this season.
With the addition of Slay, who is going to follow the opposing team’s best wide receiver a good portion of the time, Schwartz needs his nickel corners to be able to slide outside if Slay follows someone into the slot.
Robey-Coleman has played both inside and outside in his career, but LeBlanc has been mainly a nickel guy, though Schwartz correctly pointed out recently that LeBlanc played outside in the Eagles’ final regular-season game against the Giants last season because of injuries to Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills.
“He went out and played it and played it fine,” Schwartz said.
LeBlanc said he’ll play wherever Schwartz wants him to play.
“For the past two years, I’ve been mainly in the slot,” he said. “But I don’t mind going outside. If Coach Schwartz wants me on the inside, if he wants me on the outside, if he wants me as a backup safety, whatever. I’ll do it. When 34′s number is called, I’m going to get on it and get it done.”
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Eagles’ season-opening roster shakes out, particularly in the secondary. Because of the uncertainty of COVID-19, teams have to prepare their rosters -- and their expanded 16-man practice squads -- for worst-case scenerios, which means Schwartz likely will find work for LeBlanc in a variety of roles.
Other cornerback questions aren’t so clear. What will the Eagles do with Sidney Jones, who once again is spending more time in the whirlpool than on the playing field? Have they run out of patience with him? And what will they do with perpetually inconsistent Rasul Douglas?
Robey-Coleman has been taking the majority of first-team reps at slot corner. He’s done an impressive job in matchups against the Eagles’ No. 1 slot wide receiver, Greg Ward.
Asked whether he feels he’s being given enough of a chance to win the nickel corner job, LeBlanc said, “I pretty much leave that up to the coaches and put that in their hands.
“I just do what I’m supposed to and what I’m supposed to focus on. And that’s attack the day, win the day and be on my ‘A' game. Make plays out there. Fly around. Continue to be the player I have been.”
LeBlanc is taking a what’s-good-for-the-Eagles-is-good-for-Cre’Von approach. He’s not blind. He recognizes that Robey-Coleman is a very good player and is going to make the defense better.
“He has a phenomenal IQ,” LeBlanc said. “He’s been doing it a very long time. He’s very quick laterally. And he doesn’t shy away from competition. He’s a [state of] Florida guy just like myself. He was a great pickup.
“I’ve been watching him for a while when he was with the Rams. When we played Chicago in the playoffs two years ago, I watched the Bears tape against the Rams earlier that year. He had a pick. Could’ve had two, but dropped one. But he made a real nice play in the zone coverage he was in. He picked it off in the flat.
“He knows football. I’m rocking with him.”
Asked how the additions of Slay and Robey-Coleman have changed the dynamic in the defensive back room, LeBlanc said, “Oh, man. There’s a lot of swag in the room. A lot of different personalities. Guys who love to compete and want to win. That’s all you can ask for.”
Even though they are basically competing for the same job, LeBlanc and Robey-Coleman spend a lot of time together, trying to make each other better.