There are no specific skillsets or physical measurements hanging on job descriptions this season for the Philadelphia Eagles. The new coaching staff is looking for the “best man” at every position and they’ll find that out through heated competitions up and down the roster.
The starting quarterback isn’t immune to it. Neither is the vacancy at left tackle or tight end. Perhaps the most important battle of the summer will take place in the secondary as the Eagles look for a starting cornerback to pair with Darius Slay. That job belonged to Avonte Maddox last year and he’ll get the first crack at keeping it. But nothing is guaranteed and the competition will be fierce, according to new defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson. It’s his responsibility to draw the talent out of every player in the secondary.
“It’s an open competition, whoever comes in and puts it all together, that’s who you’re going to see out there on Sundays,” Wilson told reporters. “Right now, I can’t tell you I’m looking for a specific thing, I think we have talent on this roster, I think we need to get the talent out of them.
“I’ve played with all types of corners, it’s not a specific skillset, body [type], it’s just whatever they do well they got to do well all the time. If their body allows them to play the deep ball, that’s what they got to do. If they’re a quicker, faster guy they got to win on quick and fast-breaking routes.”
Wilson has a pretty good eye for talent, too. He has coached some pretty good players over the years like Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Trumaine Johnson. He also had the privilege of getting to know a young Rodney McLeod at DeMatha High School and then coaching him as a rookie for the St. Louis Rams. He knows what to look for in budding playmakers.
“I think it always comes down to technique and fundamentals,” Wilson said. “You’re not going to be great at everything so the deficiencies you have you have to work on them. But it all comes down to this, it comes down to eyes, technique and fundamentals. And two things I’m not going to compromise on are effort and toughness.”
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Avonte Maddox: ‘Tough, Fast, Physical’ Player
Wilson wasn’t allowed to put Maddox through any live drills during spring OTAs, but he was able to glean what the versatile cornerback is good at. Despite being undersized (5-foot-9, 184 pounds), Maddox has a quick twitch and his experience playing both safety and nickel corner in previous years should help him get on the field.
“He’s tough. He plays fast. He’s physical. He loves to compete,” Wilson said of Maddox. “He’s had success, playing out at corner, playing safety, playing the nickel positions — and for us going forward, as we start to develop, as we start to get out on the field, we’re going to put him in the best position to help us win.”
Will he be the starter on the outside? Or will he move back inside? That could be one of the biggest storylines to watch at training camp.
“He’s a guy that has attention to detail. He’s taking notes on every position,” Wilson said. “We’ll see where he fits. We’ll put him in the right spot to maximize his talent. So whatever position that ends up turning out to be, it’s our job to get him to play at a high level at that position and try to keep it consistent.”
His biggest weakness has been availability. Maddox has missed 10 games over the past two seasons and hasn’t recorded an interception since 2018.
Wilson Wants More Out of Slay, Too
Slay is the unquestioned starter on one side of the field. But the three-time Pro Bowler is coming off a down year — at least by his incredibly high standards — and drew criticism at times in 2020 for not locking down the other team’s best target.
Slay even took the blame for a Week 12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks after DK Metcalf torched him. Wilson has watched all the tape and sees a very talented player. The new coach called Slay a “football junkie” and promised to get him back on track.
“It’s been a pleasure to be around Slay,” Wilson said. “He’s always trying to perfect his craft. He still has talent. He still can run. It’s my job as the coach, and the reason I was brought in, was to get the best out of him. He’s all in, I love the way he competes, I love his attitude, I love the way he views the game. He’s a smart player, high character, he’s dependable.”
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