JALEN MILLS seems to embody a lot of what the new Eagles coaching regime wants. Mills comes off as aggressive, boisterous, smart. Mills plays corner with a confidence, an edge, you wouldn't necessarily expect to see from a seventh-round rookie.
His coaches are still trying to refine and hone that edge; Jordan Matthews, the Eagles' top receiver, might not play until the regular season, Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged Monday, after Mills put his helmet into Matthews' left knee during a "live" tackling period in Friday's practice, just as Matthews caught a short pass and turned upfield. Pederson called the injury a "strain," but another source said Matthews suffered a bone bruise that should sideline him from two to four weeks.
What Mills did against Matthews wouldn't be flagged in a game; it just isn't something you really want to see in practice, especially when the guy who goes down is someone your weapons-challenged offense desperately needs. Mills gets that, he says.
There was no great scolding of the rookie from LSU when coaches went over the play with him. The Eagles do need Jordan Matthews, but their defense, which set a franchise record by allowing 36 touchdown passes last season, needs what Jalen Mills brings, and they don't want to mess with it too much.
Mills, 6-feet, 191, said coaches suggested he "maybe could be smarter" next time. They said they "love the speed, love the play that I made, but for sure, just be a little smarter. If I go one inch a little higher, maybe it's a different outcome."
Matthews hasn't spoken to reporters since suffering the injury. Mills says they have conferred and all is well.
"I talked to him after, when it happened on the field. I was like, 'I didn't mean to do it, Jordan.' He was like, 'No, that was a good play.' Jordan knows. I talked to him when we got into the facility and then when we got to the hotel. There's no hard feelings. He knows it's football."
Pederson clarified Monday that the live tackling part of training camp is over, with the Eagles preparing for Thursday's preseason opener against Tampa. He said he wanted to make the early part of camp tough, but now the focus turns more to "protecting the guys out here."
Someone suggested to Mills that he doesn't act or play like a rookie.
"I feel like that's just me," Mills said. "(Defensive coordinator Jim)Schwartz always preaches, whoever's on the field, we don't care. One-year guy, 10-year guy. He's putting the best 11 out there . . . He wants ballplayers out there. He wants guys who are going to play with energy, play with swagger, and who are going to compete, day-in and day-out."
Mills doesn't seem to mind a nice, friendly chat with the receiver he's lined up against.
"Every now and then," he agreed. "But that just comes with the position. That comes with, really, any position. You have to have that confidence, you have to have that swagger."
It isn't clear what role, if any, Mills will end up playing this season. He played both corner and safety at LSU, safety the final two seasons. He's a corner for the Eagles, right now a backup outside, where Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks are the starters, with Brooks moving inside in nickel and Nolan Carroll taking Brooks' spot. If all those guys are healthy, Mills probably is competing with 2015 second-round rookie Eric Rowe for the fourth corner job. In predraft evaluations, Mills often was pegged as a slot corner.
"Every single day he's asking us questions," Carroll said. "He's catching on pretty well."
"What I like about him is, he's very competitive. He comes back and he doesn't shy away from contact," Schwartz said of Mills. "He doesn't shy away from matchups. You need that in a corner. If you're on the edge and you don't embrace being on that island, you're in the wrong business. You know, you go around here, I mean, Philly's had a great history of some corners that were on islands that embraced that. I think Jalen has shown signs that he can do those things.
"He's still young. He's still inconsistent. He's got his ups and his downs. But he comes ready to battle every day."
Normally you don't expect a whole lot out of a seventh-round pick, but Mills could have gone higher. Every draft evaluation contained a rehash of his 2014 arrest for striking a woman in the face, something that was pleaded down to a misdemeanor, with Mills entering a pretrial diversion program.
At the time, Mills' attorney maintained it was actually Mills' girlfriend who struck the woman. When he got to Philly, Mills said he understood what a serious issue domestic violence is, but he also said he only took the plea to get the matter resolved.
"I don't have to watch how I behave because that's not a problem in my life," he said then. "I don't do those types of things. That's the first time I got in trouble my whole life.
"I grew up in a single-parent home. (My mother) raised me. (She and) my grandmother and my two aunts. Just me being raised around women, they taught me how to cater to a woman and how to love a woman and not to do those things I was accused of."
This past weekend, Mills said he doesn't worry about fans forming a negative view of him from the incident. He said his actions here will show them who he is.
"Not worried about it. Not worried about it at all," Mills said. "I know I'm a good guy. The Eagles know I'm a good guy. These players know I'm a good guy. Eventually, it will show."
Talking to reporters about Eagles coaches, Mills often references coaches he had at LSU. He feels they're on the same wavelength.
"Coach Schwartz wants a fast, physical defense. Me playing four years at LSU, coach (Les) Miles preached the same thing. We've got the same kind of guys here.
"I had two defensive coordinators, 'Chief' (John) Chavis (through 2014) and coach (Kevin) Steele (in 2015). Coach Schwartz is just like those guys," Mills said. "Coach Cory Undlin, he's just like my (position) coach at LSU, Corey Raymond. He's on me hard, he wants the best out of me. He's going to squeeze every bit of talent out of me, same as they did at LSU. For sure, there's a comparison."
Sunday, Mills intercepted a ball intended for veteran receiver Chris Givens. He said there was more to it than just happening to be in the right place at the right time.
"It took me until now, just watching film, repetitively, every day, being in my playbook. Seeing the down and distance, off that formation, they could only run so many routes off that formation," Mills said. "I was kind of anticipating it a little bit. As soon as he broke it off, I just jumped right in front of it."
The hardest thing so far, he said, is realizing that "guys are just as good as you. Just as smart as you. Just as fast as you, and sometimes, guys, they're going to compete harder than you. But you can't let that get to you. You have to compete harder, you have to grind harder, you have to be in your book 10 times more than those guys."