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Back from the shadows, Eagles’ Rasul Douglas gets call as emergency safety | Bob Ford

With he Eagles' defensive backfield in flux against the Giants, Rasul Douglas was called on to move to free safety. He answered and stepped up.

Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas (center) hadn't been a starter for a full year before Thursday's game at the Giants.
Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas (center) hadn't been a starter for a full year before Thursday's game at the Giants.Read moreYong Kim / Staff file photo

Rasul Douglas wouldn't necessarily recall the precise date, but if he looked it up, one full year had passed, exactly 365 days in fact, since he was a regular part of the Eagles defense. That's a long time for a young man to wait and wonder if the opportunity would come his way again.

On Oct. 12, 2017, Douglas was a starting cornerback in the sixth game of the season, against Carolina, and he played 56 snaps as the Eagles won an important road game.

On Oct. 11, 2018, Douglas was pressed into action because of injuries in the defensive backfield and played 42 snaps of free safety in the sixth game of the season, against the New York Giants, as the Eagles won a vital road game.

In between those eerily similar circumstances, aside from getting on the field in a live forfeit to Dallas that ended the regular season, Douglas was an afterthought when thought of at all. He lost his starting job after Ronald Darby returned from injury last season, and didn't appear to have a chance to win it back this season as Sidney Jones recovered from his Achilles surgery.

Excluding the Dallas game, the third-round draft pick got a total of 25 defensive snaps over the course of 11 regular season games before Thursday night. And then, well, then football happened.

"Everybody practices like a starter," Douglas said. "Everyone practices like he's the guy. Even if I don't play. Even if I don't dress. I'm still that guy. Then, when you get called on you're ready to make a play and everyone believes because they've seen it in practice."

That's true as far as it goes, but not as far as Douglas playing safety. He played the position some in college at West Virginia before being moved to cornerback, but that's not where he practices with the Eagles. His reps at safety have been strictly filling a spot on the field for the scout team.

"Just a few reps, like three," Douglas said.

But the Eagles' defensive backfield is in a bit of flux at the moment. Safety Rodney McLeod was lost to a knee injury three weeks ago, and versatile Corey Graham didn't dress on Thursday because of a lingering hamstring pull. The Eagles had pushed rookie cornerback Avonte Maddox into service as a safety and promoted backup safety Tre Sullivan from the practice squad, and it was all hanging to together against the Giants — for eight snaps.

That's when Jones pulled a hamstring and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had to look down the bench and find a solution. He moved Maddox to the slot cornerback position and sent Douglas on the field to essentially play center field.

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The film sessions will tell the tale of how it worked, but it worked well enough against the awful Giants on Thursday night. Trailing for the final 59 minutes of the game, quarterback Eli Manning was under duress all night. It was not going to be a game in which he had time, or inclination, to stand in the pocket and shoot the ball downfield to see if the free safety was in the right spot. On the official stat sheet that tallies defensive plays, Douglas isn't even listed. He didn't make a tackle or an assist and wasn't credited with a pass defense.

"I was just supposed to play deep middle and don't let nothing get behind me, just play ball," Douglas said. "Once I know the call, I just play. I try to leave that thinking stuff to the coaches. I just play 100 miles per hour, If I mess up, I mess up. They'll coach me on it later."

Douglas had at least one awkward moment, when he took a bad angle on Saquon Barkley as the running back broke into the secondary, but he wasn't alone there. Otherwise, he read Manning's eyes and drifted where he thought there might be danger.

"I thought he did well for zero reps on a short week where the game plan was more complicated than usual," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I thought he handled it well in a pressure situation. I've been playing safety 10 years, and it's hard to come in with the game plan we had and make calls."

With more than a week until the next game — home against Carolina on Oct. 21 — it's impossible to tell who will be available in the defensive backfield. Hamstrings are notoriously slow to heal, but if Graham and Jones can play, Douglas will be back on the bench. (On Friday, Doug Pederson was tepid at best on whether Douglas would continue in his emergency role.) If those hamstring injuries appear to be lingering, especially in the absence of McLeod, the team could also look elsewhere for depth or try either Sullivan or Deiondré Hall, both of whom are actually listed as safeties. In any case, Rasul Douglas says he will be ready. It was a long wait to hear his number called again in a meaningful game. He liked the sound.

"If it's on defense, I can do anything except play the line," Douglas said, "but if it was third-and-20, I could play end and come off the edge and try to get a sack. I joke with the coaches about that. I honestly think the coaches trust everybody in that room. Last year, when guys went down, somebody would step up. This is who we are. This is who we were."

This isn't who Douglas has been for a full year, though. He wants the next chance to come sooner.

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