What we know about Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s fondness for starting Rasul Douglas at cornerback is that he basically has none.
Whenever there has been an opportunity to play someone else since Douglas joined the team as a third-round draft pick in 2017, Schwartz has done so. If Douglas is on the field, that is usually an indication something has gone horribly wrong with the team’s cornerback rotation.
Keeping that in mind, it is remarkable that Douglas has played more snaps than any other Eagles cornerback since the start of the 2018 season. Including his rookie year, he is second only to Jalen Mills for snaps at the position.
There are two ways to look at this. The first is that the plague of cornerback injuries has made it necessary for Douglas to play, even if the coaching staff holds its collective breath when he does. The second – and this would be a preferable outlook for Douglas – is that while he isn’t regarded as a starter-quality cornerback, the staff has enough confidence to use him in a pinch without hesitation.
The Eagles certainly could have sought out other options, even if it meant admitting a fairly high recent draft pick was a mistake. Aside from a splashy move like trading for Jalen Ramsey, which appears increasingly unlikely, the woods are full of middling cornerbacks whose abilities appear to be the equal of Douglas.
But Rasul Douglas is theirs, and he knows the system, and, here’s a bonus: He never gets hurt.
“I don’t know. I don’t have a secret. I guess I’m just blessed to stay healthy,” Douglas said after a practice. “I hope I don’t get injured for saying that.”
Aside from a broken wrist in high school (which didn’t stop him from playing), Douglas has played the violent game of football without incident. This makes him unique among Eagles cornerbacks.
Leading up to Sunday’s game against the Jets, the Eagles were still missing Mills and Cre’Von LeBlanc with injuries that will keep them out several more weeks, and were trying to patch things together until Sidney Jones, Ronald Darby, and Avonte Maddox are healthy enough to get back on the field. Of those three, only Jones practiced this past week, and only on a limited basis. Darby and Maddox are listed as “out” for the game.
For most of the practice week, Douglas, Orlando Scandrick, and Craig James were the only sound cornerbacks on the active roster. Scandrick, 32, was signed last week, and James, promoted from the practice squad, played two snaps against Green Bay, one of which might have saved the win.
Two other corners were recently signed to the practice squad, Ryan Lewis and D.J. White, and Lewis was elevated to the active roster Friday. Jones is listed as “questionable,” and Doug Pederson was optimistic he would be in uniform, but the Eagles decided to hedge their bet by bringing up Lewis. The Eagles are the fifth NFL team for Lewis in three seasons, and he was signed just on Tuesday.
It’s not a great situation, and Douglas is the rock of the unit. He covers and tackles well enough near the line of scrimmage, but he isn’t nimble and is vulnerable against receivers able to get past him. Schwartz might not feel it necessary to play two deep safeties against the Jets to protect the cornerbacks, but he certainly did against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. That’s not the way Schwartz likes to play.
“I’ve still got a long way to go, but I keep working,” Douglas said. “The more playing you do, the more reps you get, the better you get. You can be a visual learner all you want, but you have to be able to go out and do it on the field. This is a tough league, and I keep fighting.”
Douglas played in his rookie season only those games when Darby was injured. Last season, he had just nine defensive snaps in the first five games before all the injuries began to take their toll.
Even then, the coaches looked elsewhere. Douglas played only two snaps of a November game against the Giants, while Schwartz and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin took a flyer on newcomers Chandon Sullivan and De’Vante Bausby.
This season, Darby and Maddox were the starters, with Jones and Douglas alternating as the third cornerback. Then, Darby got hurt against Detroit, Jones went out early against Green Bay, and Maddox suffered the late concussion and neck injury in that game. Welcome back to the top of the heap, Rasul Douglas.
“You never know when your number is going to be called in this league,” Douglas said. “Since I’ve been here three years, there have been a lot of guys coming in and out of the room. We practice as if everyone is going to be out there.”
Who knows how long this can last for Douglas or whether his skills actually improve enough with playing time to keep him around even when the team is healthy. His rookie contract becomes absorbable after this season ($176,000 in dead money, and a $754,000 cap savings) and a second contract seems unlikely.
But you never know. So far, he’s been in the right place at exactly the right time for fortune to smile on him.
“I don’t believe in luck,” Douglas said flatly.