After Carson Wentz, the most scrutinized player during Tuesday’s first morning of Eagles OTA drills was cornerback Sidney Jones — which was not a big surprise.
Jones, often touted as the best corner available in the run-up to the 2017 draft, could be the most significant offseason addition to the defending Super Bowl champions. You can quibble over semantics there – Jones played in the meaningless 2017 regular-season finale – but he didn’t make an onfield impact during the championship season, after dropping to the second round of the draft because of a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered at his University of Washington pro day.
During Super Bowl week, Jones vowed that 2018 would be his time. Tuesday, he set about making that happen, Jones working in Patrick Robinson’s old nickel spot, with Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills outside.
“They want everybody to try it out,” said Jones, who turned 22 on Monday. “It’s something very brand new to me; I practiced it a little bit in college … If they ask me to do it, I’m here to do it.”
The Eagles had Jones attend all the meetings and make all the trips last season, to learn everything he could. Mills said you can tell now that Jones was actually paying attention in those meetings.
“Every week I was preparing as much as possible, as if I was going to play,” Jones said. “I don’t feel like a rookie, because I know everything [about the scheme] inside-out … I think I handled [the Achilles’ situation] very well … How are you going to react to adversity? What are you going to do after that [injury]? That’s kind of what drove me, the whole time.”
Jones is listed at 6-feet, 181 pounds, which isn’t imposing, but you could see Tuesday how his quick change of direction could be a big asset inside.
“The main difference is just leverage, knowing where your help is. You’ve got to be more blitz-ready” in the slot, Jones said. “Communication is very key, moving across from left to right, you have to communicate with this guy, that guy.”
Jones made a nice interception Tuesday of Nick Foles in the end zone, walling a tight end off from the ball in the corner, going up and bringing it down inbounds.
“Proving it to myself, first of all. I have high expectations of myself,” he said, when asked what motivates him, now that he is no longer rehabbing an injury. “Proving it to everybody else, too; I was rated highly last year and didn’t get to show that. I’m back.”
Wide receiver Shelton Gibson, a fifth-round draftee last season who also failed to make an impact, worked against Jones for several snaps Tuesday and said: “I like the way Sidney competes, always.”
Is Jones moving better than he was last season, now that the injury is more than a year behind him?
“He always looked good to me,” Gibson said.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said getting into the Dallas game, however meaningless the result, was a big step for boosting Jones’ confidence.
“Now that he’s had a full offseason with [defensive backs] coach [Cory] Undlin and [defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz’s defense, he’s definitely going to be in the mix,” Pederson said. “It’s going to be good for him and a lot of our young players, these next 10 practices.”
Pederson said these spring workouts are made for assessing younger players.
“We’ve got some young, talented guys that we need to find out [about],” Pederson said. “We need to get some answers on players, and this is the time to do that.”
Jones was asked what fans can expect, now that he has both feet under him, and is being counted upon to produce.
“Playmaker,” he said. “Good ballplayer.”
Doug Pederson said defensive end Brandon Graham “had his ankle cleaned out” and “is in a cast.” Graham played the postseason with a high-ankle sprain suffered Christmas night, against the Raiders … Pederson indicated the team might bring back safety Corey Graham, now a free agent. “If it works out, we’d love to have him,” Pederson said. “His veteran leadership brings a level of not only competition, but depth to the safety room, so if it works out, it would be great.” … Pederson said only running back Darren Sproles and defensive lineman Michael Bennett were not present for the opening of OTAs, which are voluntary. He said he wasn’t concerned.