Se­condary castoffs rise to key roles for Philly

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By Rob Maaddi As­so­ci­ated Press

Lesser-known names will see big chal­lenge in Brees

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PHILADEL­PHIA — When in­juries rav­aged the se­condary, the Ea­gles turned to in­ex­pe­ri­enced guys and castoffs.

The no-names are mak­ing them­selves known.

Cre’von LeBlanc, Tre Sul­li­van, Ra­sul Dou­glas and Avonte Mad­dox have stepped up in a big way down the stretch, help­ing Philadel­phia (10-7) win four straight games and ad­vance to an NFC di­vi­sional play­off at New Or­leans (13-3) on Sun­day.

LeBlanc had only joined the team 13 days ear­lier when the Ea­gles were de­stroyed by the Saints, 48-7, on Nov. 18. The third-year pro saw his first ac­tion with his new team at cor­ner­back in that game and was part of a de­fense that Drew Brees tore apart.

“Back then I was just com­ing in try­ing to fig­ure things out,” said LeBlanc, who be­gan the sea­son with Detroit. “Now I’m more com­fort­able, I’m more at ease and I know the game plan.”

LeBlanc has be­come a key player, fill­ing in for Sid­ney Jones at nickel cor­ner­back. He shut down Chicago’s lead­ing re­ceiver, run­ning back Tarik Co­hen, in Philadel­phia’s 16-15 win over the Bears in the wild-card round. Co­hen had only three catches for 27 yards.

“I don’t know where we’d be with­out Cre’Von,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Schwartz said. “I never heard of Cre’Von LeBlanc be­fore (the scout­ing staff ) said they were think­ing about claim­ing this guy. We owe a lot of our sea­son to that.”

LeBlanc, who was re­leased by the Patriots, Bears and Lions in his first three sea­sons, de­flected the credit.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing Jim said about me. It’s a big honor. I’m thank­ful for it, but I wouldn’t say I saved the sea­son,” LeBlanc said. “It was a team thing. We did it col­lec­tively. We’re on a roll right now and we be­lieve in each other.”

The Ea­gles al­ready were miss­ing start­ing cor­ner­backs Ron­ald Darby and Jalen Mills and start­ing safety Rod­ney McLeod, a for­mer Vir­ginia Cava­lier, go­ing into the first meet­ing against New Or­leans. Then Mad­dox and Jones were in­jured in the game. Brees threw for 363 yards and four TDs, and the of­fense racked up 546 yards.

“Night and day,” LeBlanc said about the dif­fer­ence be­tween then and now. “We had a lot of new guys out there try­ing to fig­ure things out on the fly, on the run. All the hard work we put in week in and week out and get­ting to­gether each day to com­mu­ni­cate and study film helped us build.”

Dou­glas, a third-round pick in 2017, was buried on the depth chart be­fore all the in­juries forced him into the start­ing lineup. He led the team with eight tack­les against the Bears, and coaches have praised his phys­i­cal style.

“Guys don’t block cor­ners. They leave us to tackle, so I try to get the guy on the ground,” Dou­glas said.

Sul­li­van be­gan the sea­son on the ros­ter, got re­leased af­ter a crit­i­cal mis­take on spe­cial teams in Week 1, re­turned to the prac­tice squad and now has been see­ing plenty of ac­tion at safety.

“We’re learn­ing by ex­pe­ri­ence, we’re still grow­ing, still get­ting bet­ter,” he said.

Mad­dox, a rookie fourth-round pick, has been one of the big­gest sur­prises this sea­son. He’s played safety, nickel cor­ner­back and out­side cor­ner­back.

“I’ve said be­fore I don’t know where we’d be with­out Avonte,” Schwartz said.

The an­chor in the se­condary is two-time Pro Bowl safety Mal­colm Jenk­ins. He was a rookie on the Saints when they won the Su­per Bowl nine years ago. He left in free agency af­ter five sea­sons.

“He was prob­a­bly one of the most im­por­tant parts to our Su­per Bowl run,” Saints coach Sean Pay­ton said. “Let­ting him out of the build­ing cer­tainly wasn’t a smart de­ci­sion.”

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