Rasul Douglas was indignant.
The Eagles’ third-year cornerback wanted to dig into the cup of water ice fetched by undrafted rookie corner Jay Liggins, but there was a problem.
“How you gonna give me a [water ice] with no spoon?” Douglas demanded of the rookie.
Liggins protested that a plastic spoon had been sticking out of the cup when he delivered it to Douglas’ locker.
“So, we got a SPOON THIEF?” Douglas asked, disbelief evident in his voice.
Liggins looked flustered.
Sensing this, veteran safety Andrew Sendejo joined in, mock-decrying the presence of a “SPOON THIEF” in the Eagles’ inner sanctum. Alas, was nothing sacred?
Liggins seemed headed back to the cafeteria when veteran safety Rodney McLeod threw him a lifeline. McLeod had an extra spoon, which he relayed to Douglas.
Douglas, only somewhat mollified, turned back to Liggins.
“Damn, rook!” he said.
Only a day earlier, Douglas loudly proclaimed Liggins a rookie-of-the-year candidate, not so much for his work on the field but for his diligence attending to the veterans’ needs. This was a disappointing lapse.
Ups and Downs
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Douglas was a flustered rookie, thrown into NFL action before he was really ready, as a third-round draft pick in 2017 in an injury-riddled secondary. He played 41 percent of the snaps and was credited with 14 passes defensed, third on the team. But, that was because opponents threw at him a lot. In the playoffs, Douglas played only on special teams, Jim Schwartz declining to put him on the field on defense, as the Eagles won Super Bowl LII.
The Douglas of today is a very different player, vocal and confident, a guy who mentors younger players such as Liggins, if they can withstand a little light hazing.
“A little of both,” Liggins replied, when asked whether Douglas helps him or makes his life miserable.
“I try to help him learn the defense,” Douglas said of Liggins, who hails from Dickinson State, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school in North Dakota. “He doesn’t see it like I see it, because I’ve been here a few years, but he’s at the same place I was at when I was a rookie coming in, all over the place. They’ll go in the huddle, and Jim’ll be spittin’ [the call] out, and you gotta be able to dissect" the coverage.
Douglas has been the most consistent cornerback in the first week of training camp. It took about half of 2018 and another cluster of injuries for Douglas to get another chance to convince Schwartz that he deserved a prominent spot, but Douglas’s play down the stretch and in the postseason made him a strong contender for a starting role this year.
He is building on that work in this camp, and with Ronald Darby (knee) and Jalen Mills (foot) not yet in the picture, Douglas has had lots of opportunities to show his growth. He also hopes to be a little quicker, having pared eight pounds from his 6-foot-2, 209-pound frame this offseason.
“I really think the biggest thing is just, he has some confidence,” Schwartz said the other day. “Played a little bit his rookie year. We won a lot of games with him out there his rookie year. Came back second year. Had a rough spot early on … then came back and really solidified and did a great job for us down the stretch, as did a lot of our other guys.”
On a role
Douglas intercepted a pass in the 2018 opener against Atlanta, which was especially noteworthy considering he played two defensive snaps in that game.
“I didn’t have a role” in the defense when 2018 started, Douglas said.
Schwartz disagreed, on the grounds that everyone on the 53-man roster has a role, but that was not what Douglas meant.
“I feel like I got my feet wet [last season],” Douglas said. “I played in some games, played in playoff games as well. It kind of showed me that I can play. We played against two of the best teams in the league," Chicago and New Orleans.
“I’ve got to keep showing it, though. Anybody can do something in a couple of games.”
Douglas lacks top-level speed, vertically and laterally, but he has the length and physicality Schwartz likes in his outside corners, plus he plays the ball like a wide receiver, which he was at times in high school. His three interceptions last season led the team (that isn’t saying much, but if he’d gotten double-digit snaps anytime in the first five games, Douglas might have had more), and his eight picks his final year at West Virginia tied for the NCAA lead.
“You gotta know the guy you’re going against – how does he like the ball?” Douglas said.
“Good ball skills, great competitor, great tackler,” fellow corner Avonte Maddox said about Douglas. “He can be big – just give him some time. When his time comes, he always steps up to the plate.
“He’s always got good footwork, long arms and legs. It’s hard to get around him when you’re a receiver.”
Maddox reported, however, that Douglas cannot beat him in Fortnite, and that Douglas once blamed defeat on his infant son for drooling on the controller.
“I’m not good at Fortnite,” Douglas acknowledged.
Douglas does have a presence, on and off the field.
“He’s a cool, funny guy,” Maddox said. “He’s always talking. If something funny starts" in the defensive backs’ meeting room] "it usually starts with him.”