Rookie Diary With Eli Ricks
Nearly five minutes into the opening drive Sunday, Commanders quarterback Sam Howell fielded the shotgun snap on a 3rd-and-5 – the third on the possession – and quickly scanned the field before settling for a dump-off to wide receiver Curtis Samuel.
The play netted a one-yard loss, as Eagles cornerback Eli Ricks resembled a heat-seeking missile, charging from his nickelback spot to collect Samuel at the Philadelphia 48-yard-line.
The stop negated what was headed to be a fruitful opening possession for Washington, but also served as redemption for Ricks, who was penalized for a questionable pass interference against Samuel on the Commanders’ second third down of the series.
For Ricks, who logged a career-high 25 snaps in the 38-31 win at FedEx Field, corralling Samuel came on an afternoon in which Howell victimized seemingly the entire secondary.
Ricks was the exception, allowing 3-of-5 pass targets for 12 yards (64.6 rating) in the largest sample size of his young career.
Presumably working in tandem again this Sunday with rookie safety Sydney Brown, who along with Ricks has helped replace injured veteran slot corner Bradley Roby, Ricks draws a scary matchup in Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who leads his team with 633 yards and three touchdowns on 46 catches – 29 of which have gone for first downs.
Due to his proverbial weekly deposits, Ricks won’t exactly be forged by fire, but the rookie gets Lamb coming off a two-game heater in which the former Oklahoma wideout has generated 275 yards and two touchdowns on 19 catches (21 targets).
Given the projected game plan, Ricks is expected to undertake his largest snap share to date in Sunday afternoon’s divisional clash.
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 caught up with Ricks at his locker for our fifth installment.
We revisited his performance against the Commanders, the communication developments amid a largely fresh-faced secondary, CeeDee Lamb’s impact, and his weekly goal.
Andrew: How would you grade your performance last week, Eli?
Eli: “I feel like I had a pretty good performance. Solid performance. The times we were in man [coverage] last week, I didn’t get targeted. Really, in zones either. But it was kind of, more so, [the Commanders] were checking down to a lot of stuff. So, I had to come up and make a lot of tackles. It was kind of one of those weeks.”
Andrew: You figured to play more on first and second down but ended up in third-down roles. What changed?
Eli: “It’s kind of based off who we’re playing. [The Commanders] ran a lot of screens on first and second down, and they used Sydney [Brown] for the run read stuff. And when I learned nickel, I really just learned all the passing stuff first, stuff with motions, passes, bunches, stuff like that. But I haven’t really learned the run fits yet, and that’s one thing that Sydney knows. And then for the passing game stuff, that’s when I go in. So, until I really get good with that, that’s when you’ll see more of me on first and second down.
Andrew: Honing in, working run fits was an emphasis for you last week. How’d you go about doing that?
Eli:” It’s only gonna help with me getting reps of it. And just being able to see the o-line and stuff … when I got a run fit, who’s pulling, or if it’s a slicer with the tight end or something like that going across the formation. So, little stuff like that. And you still gotta respect the pass, too. So, you’re going from pass to run, run to pass. Just stuff like that.”
Andrew: Why was Washington so successful on short-to-intermediate routes?
Eli: “They kind of were spreading us out a lot. Did a lot of motions to get us moving and stuff like that. I think their average snap time was … they had like four seconds left, or something around there. So, pre-snap, they were getting all the information they can. And [Eric] Bienemy is a great offensive coordinator.”
Andrew: With so many new faces at DB, how has the group expedited the communication process?
Eli: “Yeah. New safety … me and Roby came in, too, as well. Really, just clarity – but even if we’re all wrong, we’re all right. So, if all of us are on the wrong call, we’re all good, because we’re all on the same call. That’s kind of the mindset we have; as long as we’re all on the same thing, it doesn’t matter what we’re in. We could just go out there and play. And [Eagles DBs coach D.K. McDonald] got on me and Sydney, the young guys, for communicating – he’s not saying we don’t communicate, but just communicate louder and be more confident, because he knows we can do it and he’s confident in us. And so, he thinks we should be more vocal. And that’s one thing me and Sydney [have] been working on. [D.K.] kind of makes fun of us … he says we have calm voices. So, that’s what he makes fun of us for.”
Andrew: How beneficial is the post-practice developmental period, where have you seen the biggest growth?
Eli: “Yeah. When I first got here it definitely helped me out a lot. Because when I first got here, I wasn’t getting many practice reps, at least on defense. I mean, special teams, I was getting a lot of reps. So, you know, that period for the practice squad players and the rookies, to get extra help and focus on them, I think that’s great.”
Andrew: Are you meeting with [Nickelbacks coach] Ronell [Williams] as extensively as last week?
Eli: “Every day. We met [Thursday] morning before everything, me and Syd. And we’re gonna meet after our last meeting, probably for about 30-45 minutes. I’m probably gonna do that my whole rookie year, to be honest, if I’m gonna keep playing snaps like this so I can be ready.”
Andrew: CeeDee Lamb operates often from the slot. What stands out about his game?
Eli: “I mean, he almost has triple the targets as the second Cowboys receiver. So, we know they’re trying to get him the ball. When they motion him, they’re motioning him to get him the ball. And they will take a lot of shots with him, deep routes. He’s either going deep for a shot or they’re kind of giving him plays where he can get a lot of [yards after the catch]. I think he’s a guy that, when he catches the ball, we’re gonna have to tackle him right away because he’s good at run after catch.”
Andrew: What’s one goal you’re aiming to achieve this week?
Eli: “I’d probably still say my run fits, like I said last week. I haven’t really had to do too much of that – I haven’t really been asked to do too much of that – but I know if I wanna learn this position all the way, that’s one thing I’m gonna have to master.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.