Eagles feature

A promising debut for youngest defensive starter in Eagles history

Kelee Ringo made his NFL debut on Monday in Seattle and the youngest defensive starter in franchise history held his own.

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He had other opportunities, other chances to earn playing time. And it just didn’t work out. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t good enough. 

So Kelee Ringo made up his mind.

Next time he gets an opportunity? He’s not going to squander it.

“I feel like earlier — in the preseason and throughout the season — I had opportunities and I feel like, just me looking at myself in the mirror, I feel like there were times where I didn’t take those opportunities and make the most of those,” Ringo said at his locker on Thursday.

“I feel like I was the reason why things didn't pan out. So just continue to grow from the opportunities. There was no other reason but me. I can't put a finger on nobody else. I feel like it’s up to you to make the most of the opportunities that they're giving to you. I feel like it doesn't get any more complicated than that.  

“You just have to continue to work on yourself, better yourself. That's the only thing that you can do.”

That’s an awfully mature outlook from a rookie 4th-round cornerback who just turned 21 in June.

Ringo on Monday night in Seattle became the youngest player in Eagles history to start a game on defense. At 21 years, 174 days old, he was a few weeks younger than safety Joe Scarpati, who was 21 years, 192 days when he made his first career start in the 1964 opener against the Giants at Franklin Field.

In all, Ringo became the 4th-youngest starter in Eagles history. When the Eagles faced the Saints in 2009, LeSean McCoy got his first start at 21 years, 70 days and Jeremy Maclin at 21 years, 125 days. And in 2012, Bryce Brown was 21 years, 118 days when he started against the Panthers.  

Ringo is also the 4th-youngest starter at any position in the NFL this year, behind Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson and Patriots corner Christian Gonzalez – who are both on IR – and Chargers linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu, whose brother Marlon is on the Eagles.

But Ringo didn’t just play.

This time he was ready.

He was one of a small handful of Eagles who played very well Monday night.

“The mindset I wanted to have going out there was to rely on my training,” he said. “My training gave me the opportunity to even be out there with those guys. So just continue to stick to what I know and just not make up anything. Because, honestly, you can’t do your own thing in a great profession like this, where guys (on the other team) are just as talented as you.

“So you just focus on your technique and rely on what you've been working on the entire time you’ve been here. You rely on your preparation, and I was able to do that out there. I played pretty aggressive. I relied on my coaches and the things I was taught to do. I relied on my teammates.”

Ringo, a 4th-round pick from Georgia, played one defensive snap the first 12 games of the season, while other young corners – Mario Goodrich, Eli Ricks, Josh Jobe, Mekhi Garner – took turns getting playing time.

But while it seemed like he was buried on the depth chart, he was quietly learning the defense, learning opposing receivers, learning what it takes to play in the NFL.

And when Darius Slay had to leave the Dallas game with the knee injury that eventually required a knee scope, it was Ringo who replaced him. He played 22 snaps in his first significant NFL playing time and although he allowed a 39-yard completion to Michael Gallup, he showed enough to earn his first career start a week later vs. the Seahawks on national TV.

And on Monday night, he didn’t allow a completion. 

Ringo played 32 snaps vs. the Seahawks, and ProFootballFocus gave him an overall grade of 78.2, which ranked 14th-best of 90 corners who played at least 30 snaps in Week 15. He was targeted twice and didn’t allow a completion.

That’s in his first career start just a few months after his 21st birthday.

Certainly an auspicious debut.

Where will this all lead?

Who knows? Slay turns 33 in two weeks, James Bradberry is 30 and hasn’t had a good season. These last few games — or at least until Slay comes back from his knee scope — could very well be a tryout for next year’s starting lineup.

“I always believe everything happens for a reason,” Ringo said. “Being in this position and having the chance to make the most of my abilities and displaying the things God has given to me to help myself succeed. I feel like, man, not too much needs to be spoke about. 

“I feel like the tape shows everything that I'm capable of and continuing to build on that is the main thing. The important thing is this is not anywhere near where I want to be. I’m nowhere near 100 percent where I need to be. But this is definitely a start.”

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