“Something To Grow From”
Rookie Diary With Eli Ricks
As a creature of habit, I closely monitor pregame warmups Sundays from my seat in the press box.
On Sunday, my attention fixated on the far side of the Linc, where Eagles defensive backs underwent its series of regimented drills in preparation for their game against the rival Dallas Cowboys.
My uncanny knack for identifying each member of the Eagles’ secondary from afar paid dividends, as I immediately spotted Eli Ricks, who in 90 minutes would be put through the gauntlet in his most significant litmus test to date.
The rookie cornerback, along with fellow first-year defensive back Sydney Brown, would be asked to cover Pro Bowl receiver CeeDee Lamb in the divisional clash.
Watching Ricks run through drills matched what I had observed last week and essentially every week since our initial chat for Inside The Birds’ “Rookie Diary.”
The soft-spoken and usually reserved Ricks showcased his trademark calm, even before the biggest game of his pro career – a vibe very similar to workmanlike demeanor forged at LSU and Alabama.
The magnitude of the matchup wasn’t lost on Ricks, but the 22-year-old appeared stoic and prepared for his highly anticipated extended look.
When the Eagles sought an interim solution at slot cornerback in the wake of injuries to Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson and – most recently – Bradley Roby, it was Ricks who accepted the challenge of moving away from his natural outside position.
His opportunity to cement a complementary role in Sean Desai’s defense had arrived.
Perspective is important, however, as his matchup against the surgical Lamb caused its expected headaches. Lamb reeled in 11 of his 16 targets for 191 yards.
Ricks, who rotated at slot corner, wasn’t the culprit for the totality of Lamb’s damage, but those growing pains were imminent for the rookie.
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.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s 28-23 win over Dallas, I visited Ricks at his locker stall for a quick chat ahead of the bye week.
Due to time constraints, our conversation this week was predominantly game-centric.
Andrew: In your biggest test, how do you feel you acquitted yourself?
Eli: “Definitely something to grow from. I had some sloppy calls in the game that I feel that I can clean up. And I should have been more wary of that coming into the game. Coach [Nick] Sirianni showed us at the start of the week – I forget which ref it was or what his name is – but one of the refs, he leads the NFL in pass interference calls. And I should have been more wary of that coming into this game. Obviously, he added to that tally today with me. They were ticky-tacky, but I still gotta get better.
“But definitely a good test, biggest game to date, so far, in my opinion. I think me and Sydney, it was a big day for us. We’re only gonna grow from this. I’m thankful … this is the most snaps I’ve played in a game, for sure. So, you know, the coaches still trust in me, have confidence in me. I kind of like how the coaches are on me – and me on myself – because they know and I know this is not my position. And me and Sydney had no idea we were gonna play nickel before Avonte [Maddox] went down.
“So, even though it wasn’t our best day today, I think that since we came to nickel, we’re only growing and we’ll definitely only grow from this. Me and Sydney are both strong-character people, and we’ll watch the film and come back stronger [next game].”
Andrew: Did you get any explanation on either call?
Eli: “No, because [the Cowboys] were going hurry-up. And it was really super loud in there, so I was making sure I get the call. But I’m gonna try and see if Coach Sirianni can get some clarification on that, because I think a couple of them are kind of ticky-tacky. But I’ll look at the film. Nobody’s harder grading myself than me, so I’ll look at it and see.”
Andrew: Last week you discussed yours and Sydney’s communication work. How’d your “calm voices” fare?
Eli: “[Laughs] It was loud out there today. Really just getting ear-to-ear sometimes. But it was definitely loud tonight – even they got some delay of games – so the crowd definitely helped us. But they did a lot of quick game, so we just had to go to our check call.”
Andrew: You played more than just third downs. How do you feel you handled the expanded role?
Eli: “So, on first down they were really 100% run. And then second down, they were 50-50. So, it was really kind of a mixture which second downs I went in in or which second downs I didn’t. But I’m always ready to go in. If they asked me to play the whole game, I would be ready to do that if they asked me to. I just think with the run fits and the run game, me only playing on second downs and stuff, that’s only gonna help me more, to get more used to it and more comfortable.
“But I’m definitely not afraid to tackle or get in the run game at all. But they were passing a lot of second down, so that’s why I was in more. CeeDee [Lamb] is honestly a really great player, and I’m kind of more the man guy in the nickel, where Sydney is more the run fit guy. So, that’s kind of why second downs I was in more.”
Andrew: On Lamb’s 29-yard catch early, it appeared you lost your footing. Can you walk me through that play?
Eli: “So, basically, we were kinda in a cut defense, where I help inside. And like I said earlier, they were –watching on film leading up to this – they were a ‘sticks’ team on the third-down routes. So, [CeeDee] ran a slant, thinking it’s gonna get picked up – well, it would have gotten picked up if he stayed on the slant – and my job is to look for the next in-coming across and pick that up. But he turned up the field, ran a slant-and-go. And so, that’s kinda why it caught me off guard, because they really didn’t go past the sticks at all on third down. So, I was really thinking there was gonna be a slant. And I was looking to help from something else coming across, but once I seen him turn up the field, I knew I had to go with him. I was caught off guard.”
Andrew: How does your body feel coming out of this one, playing this many snaps?
Eli: “I don’t even know if I played this many in the preseason, because I was going in just fourth quarters back then. I mean, I love playing this many snaps. I left the game healthy, that’s all that matters. I could be tired, sore, but as long as nothing’s hurt, I’m fine. So, I’m more than happy to play all these snaps.
Andrew: In the fourth, Bradberry and Slay come out injured, you and Josh [Jobe] enter. What was that like?
Eli: “I see them go down and I know that I’m the first corner in when stuff like that happens. So, I’m just kinda playing the plays in my head from a cornerback standpoint, because I really haven’t played corner since the Jets week and before that, since Avonte got hurt. So, just refreshing my mind on the cornerback stuff and, you know, kind of thinking I would be going to [Michael Gallup]’s side now if I’m at corner. Little stuff like that. But thankfully, they both got back.”
Andrew: How will you be spending the bye week?
Eli: “Probably take a few days of rest and then just keeping my conditioning, watching football, catching up with my family and stuff like that. But just making sure I’m taking care of my body and making sure I’m in good shape for when I come back. But definitely a few days of rest, for sure.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.