Surprise was not much in evidence Saturday along the grouping of NovaCare locker stalls belonging to Eagles cornerbacks, in the wake of the trade that brought corner Ronald Darby from Buffalo for wideout Jordan Matthews and a third-round draft choice.
These guys all have smartphones. As training camp progresses, they read the stories, watch the videos, scroll through the tweets. It was obvious the Eagles were going to make a move for a starting-quality corner, whether the players vying to start there thought the team needed to do that or not.
The most obvious probable loser in Friday’s trade was Patrick Robinson, the veteran of the group, who has been holding down the starting job opposite Jalen Mills until management could find something better. Now it has.
“I’m not sure, but I’m going to keep trying to be the best player I can be,” Robinson said, when asked how the trade affects his situation. “I can’t think too far ahead.”
Eagles coaches have praised Robinson, an eighth-year vet, for being a mentor to the young group, and he said he intends to help Darby, 23, a third-year pro from Robinson’s alma mater of Florida State, as Darby tries to get up to speed in Jim Schwartz’s defensive scheme. “If he needs help with any of the play calls or anything like that, I’m here to help him. Especially, as a vet, I’ve seen a lot of things. If he needs help with anything, I’m definitely here to help him,” Robinson said.
How daunting a task will learning the defense be less than a month before the start of the season?
“I don’t think it takes that long, to be honest,” said Robinson, who came from the Colts as a free agent this offseason. “For the [outside] corner, it’s a lot more simple, than for a safety or a nickel. There’s not like a huge learning curve that you would come into, being a corner here.”
Most likely, when the Eagles open the regular season Sept. 10 at Washington, Jalen Mills will man one corner and Darby the other. Ron Brooks was in the lead at the slot position until he tweaked a hamstring covering a punt in Thursday’s preseason opener.
Brooks played with Darby in Buffalo during the 2015 season when Darby was runner-up for NFL defensive rookie of the year.
“Not really,” Brooks said, when asked his level of surprise. “When you hear all the talk, people putting into question our secondary, I mean, it didn’t shock anybody.”
Brooks said he would describe Darby as “just a technical cornerback. He’s going to be a great addition to this defense.
“You can’t overlook his speed … he doesn’t get lost when a lot of receivers take off downfield. He’s stride-for-stride with most everybody.
“I think with his work ethic, the way he practices, he’ll be all right. He won’t have an issue with learning the defense.”
Safety Malcolm Jenkins – who worked at nickel corner Saturday, with Brooks sidelined and Aaron Grymes excused to attend to a personal matter – said that Darby has “shown a lot of potential to lock down receivers. It definitely makes us better on the back end.”
But Jenkins noted that Matthews was among the locker room leaders, and that even if a trade for a corner wasn’t a surprise, “it’s always a big deal when you lose one of your key contributors. He’s got all the respect from his teammates.”
When the Eagles drafted corner Rasul Douglas in the third round last spring, the hope was that he could mature into a rookie starter. Douglas definitely has showed promise, but as has been noted here and in just about every other media outlet, coaches feel neither Douglas nor any of the other youngsters competing has established starter-level consistency.
“I don’t think that’s up to me, to say we need a corner or we don’t. We’re adding a guy that’s good, I guess,” Douglas said. “Everyone’s here to compete and try to play. It doesn’t matter if there’s another corner here, 10 more corners come here – football’s all about competition anyway. You like that. The room gets better.”
Also showing promise, but not enough to merit a starting job, has been second-year corner C.J. Smith, who played strictly on special teams last year.
“I’m not really focused on what they do upstairs,” said Smith, who acknowledged he was not surprised to see a pedigreed corner come in.
Smith gave up a 20-yard Green Bay touchdown pass Thursday, when quarterback Brett Hundley and wideout Jeff Janis fooled him into thinking Janis was running a slant, then Janis broke upfield, leaving Smith treading water.
Asked what he thought he could have done differently, Smith said: “Just known that they’re in the ‘[take a] shot’ zone. I think it was second down and 5 or 6. Just be more aware. Awareness has to go up. Know that they’re already in field-goal range, [I] don’t have to be so aggressive on the slant route.”
Mills said he was surprised only in that he thought Matthews really played well in the offensive starters’ lone series Thursday night. Mills noted that Matthews kept the touchdown drive going with a fourth-down catch.
“I woke up next morning and I saw it on the ESPN ticker and I was kind of shocked,” he said.
Mills said Darby will raise the level of the corner group.
“You want to see what guys are really hungry for that spot. Bringing in a guy like that definitely raises the level of competition,” he said.
Mills said he thinks Darby will learn what Schwartz wants from his corners pretty quickly – the coverages aren’t anything unique. He said what takes time is developing a sense of where your teammates are going to be, how they play the coverages.
“That goes with having full-speed reps in practice,” he said.
Darby presumably will begin that process Sunday. He watched Saturday’s workout in a sweatsuit.