Rise Of Ricks
Undrafted Birds CB Made Strong Push For Roster Spot
In the aftermath of Thursday’s 27-13 Eagles home preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts, rookie cornerback Eli Ricks appeared noticeably composed as he stood in front of his locker fielding questions, seemingly unfazed by the inevitable apprehension that awaits nearly every player in his predicament.
Four months after widely being hailed as the crown jewel of the team’s post-draft haul, Ricks finds himself clawing onto the fringes of a crammed roster, his immediate future uncertain.
And due to a looming, league-mandated roster cutdown deadline, circumstances for the rookie free agent are sure to drastically change one way or another Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., when teams must reduce rosters from 90 to 53.
“I feel I had a good game,” Ricks assessed. “There were a couple plays where I got there a little late – I think I had two catches [against me] on the day – but I feel I had a great overall game. When it was big downs, and the team needed me, I stepped up.”
Ricks had drawn a healthy dose of wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce – both Colts starters – throughout the opening frame. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound cornerback performed admirably under the intense scrutiny.
In one instance early, Ricks mirrored Pittman on a deep ball, matching him step for step and forcing an incompletion. Later, he blanketed Pierce on a deep shot, coercing yet another incompletion.
And with 48 seconds left until the break, Ricks showcased his instincts, charging on an Anthony Richardson heave over the middle to Pierce and perfectly timing his arrival to breakup the pass.
While plays of that magnitude typically qualify as highlight-reel worthy showcases in an undrafted rookie’s unlikely roster bid, Ricks beamed when discussing an earlier sequence.
When Devon Allen retrieved the opening kickoff, the Eagles’ second-year receiver initially bobbled it before navigating his way to the left. With the left side of the field blocked by traffic, Allen pivoted, reversing field and cruising through a crease down the right sideline with a full head of steam.
The focus, naturally, is on the returner but the 73-yard run-back wouldn’t have been possible without Ricks acting as Allen’s personal downfield escort, widening the running lane with his blocking.
“That was probably my favorite play of that whole game, to be honest,” Ricks said through a wide grin. “We started off the game with that – our special teams coach said we wanted to start the game with a big play – and being on a play like that, helping somebody else get to that moment, I loved every part of it.”
For Ricks, it was putting the proverbial bow on what amounted to a productive exhibition season for the soon-to-be 22-year-old.
It also marked the end of a weeks-long roster campaign that began back on Aug. 12 at M&T Bank Stadium, when Ricks house-called an interception on a telegraphed lob from Ravens quarterback Anthony Brown.
But it wasn’t until the lights came on and the stakes were highest that Ricks really set himself apart from a talented pool of developmental defensive backs.
His practice showings throughout the summer had been mostly uneven and Ricks began to lag in the pecking order as a result, with reps coming at a premium.
The Alabama product, once projected to be a blue-chip draft pick, better resembled a moldable ball of clay as opposed to the 53-man roster lock many had forecasted earlier in the offseason.
When it came to the in-game evaluation portion of his litmus test, Ricks had to wait his turn, as he fell behind second-year cornerbacks Josh Jobe and Mario Goodrich, and fellow rookie free agent Mekhi Garner.
Ricks stood mostly idly on the sideline against the Ravens and Browns, until his No. 39 was ultimately called sometime after the break. He logged a combined 55 snaps over the span – including 34 in a coming-to-Earth performance against the Browns – and his pick-six in Baltimore was beginning to feel very much like a distant memory.
That sort of turbulence and volatility can have a negative effect on some, while others, like Ricks, relished the challenge.
When he took the field thereafter, Ricks appeared to move with a purpose, almost palpable in his urgency.
“I knew I was a gamer since the start,” Ricks remarked. “But I just knew how to execute every day at practice and get prepared for that moment when I knew I would be out there.”
Ricks admitted there were offers on the table from a few other teams amid the post-draft signing scramble.
But the Eagles were the first to show interest, phoning Ricks in the moments that followed the draft. For the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native, that was enough to separate Philadelphia from other suitors, despite the glut of talent at his position.
When many had all but written him off, Ricks’ tenacity and clear-eyed focus carried him to the brink of securing an elusive spot on the Eagles’ 53-man roster.
In spite of the uncertainty, Ricks intends to maintain his routine and carry on as usual.
“We got an off day [Friday],” Ricks said. “Sleep, eat good, and we’re back in Saturday. After that, I’m really just focused on whatever’s in front of me. I take it day-by-day; that’s how I live, with or without this roster decision. So, just living every day and hoping for the best decision.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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