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Jalen Mills says he’s “going to be playing the same position” that Malcolm Jenkins played in the Eagles’ defense

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Big shoes to fill.

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles took on a big challenge last week when they announced their decision to move on from Malcolm Jenkins. Replacing such an indispensable player is no easy task.

So, how will the Eagles attempt to fill Jenkins’ shoes? Well, let’s just say that I don’t think it was entirely coincidence that the Eagles re-signed Jalen Mills right before announce Jenkins’ departure. The Eagles appear to view the Green Goblin as Jenkins’ successor.

Mills said as much during a recent Instagram live chat (via @PHLEaglesNation):

“One thing I can say, knowing that I am filling in and I’m going to be playing the same position that Malcolm was playing in different kind of roles that he was playing for our defense, for one, Malcolm is … that’s big bro, up top. You know what I’m saying? His name holds weight not only in the NFL but also in Philadelphia so I know it’s going to be a big target on my back as far as not only the team but also the fans and the organization as far as me making plays.”

This sentiment lines up with what Dave Spadaro has written about Mills in three different articles on PhiladelphiaEagles.com over the past week.

First:

So, reportedly re-signing Jalen Mills – listed as a defensive back now, not as a cornerback – is an important move. Mills has the size and the tenacity to line up over the slot receiver. He can play as a dime back. He can line up and support the run and he can still drop back into deep coverage. If the Eagles do, indeed, experiment with Mills in the Jenkins role, it’s a credit to their trust in Mills to know his responsibilities in the defense and to be in the right place at the right time. Good tackler. Physical player. Smart. Instinctive. Mills knows how to prepare. He would be a fit – and how many people have talked about moving Mills to safety in the last couple of years? This could be really good for his career if it happens like that.

Second:

The Eagles reportedly retained Jalen Mills prior to the open of the new business year, and could take a look at him in the role that Malcolm Jenkins played in the last year or two, a quasi-linebacker who moves around in the defensive backfield.

Third:

Along with that, the Eagles re-signed safety Rodney McLeod and defensive back Jalen Mills, who could have a chance to slide into the role Malcolm Jenkins played – more of an in-the-box safety/quasi-linebacker/inside cornerback – the last couple of seasons. Interesting stuff.

Indeed, Jenkins wore a number of hats for the Eagles’ defense. Take a look at his snap counts by position from 2019, per Pro Football Focus:

Box — 431
Slot cornerback — 266
Free safety — 208
Defensive line — 158
Wide cornerback — 12

And now for a visual representation:

Playing in the box more often will certainly be a new challenge for Mills, who has taken 81.5% of his NFL defensive snaps at outside cornerback. He did play safety at LSU, of course, but it’s been five years since he was a full-time player at that position. The envisioned role for Mills figures to be a significant adjustment that could take place during an offseason where there isn’t as much practice time as there usually is.

To his credit, Mills isn’t one to back down from a challenge. Part of the reason why the coaching staff (read: Jim Schwartz) loves him so much is because he’s so very confident. Irrationally so, some might say. To be determined if the combination of Mills’ mindset and his talent lends to a successful transition.

Mills might not only be tasked with replacing Jenkins on the field. The soon-to-be 26-year-old could also be expected to have a bigger voice in the locker room. Mills has often led the Eagles’ defensive backs huddle prior to running out on the field in pregame warmups. Jenkins would obviously then break down the entire team huddle after warmup were over. I wonder if we could see Mills step up and potentially be named as one of the team’s five captains.

All of this might seem crazy to Mills’ detractors. But the reality is that the Eagles highly value him. That much is reflected by his projection as the heir to Jenkins’ throne.