Both on the field and off, Cre’Von LeBlanc is a guy that knows how to make an impact.
That has been clear ever since he joined the Eagles, and talking to his teammates, you can tell his presence is very much felt in the locker room.
Which is why the 2020 season was an especially tough one for the Eagles cornerback.
“I had some down days. I had some emotional days. I found out things about myself that I never knew,” LeBlanc said. “Just with football being taken away from me and not being able to be out there with the guys and not bring the type of energy that I want to bring to help the team. It is very frustrating, especially when you love the game of football.”
The 2019 season was supposed to be a breakout one for the Eagles nickel cornerback. The arrow was very much pointing up on LeBlanc after a strong showing in 2018. Claimed off of waivers prior to Week 10, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called the decision to bring in LeBlanc as a season-changing moment. LeBlanc came in and lined up in coverage for 385 snaps that season, which ended up being the fourth-most coverage snaps on the team. He allowed just 38 catches and two touchdowns that season, with one interception.
Then, just a few days into training camp, the momentum he built up was unexpectedly put on pause.
“At first they thought it was a foot sprain, then when I went to get an MRI and x-ray, it was a Lisfranc injury,” LeBlanc said. “So it prolonged me longer than expected, but I took my rehab serious and did everything I needed to do to get back.”
The prolonged rehab process put LeBlanc on the sideline until December, an almost four-month layoff with LeBlanc. One positive to the injury, however, is that LeBlanc did say his time on the sideline gave him a new perspective on the game.
“In a game, everything is happening so fast. Just off of watching film all week, you might have a couple plays in your head already as a film player, if you watch film a lot. I might have a couple plays in mind, or I might see certain type of signals that is on the sideline that both corners can’t see,” LeBlanc said. “So I would voice it to the guys…It is very different looking from the sideline. But even when you are sidelined you can still help the guys out.”
LeBlanc finally got his turn to return to action in the team’s Week 13 game against the Miami Dolphins. LeBlanc played 17 snaps that week, but wouldn’t really get back into the starting lineup until Week 17. LeBlanc played in 80% of the snaps in the Eagles’ must-win Week 17 game against the New York Giants, and then 83% of their playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Overall, LeBlanc was in coverage for just 87 snaps last season, allowing 11 catches and a quarterback rating of 69.9 when being targeted.
The fact that LeBlanc played so many snaps in two of the most important games of the season is a sign of how much confidence Schwartz still has in the nickel cornerback, and in some ways allows him to enter the 2020 season with the arrow once again pointing up, let he did at the end of 2018.
There is no denying, however, that the 2020 season is a critical one for LeBlanc.
Entering the final year of his deal, LeBlanc will be looking to turn a strong 2020 into the first long-term deal of his career next offseason. He will have that chance in Philadelphia, but he won’t be handed the job, especially after the signing of Nickell Robey-Coleman.
While Robey-Coleman’s one-year, $1.3 million deal won’t guarantee him the job, the reality is he likely wouldn’t have come here if he wasn’t confident he would be given the chance to start. With Avonte Maddox moving to the outside, and Sidney Jones also now on the outside after learning nickel the first two years of his career, Robey-Coleman projects to be LeBlanc’s main — and perhaps only — competition for the job.
Add in the competition that will be happening for the starting cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay, and the battle for the other starting safety spot opposite Rodney McLeod, and the Eagles’ secondary will have some of the best training camp battles. Robey-Coleman, LeBlanc, Mills, McLeod, Jones — all are either in contract years or in now-or-never, prove-it years.
While that kind of competition could have an impact on off-field chemistry, LeBlanc says the relationship between the defensive backs feels as close as ever.
“The vibe is still remarkable. We have a whole lot of togetherness going on. Everybody is young, everybody is ready to compete,” LeBlanc said. “The energy is through the roof. We piggyback off each other, we laugh, we joke, we hang out. Everybody has their own personalities in the DB room, which is exciting to see. We are all just excited to see how we gel together on the field.”
In fact, LeBlanc has already been spending time with one of his new teammates, Will Parks, this offseason. LeBlanc came up from Florida, where he has been spending his offseason, to spend a few days working out with Parks and Rodney McLeod, going over the defense and working out.
“We got a lot of stuff done. We got on virtual together, studied together. I was teaching him some of the nickel position. He was teaching me some safety stuff just incase. It is always good to know as much on the field as you can and who you are working with,” LeBlanc said. “We know what is at stake this year. We have a lot of guys in the back end that is one one-year deals, who are coming in to make a name for themselves or still trying to make a name for themself. So we are just going to gel this thing together and get back to Eagles football.”
While the room might be tight, however, the reality is still this — there will only be one starting nickel cornerback. LeBlanc could potentially be an emergency plan at either outside cornerback or safety, but if he is going to ride the momentum of the end of 2019 and turn it into a big year — and a long-term deal — it will be at nickel corner.
And the first step in making that happen is beating out Robey-Coleman in training camp.
“At the end of the day it is a business. They always going to bring in guys who want to compete. Just looking back last year in the DB room, we had some guys who were starting on other teams who came in, and were competing in training camp with us. At the end of the day, none of that matters between those white lines,” LeBlanc said. “When you go out there and focus on what you have to do and you are doing everything you possibly can to control what you can control, everything will fall into place. I am a good football player, Nickell is a great football player. He is not different from me. He puts his pants on how I put my pants on. He is from Florida, so we have that in common. We are going to go out there and compete, and may the best guy win. That is what it is all about.”