October 27, 2023   11 MIN READ

His Big Break

Rookie Diary With Eli Ricks


On his 14th snap Sunday night, one in which the Eagles led 31-17 over the Dolphins with 3:23 remaining in regulation, Eagles cornerback Eli Ricks called game.

The visiting Dolphins were facing a 4th-and-10 from their own 25-yard line.

Any chance the AFC East division leaders had to pull off a last-gasp effort hinged on the ensuing play.

Ricks turned to communicate with safety Terrell Edmunds before the play, reassuring his teammate with a thumbs up.

Ricks, who had drawn the coverage assignment, proceeded to travel across the formation with wide receiver Tyreek Hill – who had been targeted 14 times to that point – as the supercharged wideout motioned before accelerating into an out route.

Cognizant of a potential pick route, Ricks backed up to avoid the possibility of being wiped out by receiver Jaylen Waddle while maintaining outside leverage.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fielded the shotgun snap, his eyes immediately fixated in Hill’s direction as the receiver broke to the right.

Ricks, however, read the play the whole way, breaking on the ball to meet Hill at the spot before getting his right hand around to breakup the pass.

The rookie corner then leapt to his feet, nonchalantly taking a peek behind him to ensure there were no “banana peels” – his term for penalty flags – on the ground, before proceeding to let out a hearty roar as he pranced away in the aftermath.

Turnover on downs.

Eli Ricks

GETTY IMAGES: Undrafted rookie CB Eli Ricks continues to make progress in the slot.

The emphatic scream illustrated the eternal fire burning within Ricks, who plays the game with an immeasurable supply of vigor and emotion.

At each stop along the way of his winding football journey – which included stints at Mater Dei High School, IMG Academy, LSU and Alabama – Ricks was always regarded as the most inherently gifted of his counterparts.

But while his blend of length, physicality, ball skills, and football intelligence – along with a healthy dose of swagger – was widely expected to facilitate Ricks’ pro prospects, his path to playing time was initially obstructed, marred with roadblocks, detours, and – until mid-August – uncertainty.

For Ricks to be in that position Sunday night, drawing the league’s most dynamic pass-catcher in coverage in a high-leverage spot, was a testament to his diligence in film study, poise and the proverbial daily deposits at team headquarters to warrant the trust of his coordinator Sean Desai in a critical moment.

Oh, and Ricks was playing inside at nickel due to scant personnel, a position to which he was relatively new.

Apart from briefly moonlighting in the slot at LSU as a freshman in light of injuries, the most extensive exposure Ricks has had playing inside has occurred within the past month.

While veteran Bradley Roby continues to nurse a shoulder injury, Ricks figures to be afforded at least one more opportunity Sunday at FedEx Field to showcase his versatility and continuous growth. Carving out a prominent complementary role the second half of the season seems increasingly likely.

As part of an Inside The Birds “Rookie Diary” series, I’ll be checking in with Ricks throughout the season, learning more about the first-year corner and chronicling his rookie campaign.

On Thursday, I stopped by Ricks’ locker stall, which had more visitors than usual, to chat for our fourth installment.

We touched on, among many things, his breakthrough on “Sunday Night Football,” the Sean Desai effect, the diverse personalities that make up the Eagles’ cornerback room, and Kelly Green musings.

Andrew: Take me through the 4th-and-10 play from last week. andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “So, they started on the right side of the field, and they motioned [Hill] across. Then, watching film, and him motioning across, I kind of knew he was gonna go out. I thought I was gonna get picked because he was off the ball and the No. 2 receiver was on the ball – and they run a lot of pick routes with him – so I backed up a little bit and made sure I didn’t get picked. Then he ran an out-route and I was outside leverage, so I was there to make the play.”

Andrew: What did it mean to have your coaching staff entrust you to make a play in a high leverage situation?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “I mean, just having the coaches trust to even follow [Tyreek Hill] on some third downs was a real sign of trust in me. And like I said on Sunday after the game, I just wanna prove to Coach [Sean] Desai that I had his back with that decision to put me out there on third down on him. So, that’s really all I wanted to prove. I damn near wanted to prove that to him more than myself, because I know what I could do. And to the team, just to really show that I’m a guy that could help this team get a win.”

Andrew: What do you think it is that’s allowed [Sean Desai] to be so effective this early?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “Probably just how personable he is. He’s always checking in on everybody, every character. Always asking questions. Today, he was asking me questions if the game plan’s all good and if I’m comfortable with it. Some coaches could care less about what a player thinks about the game plan. They’re just gonna do it. So, that’s one thing I like about him. And he’s always open to suggestions. He’s not a coach who thinks he’s smarter than all of us.”

Andrew: For a player perspective, describe the atmosphere Sunday night. The energy was felt in the press box.andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “Aw, man. I just remember it being so loud in there. I’ve been to real, 100,000, full-seated stadium full of people. So, I know what a loud stadium is like. But that on Sunday was really loud, fully filled. Especially on that fourth-down stop … it was loud, loud. All I asked was, ‘Man, I just hope I go somewhere with some good fans.’ So, it looks like I’m there.”

Andrew: What did you think of the Kelly Green uniform?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “Nice. And I liked the socks. The socks were my favorite piece of the whole thing. I think we should keep some type of socks like that some weeks.”

Andrew: You discussed last week feeling more comfortable, ready to showcase a broader skill set. Did you do that?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “This is the most comfortable I’ve been in the slot, for sure, but probably since I’ve been here. I’ve met a lot after with the coaches and everything after practice, watching extra film, just asking all the questions and quizzing myself until I really knew everything and felt confident. If I’m confident in what I’m doing, that’s what it’ll look like. [Last week] was honestly a great week of practice from everybody – coaches and players – so, that’s what it was. We executed it well.”

Andrew: What did your week of preparation consist of?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mugEli: “Basically, what I’m doing extra, film-wise, at lunch, I’m meeting with Coach [Ronell] Williams for about 30 minutes. And then after practice, I’m meeting with him for an hour after our actual practice. And we just did that every day until I felt comfortable. We still do that, until I know this like I know corner. That’s really been the game plan, and obviously stuff after practice on the field. But it’s really kind of been that little, close to two-hour extra every day in the film room.”

Andrew: How would you describe Ronell’s coaching style?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “I’d probably say more personal. He pushes me. He’ll kind of know when I could give more, and I like that out of a coach. Some days, if I might be quieter than another day, he’ll text me, ‘Yo, you good?’ He’s always checking in. Real personable coach.”

Andrew: The cornerback group has a variety of individuals. How’d you describe personalities in that room?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “Slay, he’s the jokey guy, loud guy, the class clown of the room. But obviously, when he gets on the field, he’s a serious guy. JB [James Bradberry], he’s kind of more like me … quiet guy. He’s not gonna really speak unless spoken to. [Josh] Jobe, kind of the same way; a quieter guy [Jobe, whose locker resides to the right of Ricks quietly interjects and says, ‘That’s my guy right there.’] Sydney [Brown], Sydney’s a gentleman. What did I tell him he could do? … A radio show, with his voice. Who else we got, man? Kelee [Ringo], he’s another jokester, man. But yeah, it’s a good mixture. We don’t have too much of something, we don’t have too little of something.

Andrew: It’s going to be a bit quieter on the field without Terrell [Edmunds].andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “Yeah, it definitely is. But [Kevin] Byard communicates – we were just in the film room watching film – and he’s saying everything, every call, talking to us about everything like he’s been here already. So, it’s kind of already been put right back in place.”

Andrew: What are your initial impressions of Kevin?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “A seasoned vet. Great communication. And just makes sure everything’s clear; you know, makes sure everybody is on the same page. And he has a leader-type personality.”

Andrew: You and Mekhi [Garner] came in as undrafted corners. What’ve you seen in his development?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “He moved to safety, I wanna say, like three weeks ago. When he moved there, it kind of looked like he’s been there already. So, that was a good thing to see. I was wondering how he would adjust to safety, but it kind of looked like he’s been there for a long time. So, that’s a good thing to see, and a good thing to see when he got in there – obviously not the reason why – but it was a good thing to see him out there getting reps and things like that.

Andrew: Where do you feel you’ve improved the most over the course of two months?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “[Pondering] … That’s a great question, man. I would probably say the most drastic improvement – it might not look the flashiest – but it would probably be special teams. In preseason, I was terrible at special teams, I’m not gonna lie – except for that block – but the weeks before that, I was pretty bad out there. I never played special teams before, so I was kind of getting used to it out there. But now, I feel real comfortable out there. I know what I’m doing.

Besides special teams, I would probably say my ability to process information. And I don’t know if it’s the way I’m receiving it or if it’s – I don’t know – but here compared to my time at Alabama, I’m processing information way easier, way better. I don’t know if that comes to my ability at being better at processing or the coaching. I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to that. Whatever it is, though, I’m happy it happened.”

Andrew: As someone who’s well-traveled, what’s some of the challenge that comes with learning new systems?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mug Eli: “I’ve been at like four or five places since high school. And every time, I just kind of try to forget everything before and I pretend like it’s my first time playing football. Because you’ll always hear players talk about, ‘At this spot, it was different. Back here it was –’ … I don’t even try to think of back wherever; I’m here. I try to just kind of – I mean, obviously memory-wise – but play-wise and stuff like that, forget everything that I was taught and just worry about what I’m getting taught here. Any good coach will tell you it’s so much harder to unlearn stuff than just learning for the first time. That’s what I struggled with going from LSU to Alabama, just unlearning so much stuff. That’s one thing I think I did, just kinda forgot about everything before and just honed-in on this right here.

Andrew: What’s one goal you’re aiming to achieve this week?andrew dicecco

Eli Ricks mugEli: “[Pondering] … My run fits. I’m gonna be in on first and second down more this week. I’ve really only been in only on pass downs, so I haven’t really had to worry about the run fits. So, this week, I gotta be ready for that. I’m gonna get more reps. And that’s one thing I haven’t had to do, really at all, this year. I mean, besides when I’m at corner, but that’s a whole ‘nother story than when at nickel. So, I would probably say, me getting my run fits better this week.”

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

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