Eagles hoping to have Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby back for Sunday night’s showdown with Cowboys
The Eagles' secondary got some significant reinforcements Wednesday when cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby returned to practice. Both of them may play Sunday night in the Eagles' big NFC East matchup with Dallas.
Considering that one of them hasn’t played football in nearly a year and the other has missed 18 of the last 28 regular-season games, it might be a little bit of a stretch to call Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby the cavalry.
But anybody who watched what Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and his receivers did to the Eagles’ secondary last Sunday realizes that any help is good help right now.
Mills and Darby, who had been the team’s starting corners before they got hurt in back-to-back games last season, returned to practice Wednesday and might play Sunday night against the host Dallas Cowboys.
“I’m in for Sunday,’’ Mills declared after practice. “At the end of the day, it’s coach’s call as far as if I’m playing and how much I’m playing. But my mindset is I’m going to play.’’
Darby, who missed the final seven games last season after tearing an ACL, returned and started the first three games this season before injuring a hamstring. He has missed the last three games.
He was listed on the team’s injury report Wednesday as a limited practice participant and wasn’t in the locker room during the media availability.
Mills wasn’t on the injury report since he’s still technically on the team’s Physically Unable To Perform list, But he is expected to be activated later in the week.
“We’re going to incorporate them more today [in practice] and see where they are at the end of the week,’’ coach Doug Pederson said earlier in the day.
Mills’ and Darby’s return came one day after the Los Angeles Rams traded three draft picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars, including two first-rounders, for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The Eagles had been among many teams that had talked to Jacksonville about Ramsey. But those conversations ended the first time the Jaguars mentioned two first-rounders as part of their asking price.
“There’s no disappointment [about not getting Ramsey],’’ Pederson said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a good player. But listen, we’re getting guys back. I’m excited about the guys we’ve got coming back and getting back into the mix. That’s encouraging.’’
The Eagles’ two other injured corners, Avonte Maddox (neck) and Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot), could be returning in the next couple of weeks. Maddox has missed the last two games after colliding with teammate Andrew Sendejo in the Eagles’ Week 4 win over the Packers.
LeBlanc, whose impressive play as the slot corner after being signed off the street late last year helped save the Eagles’ season, is eligible to be activated from the injured reserve list after the Buffalo game next week.
When Mills first sustained his foot injury last October in the Eagles’ game against Jacksonville in London, it was thought to be a minor injury. It wasn’t. It turned out to be a severe Lisfranc fracture.
He missed the rest of the season and wasn’t able to participate in spring OTAs. He was placed on the team’s PUP list at the start of training camp and couldn’t practice.
But he declared himself “fully healthy’’ on Wednesday.
“It was hard, for sure,’’ Mills, a fourth-year player, said of not being able to play football for nearly a year. “I’ve played this game all my life. I never had to spend this long off the field recovering from an injury.
“But now that I’m back out there, it’s like the first day of school. I was out there high-fiving everybody, trying to bring the energy.’’
With Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones starting at the two cornerback spots last week, Cousins completed 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, including 62- and 51-yarders to Stefon Diggs.
Through six games this season, the Eagles are 29th in passing yards allowed (280.2 per game), 28th in touchdown passes allowed (13), and 22nd in yards allowed per pass attempt (7.8).
Besides potentially getting Mills and Darby back this week, the Eagles might be getting another break.
Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper, who torched the Eagles for 10 catches, 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime last December, has a quad contusion that might keep him out of Sunday’s game.
Cooper was among several Cowboys starters, including offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and cornerbacks Byron Jones and Anthony Brown, who didn’t practice Wednesday and might not play Sunday.
Needless to say, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is looking forward to getting Mills back.
“Jalen’s an experienced player,’’ Schwartz said. “He’s tough. He’s very competitive. Good tackler. It will be nice to get all those things back when he’s able to do it all on the field.’’
If Darby plays Sunday night, he won’t be on a pitch count, since he’s only been out three weeks. It might be different for Mills, who hasn’t played in a game since last October.
“I’ve spent the last six weeks running a lot with Josh [Hingst],’’ Mills said of the Eagles’ strength and conditioning coach. “We’ve been doing a really, really good job as far as keeping my yardage up, keeping my heart strong, keeping my lungs strong.
“But there’s no way to simulate [playing football]. You just have to go out there and do it. You can run as many sprints as you want. But at the end of the day, football condition is football condition.
“That said, my mindset is to play the whole game. I’ve done it before, coming off an injury in college.’’
Mills said he will try to play within himself against the Cowboys and help right the Eagles’ defensive ship.
"Being the competitor I am, I feel I can make certain plays out there to help this team win and help this secondary play better,'' he said.
“I’m going to go out there and I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to try to do more than that. Whatever scheme we’re in, whatever [defensive] call we have, I’m just going to do what I have to do.’’