Life Without Ronald Darby? Eagles Were ‘ready to Roll Before That'

LANDOVER, Md. -- Even before the Eagles acquired Ronald Darby in a trade on Aug. 11, the members of their secondary were confident heading into the season. 

They'll need to rediscover that confidence. 

Because it looks like they'll be without Darby for a while. The Eagles' No. 1 cornerback went down with a pretty gruesome non-contact injury near the sideline at the start of the second quarter of Sunday's 30-17 win over Washington at FedEx Field (see breakdown). Darby suffered a dislocated right ankle and will need an MRI to check for ligament or tendon damage, according to a report from the NFL Network. 

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So it's back to the original plan. 

"We were ready to roll before that," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Darby was just kind of a boost."

Darby's ankle was in an air cast as he was carted off the field Sunday. His teammates gathered around him as he was tended to. 

At the time, they had a 13-0 lead. The Eagles then let Washington take a 14-13 lead but eventually tightened up and got a big opening day win (see 10 observations)

"It's tough. But at the same time, you can't let it linger," said the Eagles' other starting corner, Jalen Mills. "As soon as Darby got up and got on the cart, he was uplifting. He was inspiring. He was telling everybody he was going to get better, he was going to get well and go out there and win it for him."

Heading into Sunday's game, with rookie Rasul Douglas and newcomer Dexter McDougle inactive, the Eagles had just three available cornerbacks: Darby, Mills and Patrick Robinson. 

But the secondary is a very versatile group. Just about every member can play corner, including Jaylen Watkins, who ended up filling in for Darby after the injury. 

A testament to that versatility, Jenkins said the Eagles didn't change any of their defensive packages following the injury. At times, Watkins was on the field as a corner. Robinson spent the afternoon moving inside and outside. And when Robinson wasn't in the slot, Jenkins slid in and Corey Graham replaced him at safety (see report card)

After Darby went down, the Eagles' secondary still played pretty well. In fact, Kirk Cousins, who normally kills the Eagles, passed for 240 yards and had a passer rating of 72.9 on Sunday. They played well Sunday, but Jenkins claims he and his fellow DBs didn't need any type of confidence boost. 

"I think we were already a confident bunch," Jenkins said. "When he went down, we didn't get rid of any of our packages, we didn't panic."

Watkins, a former fourth-round pick, started this training camp at safety but moved to cornerback after the Eagles made some acquisitions. At the time, it looked like it might have been a bad sign for him, but his versatility helped him earn a spot on the roster and it allowed him to be the first guy off the bench after the Darby injury Sunday. 

"Now, I'll start going back to the drawing board and working on technique until Ronald gets back or however this plays out," Watkins said. "Now, I'll probably be a more prominent corner role for sure."

It's unclear just how long the Eagles will be without their No. 1 corner. And despite the secondary's confidence in itself, cornerback was the biggest question mark about the team before Darby was acquired. The front office clearly saw it as a big enough need to pull the trigger on a trade that shipped out Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick. 

Now, they'll be without their top corner for the foreseeable future. 

"We've got guys in that secondary who can step up," Mills said. "Whether it's Patrick Robinson, he went out there and started balling. [Watkins], he went out there, he started balling. We even got some young guys like Rasul. As far as that goes, I think we're going to be pretty good."

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