The Eagles practiced Wednesday with only two healthy safeties. A starter and top reserve both watched from the sideline. Malcolm Jenkins isn’t concerned. Should you be?
“They don’t pay me to ease the concerns of the masses, but I can assure you one thing: We’ll go out and compete Sunday, and that’s the big thing,” Jenkins said. “We’ll be ready to play. Will it be perfect? It’s never perfect. But…we have faith in the guys we’ll put out there.”
Jenkins and Chris Maragos were the only safeties at practice. Rodney McLeod has a hamstring injury that could sideline him for a few weeks. Corey Graham, the top reserve, also missed practice with a hamstring injury. His status for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants is unknown. Jaylen Watkins, who can swing between safety and cornerback, is also out with a hamstring injury that is expected to keep him out.
“We’re paper thin right now,” Jenkins said.
The Eagles added depth Wednesday by claiming safety Trae Elston off waivers from the Buffalo Bills. Elston, 23, is a 2016 undrafted rookie who has played two career games and will practice Thursday. But it’s hard to take someone from the waiver wire and expect him to contribute a few days later on defense.
Jenkins does not know who will play next to him on Sunday. He would not even reveal the alignment at practice Wednesday. Maragos is the only other safety, and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is an emergency option. The Eagles could also move a healthy cornerback over to safety.
Other than McLeod playing, the best-case scenario for the Eagles would be Graham recovering in time for the Giants. Graham replaced McLeod early in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City and injured himself in the second quarter, but stayed in the game.
“It’s a real unfortunate situation, obviously, when you’ve got a bunch of guys go down with the same type of injuries,” Graham said. “We’re all going to do everything we can to try to get out there. I don’t know exactly who’s going to be out there and who’s not, but we’re all working toward the same goal, to be out there.”
Graham, 32, is in his 11th NFL season and has played in 159 consecutive games – 165 including the playoffs. Only Pittsburgh’s William Gay has a longer streak among defensive backs. His durability was considered an asset when the Eagles signed him. Like Chip Kelly used to say, availability is the best ability.
“I’m not going to go out there if I don’t feel I can help us,” Graham said. “But I’m also the type that I can play through some things; I always have, in my career. I’ve had nicks and bruises and things like that. Playing through a hamstring is a little different. I’ve never had a hamstring injury in my life, so it’s not something I’m used to. My pain tolerance is pretty good, though. I’ll do what I can.”
Jenkins had a game in New Orleans when they had one active cornerback – and won. He said the team adjusted, moving players around to different spots. It’s more of a challenge when injuries plague the team on game day, because it’s harder to make adjustments on the fly. Grugier-Hill was working on the sideline last Sunday to prepare for safety in case the Eagles needed him. The Eagles are clearly in a bind, but they have the benefit of days to prepare options.
“There’s going to be a few backup plans in case anyone else gets hurt,” Jenkins said. “We have to be creative with the way we move around.”
The cornerback situation is not much better, with Ronald Darby already out with a dislocated ankle. So Rasul Douglas is likely to make his first start. Jenkins said the Eagles have a confident group of defensive backs, and whoever is pressed into action will be expected to be ready for an offense that can threaten with Odell Beckham Jr.
“I’ll be surprised if anyone we put out there will flinch at all,” Jenkins said.
He added that it’ll help having the Eagles pass rush, which will put pressure on quarterback Eli Manning. The Eagles have eight sacks in two games. Manning has been sacked eight times in two games. A secondary’s best friend is a good pass rush. But Jenkins won’t let the defensive backs off the hook, either. They’ll be expected to hold coverage and tackle the skill players in space. And Jenkins emphasized that “we just prepare with whoever we’ve got” – even if that player is in a new or bigger role. He didn’t sound concerned.
“I’m getting ready to play the Giants at home,” Jenkins said. “I have nothing in my mind but winning.”