ABOVE PHOTO: Jalen Mills (Photo: Chris Murray)
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sun
During his four years at LSU, Philadelphia Eagles rookie Jalen Mills was no stranger to taking on elite wide receivers every week.
In a Southeastern Athletic Conference that included wide receivers like Alabama star Amari Cooper, now a receiver with the Oakland Raiders, current teammate Jordan Matthews, a star at Vanderbilt, and the University of Mississippi’s David Treadwell, Mills was regularly tested.
As he participates in his first NFL training camp with the Eagles, Mills credits his SEC experience with helping him navigate the good and bad of adjusting to the pro-game.
“Week in and week out, you never know what may happen,” he said. “Every week you have to prepare the same. You have to prepare that you may lose, [but] while you’re preparing that you may lose, you’re putting yourself in position to win because you’re [going] over every small detail, from red zone to third and long… you’re preparing yourself for the worst case scenario.”
The former LSU star, like most rookies, has had his ups and downs during his sojourn through the first two weeks of training camp, but Mills’s effort and his desire to find his own niche in the Eagles defense has drawn praise from the Birds coaching staff.
“You know, he’s shown up every day,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “What I like about him is he’s very competitive. He comes back and he doesn’t shy away from contact. He doesn’t shy away from matchups. You need that in a corner.”
What Mills brings to the table, along with his speed and desire to be a student of the game, is that swag that all good corners need to have when they can potentially give up a touchdown or a field-position changing play. Unlike most rookies, he’s been walking around camp like he owns the place.
“I have confidence in myself for sure, and that’s just of how I worked out during the offseason,” Mills said. “I put my all in the offseason because I know my coaches and my teammates are going to want the same thing. I know put that work in, so I have the level of confidence where I can attain that higher level.”
During his four years in Baton Rouge, Mills was one of LSU’s best players on defense. He played both cornerback and safety, earning first-team Freshmen All-American honors and playing all 13 games in 2012. In his senior season, CBS Sports put Mills on its All-American squad as a first-teamer despite playing in just seven games after missing half the season with a broken ankle.
In 2015, Mills had 30 tackles, one sack, and three pass breakups. He finished his collegiate career with 216 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, 16 pass breakups and six interceptions.
In the Eagles’ scheme of things, Mills will be playing corner and will probably be covering the slot receiver in third-down situations. So far, Mills has had some reps against the Eagles first-team offense, and head coach Doug Pederson said he’s moved ahead of second-year cornerback Eric Rowe on the second team.
“The aggressiveness in his style of play, he’s got a lot of PBUs [pass breakups] and he’s got hands on the ball,” Pederson said. “He’s willing and eager to want to be in that position. So, everything that I have seen from Jalen is definitely thumbs up. I just look forward to these games now with him.”
But for all of his success at LSU, NFL teams shied away from Mills because he was accused of hitting a woman and was charged with simple battery in 2014. While the charges were dropped because of his participation in a pre-trial diversion program, it was during the aftermath of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée Janay Palmer and public relations nightmare that it became for the NFL.
That’s why Mills was the 233rd player in the seventh-round of the 2016 draft instead of going a few rounds higher. Teams have a tendency to stay away from players who have off-the-field troubles. Mills said he’s not concerned about people may think of his reputation and that he’s focused on making the team.
“I’m not worried about it. I know I’m a good guy, the Eagles know that I’m a good guy, these players know that I’m a good guy… Eventually, it will show. Right now I’m just focused on football.”
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