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Eli Ricks, Eagles CB, Explains the Importance of Investing in Startup Costs for Long-Term Success

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PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles got a bit of a scare this week in advance of an all-important rematch with the high-powered Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday night.

At Wednesday’s walk-through practice, five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay was estimated as a non-participant with a designation listing both his knee and rest. The next man up for the Eagles at outside cornerback is undrafted rookie Eli Ricks, according to a team source.

The rest caveat with Slay somewhat limited any concern because the Eagles are trying to massage the 32-year-old through the rest of what is hopefully going to be another 20-game season for Philadelphia.

Concerns elevated Thursday, however, when Slay was again a non-participant.

The context there was that some wet weather forced the team indoors and onto turf, which is not nearly as forgiving as the outside practice fields, especially for a player dealing with some kind of knee pain.

SI.com’s Eagles Today caught up with Slay in the locker room after that Thursday practice and he was his usual jovial self, saying “We’ll see,” when asked if he was playing on Sunday night.

The spark in Slay’s eye gave it away, however, and sure enough, the veteran was on the field Friday when the Eagles were outdoors and given no injury designation whatsoever in advance of Sunday night in North Texas.

Philadelphia will not only try to keep Dallas at arm’s length in that game but also halt a 14-game Cowboys winning streak at home and a five-game skid by the Eagles at AT&T Stadium.

Slay has missed one game this season, the Oct. 15 loss to the New York Jets, when second-year player Josh Jobe took over for him on the outside.

This time it would be Ricks, a lengthy cornerback at 6-2, 188 pounds who has impressed the coaching staff with his willingness to play in the slot when called upon.

Much like last season when then-undrafted rookie safety Reed Blankenship lapped veteran K’Von Wallace by impressing former secondary coach Dennard Wilson, Ricks has done the same this year by edging past Jobe and more highly-touted rookie Kelee Ringo at outside CB.

SI.com’s Eagles Today asked Ricks if things had changed at all this week with Slay battling through his injury.

“Yeah, starting to work a little back at [outside] corner with Slay a little banged up but that’s not knowing how things are gonna be on Sunday,” the rookie said. “So I have been working both [inside and out] all year so it’s really not too much different.”

Multiple injuries at the slot position have resulted in the Eagles’ throwing just about everything against the wall and moving forward the hope is that veteran Bradley Roby will settle things down inside.

It is notable, though, that the defensive coaches were so impressed with Ricks’ willingness to help where needed that they’ve kept him in the mix with a handful of snaps each week.

Eagles rookie CB Eli Ricks has impressed with a willingness to step outside his comfort zone.Ed Kracz/SI Eagles Today

“It’s gotten easier every week but I would say it’s a little bit different from being outside,” Ricks said when asked about the transition from outside to inside. “ You got the sideline to protect you [outside]. You know all your help is inside but being out on the inside, two-way goes, really have to pay attention to your leverages and then just all your zone drops and stuff like that.

“Playing zone at [outside] corner is way easier but playing zone at nickel you really can’t sit back to a lot of stuff.”

Ricks, like most of the defense, was not effective in a 42-19 loss to San Francisco last week and many have started to wonder if there might be diminishing returns to playing a young player with upside out of position when it comes psyche.

Related: Sean Desai Praises CB Eli Ricks: ‘A Sponge!’

Ricks, once a five-star recruit to LSU and a projected first-round NFL pick, has a quiet calmness that seems to define every great cornerback, a position that demands a short memory by its very nature.

“I mean, you gotta be confident to play DB in general,” said Ricks. “I have the same mindset honestly. When there is a rep it’s onto the next play good or bad.”

Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz used to write off rookie struggles as the NFL’s version of start-up costs.

Don’t be surprised if Ricks’ growing pains while persevering out of position pay dividends when the Eagles do need him.

“I feel like, next season, I’ll be a totally different player coming into the season with all the experience that I’ve gotten,” Ricks said.

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