Success in the NFL works hand-in-hand with opportunity.
A year ago, opportunity didn’t just knock for Rasul Douglas — it texted, it emailed, it swiped right, and it robo-called.
And Douglas, a third-round rookie from West Virginia, answered as best he could. The learning curve was huge, he didn’t always know what he was doing, but Douglas was big (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) and aggressive, two things defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes a lot.
After Ronald Darby went down in the opener with a dislocated ankle, Douglas started the next four games, ready or not. In two of those games, victories over the Giants and Chargers, Douglas played 100 percent of the defensive snaps. He wasn’t a revelation, an instant star. Not many third-round rookie corners are. Douglas battled. He had his good and bad moments.
As the season wore on, Darby returned, and Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson solidified their roles as the other two corners deployed in most situations, Douglas’s role diminished. He spent the playoffs working strictly on special teams and didn’t record a defensive snap.
Now, as the Eagles head into minicamp next week, their last work together before training camp in late July, opportunity might have lost Douglas’s number.
Darby and Mills remain. Robinson is gone, but Douglas isn’t a great fit in the slot. Second-round corner Sidney Jones, the team’s highest-profile 2017 draftee, is healthy and seems likely to command a significant role. De’Vante Bausby, a former Chicago Bear who spent last season on the Eagles’ practice squad, has been a spring standout, the corner generating the most buzz. And the team added Avonte Maddox, a fourth-round pick from Pitt, in the 2018 draft.
“It’s just hard,” Douglas said this week about the crowded corner situation. “We all come here with the same goals to compete, and be the guys who play a lot of snaps, but we all don’t use that as a model of [hoping the other guy fails]. We all talk to each other. We’re all tight friends — we do everything together, play video games together, watch film. We’re a family.
“I feel like every spot is open right now. … You’ve got to show the coaches you can play, and that you understand everything mentally. Physically, we’re all in the league for a reason. Mentally, can you sustain the playbook, can you be a guy we can depend on to make plays and be the same person every day?”
Schwartz indicated recently that he sees Douglas as an outside corner. There has been talk that Darby could be traded, but if he is, Jones might have the inside track on replacing him, and Mills seems to have a firm grip on the other outside spot.
“I like myself outside, but I can play anything – I can play safety; I can play corner, nickel — it doesn’t really matter,” Douglas said. “I think [Schwartz] has given everybody a chance at practice one day to play the nickel spot.” Douglas acknowledged that smaller, shiftier players are more likely choices there.
Right now, in the Eagles secondary, opportunity seems to be hanging out in the room where the safeties meet. There is no established presence behind starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Jenkins, drafted in the first round by New Orleans in 2009 as a corner, plays something of a hybrid role in nickel or dime defenses. At 6-foot and 204 pounds, his build is similar to Douglas’s.
Douglas said he hasn’t practiced at safety but wouldn’t be opposed to moving. “Never, ever talked to them about it,” he said. “I don’t know what their plans are.
“I feel like safety, you have to see the whole field; corner, you’re more in man, so I’m looking from the quarterback to my guy and that’s it. But safety, you have to see everything. If you’re in the middle of the field, you have to make sure you’re the deepest one out there — no ball gets thrown over your head.”
Schwartz is emphasizing versatility this spring, he said, something that could affect Douglas.
“Some guys, we’ll keep strictly outside, but we have a significant portion that will cross-train. We even have some guys that will cross-train safety position and corner,” Schwartz said. “Again, going back, that was a big part of our success … having Malcolm be able to play a lot of those and fill in at a lot of different positions. We value versatility, and that’s a big part of the training this time of year.”
Douglas said that wherever he gets a chance, he feels much more ready than he was as a rookie.
“I’m confident now,” he said. “I know where I’m supposed to be, how I’m supposed to play. … Body movement, everything, is just different from last year.”
But so is the competition.
Staff writer Jeff McLane contributed to this article.