Eagles Look for Answers at CB: ’34 Always Ready When His Number’s Called’

CreVon LeBlanc

Getty The Eagles may need slot CB CreVon LeBlanc to switch to the outside this week versus San Francisco.

Donovan McNabb famous told Philly fans: “5 will always love you.” Now a certain cornerback is channeling that same confidence.

The Eagles are down to three active cornerbacks heading into tonight’s game: Darius Slay, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Cre’Von LeBlanc. The team chose not to call up any additional corners for Sunday, although they did elevate safety Grayland Arnold. With would-be starters Avonte Maddox (ankle) and Trevor Williams (rib) injured and out, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will likely turn to a long-time slot corner like LeBlanc to hop to the outside. The man known as Strap will be ready.

“Thirty-four always ready when his number’s called,” LeBlanc told reporters on Friday. “And whether that’s inside or outside, it don’t really matter.”

LeBlanc has seen snaps on the outside in previous years, most notably in 2018 when he held his own against the Giants and Odell Beckham Jr. The Eagles prefer to stock the roster with interchangeable parts, safety-cornerback hybrid players, and mix up their coverages on a whim. No one knows for sure what Schwartz has up his sleeve versus San Francisco.

“I mean, we all talented guys,” LeBlanc said. “However, Jim draws it up for us, we’ll be ready. He considers us all as X’s so wherever he needs us to be on the field, you’ve seen it countless times year after year, it’s kind of next man up mentality, and whenever your number’s called you got to go out there and put your best foot forward.”

Strap had been the odd man out through the first two weeks as Robey-Coleman — the big-name free agent with the reputation for being the best slot corner in football — took the majority of snaps. That role reversed course in Week 3. LeBlanc saw 59 defensive snaps to Robey-Coleman’s 26, although Schwartz said it had nothing to do with performance issues. Robey-Coleman looked overmatched in Week 2 against his former club, the Los Angeles Rams.

“We really wanted to devote resources to controlling the game and not letting them run the football,” Schwartz said. “It was more game-plan oriented and how we were playing package based on down and distance. It was nothing else.”

If that sounds like a bit of lip service, well, it probably is. LeBlanc had openly complained on social media about his lack of playing time after losing to the Rams and seemingly got his wish. Now he might be counted on to contribute in an even more impactful way. LeBlanc could be asked to start and stick 49ers rookie standout Brandon Aiyuk (drafted four picks after Jalen Reagor). Challenge accepted.

“I put my faith in God and accept the challenge,” LeBlanc said. “Just knowing the sky’s always the limit for me, nobody else can put that bottlecap on how high my wings can spread. Again, it is a business and you can only control what you can control at the end of the day. And my biggest thing is every time my number’s called, or a team call on me to get a job done, I got to do everything in my power to get that job done and whatever role that is, be the best at that role.”

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Jalen Mills Another Option at Starting CB

The Eagles could also choose to move a more experienced chess piece on the board. Jalen Mills has been making the transition from cornerback to safety this year, with mixed results.

There have been noticeable — and self-admitted — issues with communication on the backend. Mills expressed confidence in his ability to carry on the proud legacy that Malcolm Jenkins left behind at the position, but he also didn’t rule out jumping back to corner for a game.

“We been here before with injuries and things and it’s always the next man up mentality,” Mills said. “When you’re talking about me being a leader, just making sure guys are comfortable when and where we’re lining up. You want guys to go out there and play fast and that starts with communication and ends with communication, that’s kind of been the biggest thing in practice — flying to the ball and communicating well.”

Mills indicated that both Schwartz and defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel have been pleased with his play at safety. He doesn’t expect any drastic changes this early in the season. However, Schwartz left all options at the position on the table in guarded comments to Philly reporters.

“We’re going to keep our cards a little close to our vest of how we’re going to cover up some of our packages and how we’re going to play personnel,” Schwartz said. “No sense tipping our hand right now. But we’ll have a good plan come Sunday.”

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