January 9, 2024   4 MIN READ

Squad Goals

Birds Practice Squad DB Ready For Postseason After Defensive Debut Vs. Giants


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Coming out of intermission of a dismal regular-season finale and trailing by 24 points, a reeling Eagles’ defense was down to just two safeties.

Sydney Brown, who went down after injuring his knee covering a first quarter punt, never returned.

The rookie was spotted in the locker room sporting crutches and a rather large knee brace, and head coach Nick Sirianni on Monday confirmed Brown’s injury to be season-ending.

Reed Blankenship, perhaps the heartbeat of the Eagles’ maligned secondary, aggravated his groin before the break and was subsequently ruled out – possibly more as a precaution with the Giants already pounding the Eagles into submission and the playoffs still looming.

The injuries forced the Eagles to empty their bench, calling upon first-year defensive back Tristin McCollum – a relatively anonymous practice squad elevation – for relief.

Playing his first defensive snap at the professional level, McCollum tag-teamed with linebacker Shaq Leonard to stop Giants running back Saquon Barkley after a gain of five yards.

The 24-year-old would contribute two more tackles on the drive, which ended in a Jamie Gillan punt.

Aggressive and urgent, McCollum appeared ready for a moment that had been nearly two years in the making.

Tristin McCollum

ITB PHOTO: Eagles practice squad DB Tristin McCollum played the first defensive snaps of his pro career vs. Giants.

“It felt really good,” McCollum said after, recalling his first taste of defensive action. “Felt like it’s been forever. I’m just very, very blessed for the opportunity. Very thankful for the Eagles for allowing me to go out and show what I could do.”

McCollum, who finished third on the team in tackles, combined for six and logged 29 defensive snaps in total while adding another 22 on special teams.

Watching McCollum patrol the back end alongside his counterpart, Kevin Byard, it was evident there was no shortage of energy.

The unrelenting pursuit to the football was a byproduct of a young player being afforded a long-awaited opportunity. And with each tackle, it was apparent that McCollum had shown the right development to be elevated to the 53.

“He’s been doing well in practice,” Byard said. “He gets his reps out there in practice as well. Just another guy trying to come in and take advantage of his opportunities, and I think he did that. He made some pretty good tackles out there.

“So, we’ll see how those guys are throughout the week, if we’re gonna have Reed or Sydney available [against Tampa Bay in Monday night’s wild-card game] and things like that. But no matter what, I’m always gonna be out there trying to help them out. We’ll get lined up and communicated as best we can.”

McCollum likewise spoke glowingly of Byard, the lone veteran remaining in an inexperienced secondary as the visiting Eagles trudged their way through a mostly listless second half.

The 30-year-old Byard doubled as a calming voice and on-field coach for McCollum, helping the young defensive back with communication and assuaging his crash course into the scheme.

“We were communicating before every single play,” McCollum said. “[Byard] just eases a lot of the stress that you would have as a young player who doesn’t have as much snaps out there. I have a lot of respect for him because he got me ready to go.”

Versatile by trade, McCollum – among the handful of the Eagles’ season-long practice squad members – has predominately functioned as a safety in practice.

While working with the scout team, McCollum has benefitted from working against the first-team offense, fixating on all of the subtleties and nuances to ensure he was fully dialed in and optimizing practice reps.

With Blankenship nursing a groin injury and Brown now sidelined for the season, it’s possible –  maybe inevitable – that McCollum will be back on the field again Monday in the first round of the postseason against the Buccaneers in Tampa.

If Blankenship’s injury lingers, McCollum – or fellow practice-squad defensive back Mekhi Garner – would be next in line to fulfill a prominent defensive role.

It would be quite the accomplishment for a player once mired in obscurity despite his athletic traits and long-term upside that were on display in college at Sam Houston State.

And now, after playing his first defensive snaps of the season and his career, McCollum has a foundation on which to build.

“Personally, my confidence is now through the roof,” McCollum said. “I realize that I can play on Sundays on defense. Gonna clean some stuff up, of course, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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1 Comment

  • Mark Roy

    Great job Tristin McCollum keep grinding and helping your eagles become great.