It was just two snaps but it meant the world to Reed Blankenship.
The undrafted safety out of Middle Tennessee made the Eagles’ 53-man roster coming out of training camp but had been either inactive or relegated to special teams duty in the first nine games of the season.
Until Sunday against the Colts, when he finally got in on defense.
“It was cool. It was a dream come true,” Blankenship said. “Obviously, I had a little bit of nervousness. But I was confident in what I was doing. It was just like playing football all over again like when I was a kid. You’re enjoying it at a bigger level and it was a very great experience. It’s going to last a lifetime.”
Before Sunday, former fourth-round pick K’Von Wallace had been the Eagles’ extra defensive back in their dime package, playing a smattering of snaps in that role. But Blankenship finally overtook him last week. Blankenship got just two defensive snaps but it was a big first step for the former five-year college starter.
Blankenship, 23, earned those snaps the same way he earned his roster spot: Hard work and consistency.
“Reed just shows up every day, shows up to work,” starter Marcus Epps said. “Does all the right things. He’s attentive in the meeting rooms, he listens to coaching and he practices hard. So he’s been doing a good job.”
As an undrafted rookie, Blankenship knew he’d have to earn everything in the NFL. But that doesn’t mean this season hasn’t been a little strange for him. At Middle Tennessee, he was a rare five-year starter and had an incredible 419 tackles in his college career.
In the NFL, he was inactive for six of the first seven games of the season. And he has played 53 special teams snaps when he has been active.
“You just never know when your number is going to get called,” Blankenship said. “Staying patient is a very important thing in this league. You don’t need to overthink about stuff. You just have to be consistent. Your name is going to be called sooner or later. It’s a long season. It’s about being consistent and staying focused. And have fun with it. If you don’t have fun with it, it’s going to eat you alive.”
While he had a great college career, Blankenship was somewhat of an afterthought for many coming into training camp. His rookie contract included just $55,000 guaranteed and just a $5,000 signing bonus. In fact, 10 players in the Eagles’ 12-man undrafted class got more guaranteed money and a bigger signing bonus than Blankenship.
But there was no question that Blakenship earned his roster spot. All that polish from his college career showed up every day this summer and eventually the Eagles decided to keep him, even over veterans like Anthony Harris and Jaquiski Tartt.
“It's unbelievable,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said in September. “Reed is one of those guys, he started the last man in that group, and every day we evaluate practice, we evaluate everything he did, and he continued to show up. He had a feel.”
So how has Blankenship handled his rookie season, mostly sitting on the bench?
Well, his body feels pretty great, he said. Not much wear and tear after a handful of special teams snaps. But Blankenship has been getting plenty of work running scout team during practice, helping the Eagles’ offense to prepare each week.
Even though it’s not like he’s in the Eagles’ defensive scheme in scout team, Blankenship said his technique doesn’t change. And those are still valuable reps against one of the NFL’s best offenses. He likely showed his talent to coaches in those sessions.
“I’m going against some of the best guys,” Blankenship said. “Jalen, DeVonta, A.J. and all them. I love it. I get to see live action in scout team and I want to help them get good looks. If they don’t get good looks, they’re not going to be able to score on Sunday.”
Blankenship said the players he leans on most are Epps and Andre Chachere, which makes sense. Both Epps and Chachere are guys who had to fight to get everything they have in the NFL.
Epps even sees a little bit of himself in Blankenship. Epps was once a sixth-round pick who worked his way up from special teams, to rotational safety and is now a full-time starter in Year 4. Maybe one day Blankenship’s career will take a similar route.
For now, he’s just happy to get some snaps on defense.
And it sounds like more might be coming.
“We kind of changed that rotation a little bit and wanted to see [Blankenship] get in some plays,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “And we had a whole dime package up, but as the game got going, those calls weren't used. Looking forward to seeing him play more and more for us.”
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