Find­ing keeper at cor­ner

James show­ing he can make big plays in crit­i­cal mo­ments for Ea­gles

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Nick Fierro

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Long be­fore Mal­colm Jenk­ins told Craig James the Green Bay Pack­ers would be try­ing to win Thurs­day night’s game at the raw Philadel­phia Ea­gles’ cor­ner­back’s ex­pense, James had al­ready pre­pared him­self for the even­tu­al­ity.

As the en­tire team hov­ered over team­mate Avonte Mad­dox, in­jured in a late-game col­li­sion with team­mate An­drew Sen­dejo and wait­ing to be moved to a stretcher to be carted off the field, James didn’t need a math­e­mat­ics de­gree to know that Mad­dox’s de­par­ture left the Ea­gles with just one other avail­able cor­ner­back, Ra­sul Dou­glas, with un­der a minute re­main­ing and the Pack­ers look­ing like a lock to score a touch­down that could force over­time. Just in case, Jenk­ins re­minded him. “We came in talk­ing about what DBs we wanted to put on the field and what the pack­age was go­ing to be,” Jenk­ins said. “Craig was ready, he wanted to go in, so I was like,A`ll right, you know where the ball is go­ing. They’re com­ing to you.’ He was ready for the chal­lenge, ob­vi­ously. It was a huge play for us to get a win . ... No big­ger mo­ment than that for him.”

James was in for just two plays, a 4-yard run by Aaron Jones to the Ea­gles 3-yard line, and a pass in­tended for the man James was charged with cov­er­ing, wide re­ceiver Mar­quez Valdes-Scantling. James hit Valdes-Scantling as the ball ar­rived, pre­vent­ing the catch and al­low­ing it to carom to Ea­gles line­backer Nigel Brad­ham for a game-seal­ing

in­ter­cep­tion.

“I couldn't let him in­side,” James said, “so when I [saw] him take that in­side re­lease, I just at­tacked.”

He knew he would have to make some­thing hap­pen.

“Ev­ery­body knows it, ev­ery­body in the stands knows it,” James said. “Ev­ery­body was like3, 9` ,' so I mean, to me, it's com­mon sense. I knew they were go­ing to come to me.”

Not a bad deal for a sec­ond-year jour­ney­man who boasts twice as many ca­reer ros­ter trans­ac­tions (10) as games played (five) in his sec­ond year in the NFL and first with the Ea­gles.

But James has ad­justed quite well to be­ing in the back­ground. Af­ter fin­ish­ing his col­le­giate ca­reer at Eastern Illi­nois (af­ter trans­fer­ring from Min­nesota), James not only wasn't drafted but also wasn't signed as an un­drafted free agent.

What he did get was an op­por­tu­nity to go to the Min­nesota Vik­ings rookie camp in 2018 as a non-ros­ter player. He turned that into a spot on the ros­ter and ac­tual game ex­pe­ri­ence (all on spe­cial teams) last sea­son.

When he failed to make the Vik­ings out of train­ing camp this year, the Ea­gles picked him up, and he spent the first four weeks shuf­fling him be­tween the prac­tice squad and ac­tive ros­ter.

Now, af­ter in­juries to Ronald Darby (ham­string), Sid­ney Jones (ham­string) and Mad­dox, James not only has a chance to stick but also to be an im­por­tant part of this de­fense.

Think the 2019 ver­sion of Cre'Von LeBlanc, even if Jenk­ins thinks the com­par­i­son may be pre­ma­ture.

“I only got two snaps to grade him,” Jenk­ins said, “but he's grad­ing out pretty well right now af­ter two snaps.”

No mat­ter. James found a way to make an im­pact in a game that the Ea­gles (2-2) were des­per­ate to win.

He no longer lurks in the back­ground be­cause he proved that it's not where he be­longs.

“I've just got to keep go­ing now, you know? Push­ing for­ward stay­ing ready,” James said. “I've asked God to still be there with me, keep­ing me locked in, keep­ing me on a steady track.”

As for Mad­dox, he was di­ag­nosed with a con­cus­sion and neck in­jury was able to travel home with the team, which on Fri­day re-signed vet­eran cor­ner­back Or­lando Scan­drick and re­leased LB L.J. Fort. Morn­ing Call re­porter Nick Fierro can be reached at 610-778-2243 or [email protected]

MIKE ROEMER/AP

The Ea­gles’ Craig James, right, hit Mar­quez Valdes-Scantling as the ball ar­rived, al­low­ing it to carom to line­backer Nigel Brad­ham for a game-seal­ing in­ter­cep­tion.

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