Finding keeper at corner
James showing he can make big plays in critical moments for Eagles
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
“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]
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.