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Jalen Hurts and New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, have something in common — they’ve both been picked off by Eagles second-year safety Reed Blankenship, albeit in different scenarios.
The Rodgers interception came in Week 12, last season when Blankenship entered the game in relief of the injured C.J. Gardner-Johnson. That first career interception helped solidify a weekly spot on the game-day roster for Blankenship, a 2022 undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State who had seen action in four of the 10 games to that point, predominantly on special teams.
The Hurts pick came in practice when Blankenship was in a different place in his career, just eight months removed from the play against Rodgers that put him on the map. As a fixture on the first-team defense, Blankenship made a diving interception of Hurts on Tuesday on a deep ball intended for wide receiver Quez Watkins.
“It’s a big confidence boost, regardless of who the quarterback is,” Blankenship said Thursday. “Just having an interception in general. You’re out there to play. You’re supposed to make those plays. But as a player, it calms you down a little bit more. You’re mellowed out, and you’re just playing the game at your speed.”
Blankenship’s ability to think about the game quickly is only going to improve this year, according to veteran cornerback James Bradberry, because everything around him is slowing down. That combination of confidence and comfort in the defensive scheme, in addition to the offseason departures of former starters Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, has parlayed into an opportunity for Blankenship in camp.
One year after making the initial 53-man roster as a depth safety and a special-teams contributor, Blankenship is exclusively handling first-team reps on defense, making him an apparent front-runner for a starting role. Free-agent addition Terrell Edmunds and 2020 fourth-round pick K’Von Wallace are in the mix for the second starting spot. As preseason gets underway, 2023 third-round pick Sydney Brown also could make a case for the job.
“I’ve seen Reed growing each and every day,” Bradberry said. “I think he’s going to have a bigger role this year, of course, since we lost some safeties. But I’m seeing confidence each and every day from him. He’s picking up the defense. And also, he’s really learning how offenses work in the league.”
Blankenship refused to take solo credit for his improved understanding of offenses, citing Bradberry as one of his mentors among the defensive backs. Bradberry, who is entering his eighth season in the league, is always willing to share his perspective on any given play with Blankenship, allowing the 24-year-old safety to feel more confident on the field.
But that open dialogue isn’t limited to Bradberry. Blankenship said his strong lines of communication with Wallace and cornerback Darius Slay also have helped boost his confidence.
“Having guys that have experience in our room that if you have any sort of question, they’re going to answer it for you,” Blankenship said. “They’re not going to snarl their nose at you or anything. They’re going to be there to help you out.”
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Additionally, thanks to that improved confidence, inside linebacker Nakobe Dean said that Blankenship is stepping up as a leader among the defensive backs. That leadership role is not unfamiliar territory for Blankenship, a five-year starter and three-year captain at Middle Tennessee State who left the program in 2021 as its all-time leader in tackles (419).
Blankenship’s role on the field grew more prominent following the Eagles’ 40-33 win over the Packers, with him taking an average of 78.2% of the defensive snaps in the remaining five games of his rookie season in which he played and racking up 25 tackles. Now, he’s finding a new voice in his second year, getting ready to assume even more responsibility.
“He’s starting to step into trying to be a leader in the DB room as far as communicating to the guys and not only making the calls, but being confident in the calls that he makes,” Dean said.
While Blankenship seemingly has a starting spot locked up, he said he “absolutely” wants to play in the
’ first preseason game of the year when they visit the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. Blankenship popped in preseason last year when the pads came on, and the intensity ramped up as he racked up 17 tackles in three games.
Even though Blankenship is far more established now than he was roughly eight months ago when he picked off Rodgers, he hasn’t parted ways with the undrafted free agent mentality that underscores his approach to his NFL career.
“I still keep a chip on my shoulder,” Blankenship said. “I’ve got a lot to prove. I enjoy playing this game, and I want to play it as long as I can.”
Fresh off their appearance in Super Bowl LVII, the Eagles are officially back in action this Saturday for their first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. Join Eagles beat reporters Josh Tolentino and Olivia Reiner as they dissect the hottest story lines surrounding the team on GameDay Central, live from M&T Bank Stadium.