Just The Beginning
Rookie Diary With Eli Ricks
Jason Kelce held court in front of his locker for nearly 30 minutes Wednesday, compelling and thoughtful with his answers in a way that only he can be.
Before Kelce’s show-stopping arrival, it was his locker mate – Landon Dickerson – who commanded the attention.
Long-time locker room pillar Fletcher Cox, too.
Elsewhere, the affable Brandon Graham milled around, D’Andre Swift sat at his locker as he gathered his belongings – just a fraction of the sights and sounds sending reporters pin-balling across the NovaCare Complex locker room.
Amid the fray, I sensed the need to press pause and head toward the front of the locker room, bee-lining to a specific locker.
I needed check out with rookie cornerback Eli Ricks one final time before the commencement of the offseason.
Eli and I have chatted for weeks for the Rookie Diary, and I wanted to wish him well as he approached his first NFL offseason and thank him for being gracious with his time during the season.
Better yet, putting a proper bow on the season, we logged an interview for a final Diary entry.
It’s been a whirlwind rookie season for Ricks, a highly touted prospect who not long ago joined the Eagles with much fanfare as an undrafted free agent.
A pick-six in the preseason opener against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium served a table-setter, but it was Ricks’ performance two weeks later against the Indianapolis Colts – specifically against starting wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce – that put the Alabama product on the map.
After parlaying his exhibition success into an elusive spot on the 53-man roster, it wasn’t long before Ricks was pressed into defensive duty.
Bouncing back and forth between his natural position at outside corner and nickel, Ricks moonlighted as a slot for much of the season because of injuries there.
Sure, growing pains came with the move, as they typically do for young players learning on the job, but Ricks never once wavered in confidence.
Not every person is wired like that, but Ricks’ mental toughness is what stood out most. He always carried himself like someone sure of who he is and why he’s here.
The eventual move back outside served him well, as the long-limbed defender appeared far more faster and reactive when playing his natural role.
Due to trust and consistency, Ricks even carved out a recurring role for two different play-callers, Sean Desai and Matt Patricia.
Eventually, it became evident that Ricks and fellow rookie cornerback Kelee Ringo could factor long-term into the team’s plans, as the duo accrued crucial snaps down the stretch.
Ricks accounted for 301 snaps on defense (28%), 212 (51%) on special teams.
With the offseason looming, the Eagles can feel confident that they’ve landed a moldable ball of clay in Ricks and Ringo. Young safeties Sydney Brown and Reed Blankenship could also figure prominently into the defensive backfield for the foreseeable future.
In the final entry of the “Inside The Birds Rookie Diary,” Ricks put a bow on his rookie season that began buried on the depth chart during the dog days of summer, while also discussing his offseason plans, his mentality going into next season, and circling back to one of his “desired talents” that might now be implemented into his training.
Andrew: A few days removed from the season, how would you assess your rookie campaign?
Eli: “Really, the beginning. That’s how I would sum it up in one word. It’s the beginning. I could really kinda sum it up now … I played out of position, really like, 80-to-85% of the year. Not saying that I didn’t want to – obviously I wanted to help out the team – but it was very frustrating at times, kinda moving around back-and-forth. But I felt like my perseverance this year was something that was really good. And that really kinda showed me something about myself.
I learned a lot about myself this year. I really honestly don’t think I was gonna be able to learn two positions at all. I didn’t even expect to play nickel. So, I’m very grateful for the games I got, even if they weren’t at my position, because the team believed in me, they knew I could play there. And kudos to all my coaches. I told them the reason why I was playing there is because they have the confidence in me in believing I could do the move.”
Andrew: What are your plans for the offseason?
Eli: “I’m most likely gonna be staying out here. I just got some puppies, so I can’t really go anywhere. And I’m gonna take a couple trips, and that’s it really.”
Andrew: Have you given any thought as to where?
Eli: “Yeah, but I’d rather not even speak on it. Far, far away though, definitely [laughs]. Some place hot, definitely. Well, I dunno, one of them is not the hottest. But I’ll see. And then really, once I get back from that, we’re starting back up, but easing back into it.”
Andrew: Physically, what are your goals?
Eli: “Definitely put on probably a little more mass. Seventeen games is a lot of games, so I gotta make sure I’m durable enough to make it through that. So, very, very long long. And 21 games if you go all the way, so I think I gotta really gain some body mass.”
Andrew: What’s your mentality in the offseason? Do you feel it’s Day 1 all over and you have to prove yourself?
Eli: “You know what’s crazy? I really just talked … [Howie Roseman] really just told me to keep – I mean, that’s the only thing I’ll reveal – he just told me to keep the same chip on my shoulder. Even though, obviously, I played so much this year, I really just have to grow and keep that same chip on my shoulder that I had coming in. And just me off myself, that’s just kind of how I’ve been as a person. That’s how I’ve been raised. And I’m always gonna play with that when I’m on the field.”
Andrew: How’d you handle things when they didn’t go your way? What was your method?
Eli: “Just took a deep breath, man, and just controlled what I could control, really. And just realized how blessed we are, honestly. And I do this at times when I need it … I always realize it could be worse. So, whenever I’m thinking down, or bad, or frustrated, I always think of something that could be worse. Like, maybe I could be out for the season with a damn injury right now or something else. So, I kinda use that method.”
Andrew: What happened when you and Avonte Maddox clipped each other against the Bucs?
Eli: “Really, just an unfortunate event. Following my man across the field. I really didn’t know I got hit by Avonte until after the fact. I was kinda a little dinged up. I watched the film after … his man ran to the flat, he was at safety coming from across the field. My man ran an over, and he was kinda looking through to his man, so he probably didn’t see me, I’m guessing. I was focused on my man, too. Unfortunate event.”
Andrew: Is this the offseason where you implement some sort of Jiu-Jitsu into your training regimen?
Eli: “Yeah, I’m gonna get into something like that. Just some different type of conditioning, whatever it is. Just something different, though. Not something I usually do. And start bringing in my little brother, older brother to stuff like this to get them into it. But definitely something. I’ll let you know.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.