PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Rasul Douglas isn’t just a rookie who’s been a pro for a handful of months. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound third-round draft pick out of West Virginia is very observant, asks a lot of questions and could solve a big chunk of the Eagles’ concerns at cornerback.
Looking at the overall structure of the team, there are a lot of positives, with the expected improvement of Carson Wentz, an offensive line that is arguably the best in the NFL, a deep receiver corps with a field-stretching threat in Alshon Jeffery, and a stable running game with the addition of LeGarrette Blount.
Defensively, the Eagles’ front seven could be the best in the NFC East, certainly a better group than the Dallas Cowboys, and a unit that is probably rivaled by only the New York Giants in the division. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are experienced leaders, leaving one glaring area where the season could rest, and that’s at cornerback, which is really no mystery.
The Eagles gave up 37 big passing plays, which was the second-highest in the NFL in 2016 behind the 38 big passing plays, defined as any passing play of 25 yards or more, by the 2016 Oakland Raiders—who made the playoffs.
The Eagles were woeful in the big-play differential, at a minus-19. They had a mere 18 big offensive plays to the 37 big plays they gave up—the worst in the NFL in 2016.
Expect that to change on both sides of the ball in 2017. With the continued maturation of Wentz, it’s a given on offense. It’s at cornerback where the Eagles’ season will ride.
If Douglas can hold up and become a factor, along with second-year corner Jalen Mills and veteran Patrick Robinson, the Eagles could take a substantial stride this year.
Mills appears to be one of the starting corners. Douglas could be the other. Though, Robinson has looked good early in training camp.
“Rasul has been someone who’s been showing up over and over, and it’s still early, but we’re definitely looking to see how consistent that can be,” said Jenkins, the leader of the defense. “Rasul can start, which I think is a good problem for us, because Patrick Robinson has been playing really well. He’s been really consistent, and he’s a veteran.
“To have three guys who think you can start, that’s always a good problem to have.”
Douglas looked very good in minicamp. Then defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz started throwing more responsibilities at him. That started to make Douglas think more and react less.
“It was strong at first because we were only running a few coverages. And once we started learning a few [more] coverages, I just started mentally messing up with a lot of checks,” Douglas said the first day of training camp. “My brain processed the first call, but once I got the second call, I had to process that, but the play was already snapped.”
Douglas has a shot, considering Robinson was out 25 games due to injury over the last four seasons, and Mills started twice as a rookie.
In the meantime, Douglas patiently continues to progress, with bigger promise ahead.
Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter @JSantoliquito.