Eagles analysis

The big picture Eagles DBs coach sees with player versatility

The Eagles have plenty of versatile pieces in their secondary, which should help out in 2024.

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The Eagles have a bunch of players in their revamped secondary with the versatility to play multiple positions.

It’s a useful quality.

We saw that versatility a bit this spring at OTAs and minicamp but new defensive backs coach Christian Parker thinks it will really help once the Eagles get into their schedule in September.

“It does because at the end of the day, you want to get your best 11 on the field,” Parker said this spring. “So whatever combination we can put together with guys that understand their job, whether it be a corner to nickel or a nickel to safety or dime position, what have you.

“The more guys that have an overall knowledge of what we’re doing then the better you can be. Because we can change from a package perspective, personnel-wise down to down. And then we can also move different pieces around based on the opponent we’re playing each week.”

This is a message that was clearly passed on to rookies Cooper DeJean and Quinyon Mitchell this spring. Because both of them, especially DeJean, spoke about how knowing each position in the secondary will help them in whatever their role ends up being.

While it’s obviously helpful to have players who can play multiple spots for the eventuality that injuries occur, cross-training is a function that the Eagles think can help them even if everyone stays healthy.

The Eagles have a designated cornerbacks coach (Roy Anderson) and a safeties coach (Joe Kasper) working under Parker, but there’s a reason they spend so much time together as a complete secondary.

“We meet together and we start individual together before we disperse in different technical development,” Parker said. “I think that it’s important and understand. Darius Slay is hearing what Reed Blankenship is getting coached on. Isaiah Rodgers is hearing what we’re telling Tyler Hall at nickel, what have you. Those guys have to understand the difference in the job descriptions and where their help is and where it isn’t.”

Aside from a great understanding of the defense as a whole, having players who can play multiple spots from snap to snap can help the Eagles trip up opposing offenses.

Here’s what Parker said about working under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio again:

“I think me and him see the game very similar just in terms of limiting explosive plays and having different ways that the defense looks the same but can be different,” Parker said. “The illusion of being complex down in and down out. And I think that’s something that I believe in with him.”

The illusion of being complex. That’s a lot easier when you have a bunch of different players who can line up at different spots in the secondary.

So, who are those players?

During the spring, DeJean worked at both outside corner and nickel corner and he also seems to have the skills to play safety if the Eagles ever want to try him there. Avonte Maddox played both nickel corner and safety this spring and has been a starting outside cornerback before. C.J. Gardner-Johnson began his career as a nickel corner but is a starting safety now with the Eagles.

Those three pieces appear to be very movable in the Eagles’ defense.

Here’s what Parker said about each of them and their roles:

DeJean: “I think Coop is very versatile. I think he plays with good vision to the ball. I think that he has good ball skills. I think we’re kind of in that process now. We’ve moved him around a little bit. He can handle it mentally. I think as we move on in this phase right now and get into training camp, he’ll have a home. But he’s playing corner, he’s playing nickel, he’s handling those things well. We’ll continue to put more things on his plate and see how he handles it.”

Maddox: “Avonte, No. 1, he’s played a lot of football. And he’s played in different schemes from Jim Schwartz to (Jonathan) Gannon to (Sean) Desai last year and now this. He sees the game very well and I think his movement skills give you kind of a plus coverage guy back there. There are a lot of jobs that are similar between the nickel and safety position, depending on coverage. And then even the jobs that aren’t similar, the safety is depending on the nickel to do something so when you’ve been down there, you kind of see it from a different frame of mind. He’s very welcoming to that. He wants to be a versatile player and help us in that regard and he’s done a good job.”

Gardner-Johnson: “I think that he’s definitely started a lot of games at multiple spots. He’s been able to impact the ball at multiple spots at well. For [Gardner-Johnson] right now, he’s at safety. We know he has the ability to play other positions too. As we gradually move forward, we’ll figure that out. The safety position in this defense is demanding from a communication standpoint. Really, that’s the primary job. And then we get to the secondary job after that.”

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