Eagles rookie cornerback Jalen Mills a pleasant surprise during offseason program

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A lot of seventh-round draft picks around the NFL are just trying to make the team. Jalen Mills, on the other hand, is impressing his Eagles coaches and teammates — so much so that some feel he could be vying for serious playing time come September.

Mills has been one of the pleasant surprises of the Eagles' offseason program this year. The rookie cornerback out of LSU was all over the place, breaking up passes, challenging receivers and even getting some reps with the first-team defense. Despite falling so far in the draft, it appeared Mills might be able to contribute right away.

Jim Schwartz asked reporters not to put much stock into the depth chart this time of year, but even the Eagles' defensive coordinator had to admit Mills "checks all the boxes" for a corner in his system.

"He's got a lot to learn, and his head's probably swimming a little bit, but what he has shown is he's a very good athlete," Schwartz said of Mills. "He can play the ball, and he's comfortable being on an island.

"I think if you were check-marking things for corners, those would be three near or at the top."

Head coach Doug Pederson was singing Mills' praises as well as the Eagles' final minicamp practice came to a close Thursday (see 10 takeaways).

"I love his competitiveness," Pederson said. "I love the aggression that he has playing that position, and he doesn't back down from any of our veteran receivers or tight ends or any of the guys that you normally might see on a normal basis might do that.

"He's challenging guys. He's got great quickness and transition in and out of breaks. Smart kid, eager to learn — those are things that really have stood out with me."

Even the wide receivers who are going up against Mills in practice have quickly come to respect the 22-year-old, both for the way he approaches his job and what he's been able to accomplish in practice. Count Jordan Matthews, who's no slouch with 152 catches for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns in two seasons, among those who think Mills could be on the field quite a bit in 2016.

"He's not afraid," Matthews says of Mills. "He'll come up there and get in my face whenever we're working plays. If he wants to be physical, he's gonna be physical, he's not gonna back down. Then even after some practices, he's pulled me aside and said, 'Hey, let's get some extra releases,' so you know that willingness to work is also there too.

"I like him a lot. I think he's definitely gonna play a lot for us this year."

Perhaps it should come as no surprise Mills is already outperforming his seventh-round pick label. A versatile defensive back with experience at corner, nickel and safety, his draft-weekend tumble had more to do with injuries and off-field concerns than talent.

A four-year starter at LSU, Mills finished his collegiate career with 216 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 16 pass breakups and six interceptions in 46 starts. While he didn't run well at the NFL scouting combine (4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Mills possesses quality size at 6-foot, 191 pounds and unrivaled experience in a major conference and program.

All of which seem to be aiding Mills' quick transition at the next level so far. 

"It's a big learning process," Mills said. "In the beginning, it was a little shaky, trying to adapt to the playbook and the different type of players that we have here, but I feel like throughout the process, with the coaching and the players we have in the secondary, they've helped me a lot.

"Just being able to look at different route concepts that these guys have. We have guys who run great routes and even smarter quarterbacks, and me being a rookie, they test me."

Despite lining up almost exclusively at safety his final seasons at LSU, the Eagles never had any doubts about moving Mills back to cornerback. As it turns out, that's where he feels the most comfortable.

"It's kind of the same thing I did at LSU my first two years," Mills said.

"I like being able to have that one-on-one matchup and make that play for the team, to where it's a three-and-out or an interception. Good defenses usually have a great line and great cornerbacks, so I want to be one of those guys that beats you."

He could have that opportunity earlier than anybody expected. Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and Eric Rowe are expected to battle for the starting cornerback jobs. However, Mills could earn time as the nickel cornerback, where there is much less in the way of an established pecking order.

Obviously, it's still extremely early, and job competitions have yet to even begin in earnest. Regardless, the attention Mills has drawn to himself with these early practices is noteworthy.

The carryover from a successful offseason program to training camp and preseason will ultimately determine how much Mills can contribute in 2016. Thus far though, the Eagles like what they see.

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