One position room is getting pretty crowded in Philadelphia. With 12 cornerbacks rostered, the Eagles may be running out of seats in the room. It’s a good problem to have.
Zech McPhearson, a fourth-round pick in 2021, is fighting for one of those chairs at training camp. It’s hard to get noticed with so many corners running around, but the talented 24-year-old is doing his best to standout. He made an acrobatic, leaping interception on Gardner Minshew on August 2 that elicited a few oohs from the media contingent watching practice. Problem was, McPhearson landed out of bounds. Play negated. A few plays later, he was burned for a touchdown by Jalen Reagor.
Those things are going to happen at camp, sometimes it leads to a breakthrough teaching moment from the coaching staff. McPhearson was a surprise standout last summer, but defensive snaps were at a premium once the season began. He got to start the regular-season finale in Week 18 as the Eagles rested their starters.
That experience guided his offseason. He came back stronger, adding about five pounds to his 5-foot-11 frame while burying himself in the playbook.
“I got a lot stronger, gained a lot of weight. I’m right around, like 196 [pounds] now,” McPhearson told reporters. “I know it’s not necessarily tangible but just me being able to play faster, knowing this playbook, being able to play faster. [This] being my second year out there, I can move around fast. I don’t gotta think as much.”
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Learning From 2 Pro Bowlers: ‘Be a Sponge’
Playing behind Darius Slay and James Bradberry has to be dream come true for a young cornerback learning the ropes. Turns out, it is. McPhearson is soaking in every minute like that old trusted, soggy sponge that never leaves the kitchen sink.
“I think it’s extremely fun to have two guys like that, both Pro Bowlers, I mean not a lot of people get that opportunity,” McPhearson said. “Just to learn from two people of that caliber, I try to take full advantage of it, and be a sponge every day, and take something away from them.”
McPhearson has made quite an impression on one of those Pro Bowlers. Slay showered the second-year player with praise when camp opened, calling McPhearson his eventual successor. The two spent the offseason working out together and Slay often chats up the youngster during practices.
“He’s just grinding, working hard,” Slay said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I’m trying to teach him everything I know because one of these days he’ll be taking my position. That’s the goal for me as a veteran guy. I want a younger guy to be the next me or even better. So, my goal is to keep working him.”
Everyone Pushing Each Other in CB Room
Slay and Bradberry are entrenched as the starting cornerbacks, with Avonte Maddox owning the nickel spot. After them, it’s an all-out battle royale for the final spots. The Eagles kept five corners coming out of 2021 camp, a number likely to jump this year due to high volume (12) at the position.
Despite the heated competition, the room remains friendly and confident. Everyone is pushing each other to get better.
“It’s a good dynamic, a lot of different personalities, a lot of competition so it pushes you,” McPhearson said. “We’re deep, so I mean, that’s how we like it going into camp. We all brothers at the end of the day, but we all are competing too.”
Of course, the biggest personality in that room is Slay. No question about it.
“He’s the most extreme personality we got,” McPhearson said, “but he’s a good dude.”