The first rule of survival for an NFL cornerback is accepting this bit of rural wisdom: Some days, you get the bear; other days, the bear gets you.
“At the end of the day, you’re not going to be perfect,’’ Ronald Darby said after the Eagles’ 38-31 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. “Once you understand that, you can go out there and play freely.’’
Darby, acquired from Buffalo two weeks ago for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round draft pick, is the Eagles’ most talented cornerback since Asante Samuel. But against the Dolphins, Darby had what he aptly described as “one of those nights.’’
On the Dolphins’ third possession, he gave up a 72-yard catch-and-run to DeVante Parker that set up Miami’s first touchdown.
Later in the first quarter, he got beaten by Jarvis Landry for a 17-yard completion that would have been a lot longer if Jay Cutler’s throw had been more accurate.
Then, three plays later, Darby drew a 42-yard, pass-interference penalty in the end zone after getting beaten on a double move by Kenny Stills.
Now, it needs to be mentioned that Parker, Landry and Stills aren’t Moe, Larry and Curly. They’re all really, really good wideouts who combined for 192 receptions, 2,606 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and were a big reason the Dolphins qualified for the playoffs for just the second time in 15 years.
It also needs to be mentioned that this was a preseason game and that Darby still is in the getting-to-know-you stage with coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense.
“There’s still a little bit more that I need to know,’’ he said. “Like where my help’s at and things like that. But I feel I’ve picked up a tremendous amount already.’’
So, don’t despair. Darby certainly won’t.
“Some nights, everything goes your way,’’ he said. “Some nights, everything doesn’t. I’d rather it happen now than when it really counts. Make mistakes now rather than during the season. Go back and learn from it and make sure you continue to work.’’
On Cutler’s long completion down the sideline to Parker, Darby actually had him covered very well. It was a 50/50 ball on which the 6-foot-3 Parker, who has a four-inch height advantage on Darby, just outjumped him.
“It was one-on-one,’’ Darby said. “I felt [the ball] coming. I stayed straight. I should’ve leaned into him a little more. That’s a mistake I made. It was a good throw and catch. I’m going to watch the film, critique myself and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’
On the pass-interference penalty, Stills beat Darby on a stop route.
“It was a double move,’’ Darby said. “He kind of got a step on me. As I’m running, I’m telling myself, when I catch up to him, I’m just going to take him hard.
“When I caught up to him, I looked back and saw the ball was a little further inside. So I tried to reach around him and make a play on the ball.’’
Two years ago, Darby was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year. Pro Football Focus rated him as the fourth-best corner in the league in 2015.
Last year, his play slipped a bit. He knows it better than anybody else and is determined to raise his game back up this season.
In Buffalo, Darby played second-fiddle to the Bills’ other corner, Stephon Gilmore, who signed with New England in the off-season.
With the Eagles, Darby will be the No. 1 corner. Second-year man Jalen Mills, who is expected to start on the other side, will be the Captain to his Tennille.
Schwartz hasn’t said yet whether Darby and Mills will play sides or whether Darby will shadow the opponent’s top wideout all over the field. It likely will be a week-to-week decision, but Darby made no secret Thursday night that he hopes Schwartz lets him follow the other team’s best receiver.
“If you want to get that label as a lock-down corner, then yeah,’’ you need to cover the best wideout, he said. “I’m not afraid to lose battles. At the end of the day, my goal is to win more than I lose.’’
With cutdown day just eight days away, there still is a great deal of uncertainty at cornerback beyond Darby and Mills.
It remains to be seen who will be the Week 1 slot corner. Will it be Ron Brooks, or Patrick Robinson? Both played pretty well against the Dolphins. Robinson, who started in the slot, had a nice pass breakup on a deep ball to Landry on Miami’s first possession.
Adding even more intrigue at corner Thursday was the fact that safety Jaylen Watkins took several snaps on the outside. He even had a second-quarter interception in the end zone that he returned 50 yards.
Watkins has played safety and corner, both with the Eagles and in college for Florida. But he played strictly safety last season, logging 388 snaps there.
“They came to me last week and said, ‘Hey, we want to see if you can still play outside,’ ’’ Watkins said. “I just look at it as an opportunity to help myself. I can play nickel, too. Even on special teams, I’m one of two people that play gunner and wing. So there’s a lot of versatility there.’’
Having players who can play both corner and safety allows Schwartz flexibility as far as switching packages without necessarily switching personnel. Malcolm Jenkins also can play both safety and corner. So can 32-year-old Corey Graham.
“You know how this works,’’ Watkins said. “The more you can do [the better]. They brought in a 12-year vet [Graham, who actually is entering his 11th year]. So I’m trying to get on the team any way I can.’’