DiCecco: Birds Have Earned New Moniker
It’s been more than three years since Howie Roseman, Eagles executive vice president and general manager, infamously branded the franchise with the “Quarterback Factory” moniker.
Roseman made the comment in the wake of selecting quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round, bypassing prospects of need at the positions, stunning the league.
Recent developments suggest it might be time to revise that label.
Despite Hurts’ ascendance last year to the elite, the team’s pipeline largely remains empty of the surplus of moldable arm talent it once had to validate that statement – save for rookie sixth-rounder Tanner McKee.
On the flip side, the Eagles are showing an improved hit rate in the secondary, where they could conceivably have up to four undrafted defensive backs on the active game day roster for Week 1 on Sept. 10 against the Patriots.
It is perhaps second-year safety Reed Blankenship – a 2023 starter – who best exemplifies the team’s sudden Midas touch on developmental defensive backs.
A relatively obscure rookie free agent signee last summer out of Middle Tennessee State, Blankenship faced nearly insurmountable odds in his quest to secure a roster spot.
His modest $55,000 guarantee and $5,000 signing bonus was the initial indicator that Middle Tennessee’s all-time tackle leader was poised for an uphill climb.
But when the pads came on, Blankenship emerged from the roster depths to land near the top of the totem pole, showcasing a sustainable tenacity that couldn’t be replicated in the ramp-up phase of training camp.
The Athens, Ala., native performed well enough to become one of three rookie free agents last August to make the Eagles’ initial 53-man roster, and when Blankenship stepped into a prominent role during the season, the 23-year-old showed his poise and potential.
In 10 games (four starts), Blankenship logged nearly 300 defensive snaps, registering 34 tackles, two passes defended and an interception that came against future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his ninth career defensive snap.
Blankenship also earned the distinction of becoming the team’s first undrafted defensive rookie to start a postseason game.
While Blankenship’s diligence prepared him for those moments, others also deserve credit for his unpredictable rise, including Roseman and his college scouting staff, along with then-defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and Blankenship’s position coaches.
Second-year corner Josh Jobe – another Roseman masterstroke 2022 post-draft signing – likewise stamped his unlikely ticket to the 53-man roster.
While Jobe didn’t share Blankenship’s impact on the defense side, he quickly became one of the few bright spots on a beleaguered special teams unit.
In his 11 games, the former Alabama corner accounted for 76% of the total snaps, serving as the team’s gunner opposite Zech McPhearson.
Though mired in relative anonymity and near the bottom of the pecking order as a rookie, Jobe returned for his second season with a palpable urgency and resounding confidence, stacking consistently good practices and seizing the top backup outside cornerback role amid a crowded field of contenders.
Once a post-draft afterthought, Jobe cemented his roster status early in camp and is expected to have a more prominent role on defense this season.
Then there was Mario Goodrich, the multi-faceted Clemson cornerback whom the Eagles in 2022 forked over a healthy $217,000 guarantee and $10,000 signing bonus to secure as an undrafted free agent.
While Goodrich failed to make the 53 last year, he resurfaced on the team’s practice squad.
This summer, his transition to an inside, slot corner coupled with a succession of steady showings prompted a script-flipping in just his second season.
One of seven cornerbacks on the Eagles’ 53-man roster, Goodrich provides an option behind oft-injured slot cornerback Avonte Maddox and should have a defined role on special teams.
Not to be forgotten is former Eagles roster-hopeful cornerback Josh Blackwell, another 2022 rookie free agent signee who was claimed off waivers by the Bears, where he remains after appearing in 16 games (one start) as a rookie.
For one haul of undrafted free agents, that kind of success rate is fairly unprecedented.
The trend continued into this spring, with rookie free agent cornerbacks Eli Ricks and Mekhi Garner, both highly regarded post-draft signings vying to elbow their way onto the 53-man roster.
Under normal circumstances, there would’ve been room for both. But the Eagles, suddenly exemplary at identifying and refining bypassed defensive backs in the draft, were already inundated with talent at corner.
And while both Ricks and Garner compiled appealing tape during the preseason, only one – Ricks – ultimately got the nod. Garner cleared waivers and returned on the practice squad, where the coaching staff will continue to nurture his progress.
For now, the LSU product – who could still find his way onto the roster via elevation – appears poised to follow a path similar to Goodrich.
“I don’t know that there’s a trick,” Roseman said Tuesday when asked about the sudden find of bumper-crop corners. “I think it’s a great credit to our scouts for bringing those guys to our attention, and I think it’s a great credit to those guys for how hard they work, and it’s a great credit to our coaching staff for taking the time to develop these guys.
“We talk all the time from the day that those guys come in our building, every day we’re talking about developing, developing, developing, developing.
“I think that takes everyone in the building to join in on that, but obviously when they get on the field, the coaches do a great job of taking their skill set and utilizing them and having success and great credit to our defensive back coaches led by D.K. [McDonald].”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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