The Eagles made a lot of changes to the secondary earlier this offseason, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz spoke to the media on Friday about Jalen Mills moving to safety, how Darius Slay will be used, and what they’re building at defensive line.
He also admitted that there aren’t a lot of “household names” at the linebacker position, but they’ve had a lot of guys who have put time in on the grass and in the meeting rooms, and it’s time to see them play. So, they’re excited about the roster.
Here’s what the DC had to say:
On Jalen Mills and his position change
Jalen is in a different spot than the new guys because he’s not learning a new defense, he’s learning a new position within the defense — plus, they've cross trained the secondary positions the past few years, so his learning curve is nowhere near as steep as a rookie or new player.
Later on, Schwartz said that they see traits in Mills that are successful at the safety position.
“He’s tough, he’ll can tackle, he has range, he has instincts. We like his vision at that position. And, we’ve seen players in the past transition that same way.”
He’s played the technique as a corner, but he’s done those things, and has a base to work from. Mills checked a lot of boxes that they were looking for at the safety position, and he’ll bring a lot of energy inside.
On Darius Slay and his fit in the defense
Over the last couple of years the Eagles have taken a lot of strides to limit their tells for man or zone coverage.
Schwartz talked about before the 2018 season, they saw where people were going with man-routes and pick-routes, and they got sick of complaining about OPI, so they mitigated the situation themselves. One of the ways they did that is not always having corners go over and allowed guys to play inside and outside. He mentioned that they had flexibility with the safeties — Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod — who both had corner experience.
But, Schwartz admitted, when you have a guy like Slay who has a skill-set that can match one-on-one with a receiver, that adds another layer to things.
“I don’t know that it’s going to be a 100% all the time thing, maybe it’s a particular game. But you will see that from our defense.”
However, they can’t have him being in the game as a tip to them playing man-to-man, so that will change how he’s used and how the rest of the corners are used as well. They’ll change things up weekly and by opponent.
Schwartz is very excited about having Slay on the roster and he thinks it’s going to add another dimension to the secondary.
Later on, the DC was asked about Slay being a ball-hawk, but quipped that he can’t have interceptions if they’re not throwing to him — so, if he’s covering so well that the quarterbacks never challenge him, the number of picks isn’t a priority. There are other ways to show production and effectiveness.
On the other corners
Schwartz was asked about Nickell Robey-Coleman, Cre’Von LeBlanc, and Avonte Maddox and how they might be used since they’re all suited for the slot, and if they’ll get some playing time on the outside.
The defensive coordinator quickly pointed out that Maddox has already played just about every position in the Eagles’ secondary the past couple of years, and has had success inside and outside. LeBlanc has predominantly played inside for the Eagles, but he has experience outside, like against the Giants when injuries forced him there.
And, they’ll both need to be able to play outside, especially if Slay is shadowing a top receiver who moves inside to the slot.
On utilizing multiple DTs
Schwartz was asked about the addition of Javon Hargrave and what that means for the defensive tackle rotation.
He pointed out that Malik Jackson has played some defensive end in the past, he’s a really skilled pass rusher, but they din’t get to see that from him last year. Jackson has great use of his hands, he’s a very smart player, and he has great length. In the past, Schwartz has had guys play both DE and DT, and Jackson can do some of that for them.
“You never have enough defensive lineman.”
With the way they play up front, they have to rotate guys, but they’re at least going to look at ways to have 3 defensive tackles on the field at certain times. They’ve done 3 DEs in the past, and it gives them more flexibility and insurance in case of injury, especially if you have guys that can flip different positions.
On the virtual offseason
One positive thing about the virtual offseason, is they had a lot more meeting time with the players and got to look at a lot of film from the past few years. Schwartz said that they can get a good feel from guys about how comfortable they are.
Particularly with the way they had things set up, the DC said that guys could still prove that they were hard workers and they still showed through on the video workouts, and all that — even though it’s different than anything they’ve done in the past — there was a lot of good from it and things they could glean from it.