Reed Blankenship ready to reward Eagles’ faith in playoffs

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Blankenship ready to reward Eagles’ faith in biggest game of his life originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

As the Eagles prepare to face the Giants in the divisional round matchup, they have a pretty clear plan without the injured Avonte Maddox.

It only works because of their faith in rookie Reed Blankenship.

“I’ve been put in this position because they trust me,” Blankenship said this week. “And I’m not going to screw it up.”

Without Maddox (toe), the Eagles will play C.J. Gardner-Johnson as a safety in their base package and slide him into the slot on nickel downs. This is what they did in Week 18 to test it out. That configuration means that Blankenship, who joined the Eagles as an afterthought following the 2022 draft, will see a ton of time on the field in his first NFL playoff game.

That isn’t lost on the 23-year-old as he gets set to play in the biggest game of his life.

“It means a lot just knowing they have confidence in me,” Blankenship said. “I’m going to give 110% of my effort to them. Knowing that and knowing that they trust in me to do my job means a lot.”

That faith the Eagles are showing in Blankenship is not blind. They’ve seen him perform at a reasonably high level for a lot of this season. Blankenship has played in 10 games with 4 starts (291 total snaps) and has been solid. While it’s not like the Eagles didn’t miss Gardner-Johnson when he was out with a lacerated kidney — they definitely did — the emergence of Blankenship certainly softened the blow.

And now he’s a big part of the reason the Eagles are moving around pieces in their secondary going into the playoffs. Moving CJGJ only works if the Eagles trust Blankenship.

“I’ve got faith in that entire room,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said this week. “Reed has played at a high level for us, and someone asked me, you guys really didn't change or skip a beat when Reed came in, and I said, we wouldn't really change or skip a beat with any of those guys that come in because I've got complete confidence with those guys.

“They've continued to develop, and as a defense, we say, ‘Hey, here's what we need to do to win a game, this is what you need to get done,’ and he's doing it.”

On Saturday, there’s a chance Blankenship becomes the first undrafted defensive rookie in franchise history to start a playoff game. He could also be the second overall undrafted rookie to start a playoff game for the Eagles after just Reno Mahe, who had a flukey start alongside Duce Staley in a 2003 playoff game but didn’t play a ton.

If Blankenship starts on Saturday, it’ll be a legitimate start and he’ll play significant snaps. Even if he isn’t on the field for the first play of the game, he’s going to play a lot in his NFL playoff debut.

“A lot of excitement, obviously,” Blankenship said. “It’s the first big game I’ve ever played in. Just trying to keep it calm and collected and treat it like it’s just another game. Don’t want to overthink this, don’t want to do more than I should. Just want to go out there and play ball.”

When asked how he’ll keep his emotions in check, Blankenship said he’ll lean on his veteran teammates. He’ll see their calm and it’ll calm him.

“You got here for a reason,” Blankenship will remind himself.

Then he’ll just go play.

When the Eagles signed Blankenship as an undrafted free agent last May, he received just $55,000 guaranteed and a signing bonus of just $5,000. Those were the second-lowest amounts of the Eagles’ initial 12-man undrafted class.

So maybe there weren’t high expectations for Blankenship in the spring but once training camp rolled around, it was impossible not to notice him. Blankenship made plays every day and eventually forced his way on the Eagles’ initial 53-man roster.

The Eagles marveled at his readiness and deduced it was likely a product of Blankenship’s being a five-year starter at Middle Tennessee State, where he racked up an unbelievable 419 tackles.

Once the season started, Blankenship was inactive in six of the Eagles’ first seven games. He didn’t see a single defensive snap until the Colts game in Week 11. But since then, he’s become a big part of the Eagles’ secondary and with this lingering injury to Maddox, that’s going to continue into the playoffs.

When asked how much that college experience has helped him, Blankenship started crediting his college coaches and then his NFL coaches and then began to credit his teammates, naming them one-by-one: Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Marcus Epps, Gardner-Johnson. He just wants to keep the standard those guys set.

That’s what the Eagles expect from him.

“I’m excited,” Blankenship concluded. “I’m ready to go.”

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