Eagles’ Avonte Maddox focused on one big change in 2021

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What 1 thing Avonte Maddox wants to improve entering 2021 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Avonte Maddox didn’t even need to hear the entire questions

If there was one specific thing that you could improve on from last year what would that …

“Eyes,” Maddox interjected. “Eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes eyes.”

There ya have it.

“And, you know, (Eagles DBs coach) Dennard (Wilson), he’s already preaching on it now,” Maddox continued. “That’s one of his biggest emphasis in our back end, is your eyes. Your eyes take you where you have to go and that’s the most important thing, which is true. You get your eyes in the right spot, then you can’t be beat.”

When asked to clarify what he meant by “eyes,” the 25-year-old cornerback explained that he wants to avoid having his sightline drift into the backfield too early. He gave the example that if he’s watching a tight end, it’s not enough to simply see the tight end engage in a block because he might then break free and run a route.

“I just gotta get my eyes to where I’m going,” Maddox said.

In a much broader sense, we don’t know where Maddox is going in 2021.

We know Maddox is back with the Eagles in the final year of his rookie contract — he gets a nice pay bump after hitting escalators in the first three years — but we don’t know where he’s going to line up. Early in his career, Maddox played nickel cornerback and even some safety. But last year, partly out of necessity, the Eagles played him at outside corner as their CB2 opposite of Darius Slay.

It didn’t go very well.

Maddox played in 10 games in 2020, didn’t have a single interception and had just a total of three pass breakups. Overall, ProFootballFocus ranked him as the worst cornerback in the league last season among the 121 players who qualified.

Maddox really struggled in coverage, allowing 29 catches on 47 targets for 395 yards and 2 touchdowns.

“Personally, I have a lot of pride in myself,” Maddox said. “I have a lot of confidence in myself and that’s what it is. My confidence is sky high, stepping on and off the field. No matter what anyone says to me, I’m going to make sure I can be the best player I can be. If I’m not doing as well, then I’m going to hold myself accountable for that. I expect everyone else to hold me accountable for it as well.”

Despite what seemed to be a clear need at outside cornerback, the Eagles haven’t done much at the position this offseason. They didn’t sign any big free agents and waited until the fourth-round to select Zech McPhearson.

So, at least for now, it seems like the 5-foot-9 Maddox might be forced to play as the Eagles’ CB2 for another season. That means playing him out of position for another season.

Although on Friday, when the Eagles held their final spring practice, their defense lined up in its nickel package and Maddox was inside while Michael Jacquet played outside. So perhaps if the Eagles don’t add another player, they might play Maddox outside on early downs and slide him to the nickel spot for passing situations.

Another hope would be that Jonathan Gannon’s defense helps hide Maddox and the Eagles’ cornerbacks a little more in general. We’ll probably see less man coverage under Gannon than we did under Jim Schwartz, so that might help.

Since the arrival of the new coaching staff, Maddox has been diligently taking notes and asking a lot of questions. His ability to learn quickly is what allowed him to play so much as a rookie back in 2018. Back then, Schwartz trusted Maddox to play multiple positions as a rookie.

This year, Maddox is going through a similar process as he learns Gannon’s defense, but this time Maddox has three pro seasons under his belt.

“Wherever I’m needed, I’m always willing to play,” he said. “ Outside, inside, back end. That’s why I say this scheme is very great and I want to learn everything. From there, I just pay attention as much as I can in these meetings. I have my pen and my notebook out and I’m taking notes everywhere. You never know. A lot of players go down and you move players around the secondary. I pride myself in learning all positions.”

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