Eagles’ Jalen Mills Describes Biggest Challenge of Moving to Safety

Jalen Mills

Getty Jalen Mills will return to the Eagles in 2020 in a hybrid role as a safety and cornerback.

For Jalen Mills, the biggest thing about transitioning from cornerback to safety doesn’t have anything to do with scheme or formation.

No, it’s more about making his voice heard on the field. Mills, who played two years of safety at LSU, has been designated as the starting strong safety in the Eagles’ revamped secondary. The 26-year-old “Green Goblin” still has to earn the spot in training camp but it’s almost a foregone conclusion he wins the job. In order to ensure that happens, Mills has been in Rodney McLeod’s ear incessantly while making a concerted effort to be more vocal.

The former seventh-round draft pick knows it’s all about communication, specifically when it comes to getting the proper hand signals to his teammates on defense. For example, Mills has to process the play calls being relayed from the sideline and then spread them to the linebackers, cornerbacks and defensive ends.

“The communication part, just communicating to every single person and knowing that we’re on the same page,” Mills told reporters on Thursday. “I think that’s the biggest thing, being a little bit more vocal.”

He’s basically quarterbacking the defense. And Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is counting on him to not muffle the message in translation.

“Communicating at corner, in my four years with the Eagles, I could just get a hand signal from the sideline and see the MIKE linebacker get a call from Schwartz and know the exact call we were in,” Mills said. “And now I can get that exact same call or signal but my far corner might not know it, that linebacker might not know it, that defensive end might not know it.”

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Mills Played Safety at LSU for Two Years

LSU cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond was in a pinch. One of his starting cornerbacks had committed a “brain fart” in a pivotal SEC showdown against Arkansas in 2013, so he turned to Mills. Two plays later, the nickel corner rewarded him by leaping for an interception and his fate was sealed. Logically, everything just clicked. LSU won the game 31-27.

“You just got to be a ballplayer at the end of the day,” Mills said. “I think it’s no different to playing corner or safety, just knowing the defense. The offense is going to scheme the same. If they’re up, they are going to run the ball. If they’re down, they’re going to throw it.”

Raymond debuted Mills as his starting safety the next week in the Outback Bowl versus Iowa and he went on to start 18 games at safety spanning over his junior and senior seasons. He probably would have seen more snaps if not for a broken ankle in 2015.

“You want to be able to play all positions,” Mills told ESPN in 2014. “You don’t want to be a single-position type of guy if you’re a defensive back.”

Going Head-to-Head with Zach Ertz & Carson Wentz

The major battle at Eagles’ training camp will be for the starting cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay, aka Mills’ old job. The leading candidates to win that one is Avonte Maddox or Sidney Jones, maybe Rasul Douglas.

But the safety spot should provide some highlight-reel competition of its own as Mills looks to get acclimated to his new position. The converted cornerback admitted he’s excited to get in some game-like situations, knowing that trying to cover and outsmart guys like Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz will only make him better.

“The competition we have here, going against arguably if not the best then one of the best tight ends in Zach Ertz — and then him having a great quarterback as far as Carson goes,” Mills said. “I think that’s a great thing for me, too, having those two guys to go against every day. Our camp practices are competitive — super competitive — and that’s going to lead us into a great year.”

Adding to that optimism are the new weapons in the secondary, mainly Slay and nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman and hybrid safety Will Parks. The depth chart might look final in August but it’s far from a sure thing. They are competing and pushing each other, and trying to find their identity as a defense.

“It’s been pretty dope,” Mills said of meeting the new guys in the virtual meetings. “We’re not going to be the same 2019 offense, not the same 2019 defense, not the same 2019 Eagles. This year is going to be different. We need to find our stride, our identity, and who we are and stick to it.”

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