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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson


Both veteran defensive backs have pledged to be leaders at NovaCare and outside NovaCare

Rodney McLeod (23) and Jalen Mills will make up the new starting duo of safeties for the Eagles this year. Photo by Al Thompson

One of the more interesting stories Eagles fans looking forward to see unfold is the new look the secondary will have this season.

The big change at the cornerback position is the addition of free agent Darius Slay, a veteran Pro Bowler acquired from the Detroit Lions in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick and 2020 fifth-round pick.

Slay is expected to be a significant upgrade to a position riddled with injuries and lack of cover speed.

The safety position took a hit when the Birds let Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins walk.

Jenkins signed with his old team, the New Orleans Saints.The Eagles picked up Philly native Will Parks, who has played with the Denver Broncos since 2016, and drafted K’Von Wallace in the fourth round out of Clemson.

The Eagles though, are looking for veteran Jalen Mills to step in and take over the starting spot vacated by Jenkins. Mills has been playing corner since he was drafted by the Birds in the seventh round in 2016 out of LSU.

During a recent video conference, Mills was asked if he is confident that he can make the transition to safety even without any OTAs or mini-camps and just eight padded practices before the season opens.

“No doubt,” Mills said. “At the end of the day, this is the position I played at LSU for two years, so he's just not something totally new to me, playing safety. I played it before. And I’m going up against the competition that we have here, going against our offense. I'm going against arguably one of the best, if not the best tight end in the NFL in Zach Ertz. And him having a great quarterback as far as Carson (Wentz). So, I think that's a great thing for me having those guys to go against every day. This Eagles team, you guys know our camp they're competitive. They're super competitive and I think this is going to lead us into a great season issue.”

Mills is obviously all in. As is his fellow starting safety Rodney McLeod who is entering his fifth season since joining the Birds in 2016.

McLeod was asked if he had given any though to opting out like a number of other NFL players have chosen to do including newly acquired wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who opted out over concerns for his newborn daughter.

“Oh yeah, it was a conversation I had with my wife,” McLeod said during the same video conference. “But I think, looking at all the protocols that were put in place here. You know, we felt confident in the fact that this is probably one of the safest environments that you can probably be in within these walls. Marquise, he had to do what was best for his family, and I totally understand and we support him fully for that decision.”

McLeod posted a video if his Instagram account of the big meeting room where the players have socially distancing, chairs spread apart. Everyone is wearing masks. McLeod was asked if it's harder to build a brotherhood and the chemistry right now with the protocols and the rules and the social distancing.

“It does throw a little wrench into it,” McLeod said. “You know, you miss out on the OTAs. That's a period where you build that chemistry and guys are fortunate enough to get a lot of reps, especially some of these newcomers that we have like Darius Slay, Robey (Nicklell Robey-Coleman) and Will Parks. And so now, I mean, even though we have, what six weeks until the first game, we're trying to take advantage of every minute and second, an hour that we have together here, we are still all together even though we're spaced out.”

McLeod went on to talk about it will likely be the teams that can focus on football and not the COVID-19 distractions that will have the most success.

“We're building our connection and chemistry right now,” McLeod said. “Guys are getting up to speed. Taking it a step further and doing what they have to do. But I feel confident about the group that we have, we're all professionals and you know guys are committed, and that's what you need in order to win for this season. It's all about who is able to eliminate distractions, adapt and sacrifice. That's what it's going to take both in and out of this building.”

Mills echoed McLeod's message of personal responsibility.“We are a family at the end of the day,” Mills said. “We ccall ourselves a family, we say the man to left and to the right of us is our brother. At the end of the day, this is our house. We have to treat it as such. You don't want to bring in anything as far as this COVID-19 situation into your house, and we have to treat this facility, like it is our house.

“I'm calling you, my brother. So I don't want to get you sick.” he continued. “So when I'm leaving this facility and I am going home, or I might go to the grocery store or different things like that. I need to be wearing a mask. I need to have hand sanitizer in my car or in my pocket or whether wherever it may be. I need to be washing my hands, making sure that I am staying clean and I am staying safe outside of his building and not causing a problem, not only for yourself but anybody else in his building.” *

Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii

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