Eagles could get Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas back vs. Washington, but still miss key players in the secondary
Jordan Hicks seems to be the most seriously injured of the Eagles regulars who are rehabbing.
Before the Eagles practiced on Thursday, Doug Pederson listened to a lengthy list of players who have been injured for the Eagles. Most of the group was defensive backs.
"I know it's a long, long list," Pederson said.
The good news for the Eagles is that it looks like there will be fewer cornerbacks on that list by the time the ball is kicked off on Monday against Washington. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas were both full participants in practice on Thursday, the Eagles' first day back on the field this week. Neither player practiced last week. Jones was inactive for the Giants game and Douglas was used only as an emergency cornerback.
If Jones and Douglas can progress during the next few days, they'll likely be the starting outside cornerbacks against Washington. However, the Eagles continue to practice without Jalen Mills (foot) and Avonte Maddox (knee), and they'll be without Rodney McLeod and Ronald Darby all season. So even if the secondary depth chart is not as dire as it was one week ago, the Eagles still must survive with an undermanned group.
"The message doesn't change," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Regardless of who's in there, it's really been a revolving door. We understand the situation that we're in."
Jenkins emphasized the need to focus on details of the game plan and tackling on the perimeter, which will be a key after the Eagles allowed 100-yard rushers in three consecutive games.
Douglas said he's still "day-to-day" with ankle and knee injuries and he's trying to see what "movements I can make and can't make." Jones, who was not available to reporters on Thursday, is trying to return from a one-game absence that came when he re-injured his hamstring following a one-month absence. The Eagles will also have De'Vante Bausby, Cre'von LeBlanc, and Chandon Sullivan at cornerback. Sullivan exited Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, but he was a full participant at practice.
At safety, the Eagles will continue to pair Malcolm Jenkins and Corey Graham. Tre Sullivan and Deiondre' Hall are the reserves. Graham has started the past two games and played 97 percent of the defensive snaps last week, a significant workload for a veteran who was used in more of a situational role one year ago. He missed three games earlier this season with a hamstring injury, but the Eagles need him as a full-time safety until Maddox returns.
Graham's message to less-experienced defensive backs is to simply "compete to the end," as last game showed. The first half was miserable, but the secondary was able to regroup in the second half. Graham acknowledged it "could have gotten really, really bad," and he thought it was "really unbelievable" the way the Eagles responded.
"A lot of guys, when things go bad, they tend to let it affect them on the next play or next half," Graham said.
The credit goes to Bausby and LeBlanc, who needed to play the bulk of the snaps. Neither was on the roster at the start of the month. Bausby, though, was on practice squad last season and spent the entire offseason and training camp with the team. He also played four games with Chicago in 2016. So he boldly said that he "ain't no young guy," considering the experience he has with the Eagles.
Still, he never started a game before Sunday, when he played 98 percent of the snaps. And if something happens with Jones or Douglas, Bausby would be pressed into duty. He knows there's no substitute for experience, but he understands the defense.
"I'm ready," Bausby said. "I'm comfortable being in an uncomfortable situation. If I have to go out there and start or if I have to go out there in the middle of the game, I'll be ready for it."
It's been more of a transition for LeBlanc, who has had to learn the Eagles' defensive scheme in a few weeks and played both slot cornerback and on the outside. He could fit as the team's slot cornerback on Sunday against Washington.
"Talk about a kid that shows up every single day and finds a way to get it done," defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said.
Undlin emphasized that the standard doesn't change no matter who's on the field. He's never been a part of a secondary with as many injuries as this group, but he hasn't altered how he's coached or approaches the meetings. There's more teaching required for a newcomer like LeBlanc, but there's no asterisk used in his evaluation.
"Can't be," Undlin said. "If there was an asterisk, I wouldn't put the guy out there."
The challenge for the secondary will be different than it was last week. Washington has the 25th-ranked passing offense and starts a backup quarterback. They don't have a receiver comparable to Odell Beckham Jr. Two of their top three pass-catchers are tight ends. This is matchup in which the Eagles will need Jenkins – their best defensive back – to play well covering tight end Jordan Reed.
Washington could get wide receiver Jamison Crowder back on Monday, although starting receiver Paul Richardson is out for the season. Josh Doctson is their top outside receiver.
But Washington could look at the Eagles' secondary and say the same thing. The Eagles survived with a depleted group last week, and they must do the same on Monday.
"Obviously would you want your No. 1 guys out there? We all do," Graham said. "But the next guy has to go out there and get the job done."