After giving up a completion of 72 yards and getting penalized 42 yards for pass interference, Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby chalked up his performance versus the Dolphins as "just one of those nights." Given the circumstances, and given Darby's stellar debut, he's earned a pass – this time.
On both of the aforementioned plays, Darby was in position. The issue was finishing. The 5-foot-11 cornerback was simply outleapt by 6-3 Dolphins wide receivers DeVante Parker on the 72-yard catch-and-run – though Darby admits he should've used the sideline as a 12th man to prevent the catch. Darby then showed tremendous recovery speed after biting on a double move, but was overly aggressive with the ball in the air and made early contact with the intended target.
Yet, those arguably weren't the most concerning moments of Darby's night. Those plays were there to be made. However, Darby also missed a tackle on running back Jay Ajayi, got turned inside out on a 17-yard route by receiver Jarvis Landry, and was involved in some confusion on an easy touchdown to tight end Julius Thomas.
It wasn't all bad. Darby was in on a tackle where Ajayi was stuffed for no gain, and broke up a pass intended for the back as well. Clearly, though, the third-year corner is a work in progress.
That's to be expected, seeing as he's been a member of the Eagles for all of two weeks. He's learning a new scheme, and the coaches are making some adjustments with technique. And it's not as if Darby's athleticism and playmaking ability has not been on display. It's simply too soon to say his stock has fallen after one rough preseason game – even though Thursday certainly qualified as "one of those nights."
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Four rushes for 28 yards is an excellent 2017 debut for Smallwood. He hit the hole hard, showed nice burst, and created something from nothing for his longest gain of the night, slipping a tackle to rumble for 10. Smallwood caved in pass protection once, his lone knock. Yet, perhaps the most promising sign of all is the fact the second-year running back split first-team reps with LeGarrette Blount. Smallwood doesn't appear to be competing for a roster spot – he's going to see a lot of action this season.
Believe it or not, there was an odd sort of clamoring to see what Smith could do after going without a target in the first two exhibition games. So, the seventh-year wideout reminded everybody, racing through a broken coverage to haul in a 50-yard touchdown pass. Smith still has blazing speed, if nothing else, and that's why the Eagles signed him. Now, that's a wrap on the preseason.
In the grand scheme, Watkins' interception wasn't all that impressive. In fact, the pass was terrible. The 50-yard runback certainly was stellar, but the pick was as easy as they come. Yet, the truly beneficial aspect for Watkins is he's getting the opportunity to play cornerback in the first place. Watkins served as the Eagles' third safety last season, but there's a logjam back there with Corey Graham and Terrence Brooks in the mix. Versatility and frankly anything else Watkins can get on tape increases his odds of sticking. Just a thought after his interception return – can he return kicks?
A last second roster push from Qualls, the seventh-round draft pick who's largely been invisible this summer. Qualls was in on three tackles, and also had a meeting at the quarterback to register a half-sack. The 6-foot-1, 322-pound defensive tackle was in the backfield quite a bit more than the statistics would indicate, too. If Beau Allen begins the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, it could come down to Qualls and Justin Hamilton for a roster spot.
Joe Walker and Don Cherry
Walker and Cherry combined for a big play Thursday. Walker brought the pressure on the quarterback, and Cherry finished with the interception and 42-yard return. It was Cherry's second turnover in consecutive games, forcing a fumble one week earlier against the Bills. Walker added a tackle for loss, reading a screen and blowing it up in the backfield. With Kamu Grugier-Hill showing up on special teams, the Eagles have difficult decisions to make concerning the depth at at linebacker.
Time to pump the brakes just a little bit on Barnett's claim to a starting job. The 12th-overall draft pick got his opportunity with the first-team defense on Thursday, though maybe you didn't notice. Barnett failed to crack the box score on 18 defensive snaps, and put only mild pressure on the quarterback, at best. This is not to sound any alarms on Barnett, who figures to play a prominent role this season. However, most of his success at this point has come at the expense of backups.
Johnson really prides himself on the way he trained this offseason, steering clear of anything that could cause him to be suspended for PEDs. Unfortunately, he's been pushed around in pass protection at times this summer. One such pressure led to an interception when Johnson was bull-rushed and the defender – practically in Carson Wentz's lap – tipped the pass attempt high into the air. The sample size isn't large enough to draw sweeping conclusions, not to mention he lined up left tackle last week, but Johnson had issues in all three games.
Foles has yet to play in the preseason, but that's the problem. It's not like he really needs it. The sixth-year veteran knows the system. Of course, a backup quarterback is only useful if he's available, which so far he hasn't. Matt McGloin's extended audition in lieu of more snaps hints Foles' arm injury may be worse than the Eagles are letting on, too. If healthy, Foles is one of the best backups in the NFL. That simply hasn't been the case this summer.