Before Sunday night’s 40-33 win over Green Bay, Eagles rookie safety Reed Blankenship was on the field for two defensive plays in 10 games.
That’s two snaps out of 677 defensive snaps — both against Indianapolis the week before.
That all changed Sunday night.
The undrafted rookie played 35 snaps after the NFL’s interception leader C.J. Gardner-Johnson was injured and went to the locker room.
This was the very definition of the next man up mentality, which is more than a gung-ho rallying cry. In the NFL, with so many injuries, having capable back-ups can be necessary to win games.
Sunday night’s task wasn’t against Davis Mills or Carson Wentz, or one of the other average quarterbacks the Eagles faced this year.
Blankenship’s big debut was against one of the best to ever play the game, Aaron Rodgers.
When Rodgers saw Gardner-Johnson carted off, we can only imagine what went through his mind.
We know what he did. The very next play he connected with Randall Cobb on an 11-yard touchdown pass and Green Bay took a 14-13 lead.
On the Packers’ next series, Rodgers went after Blankenship, on a second-and-four from the Eagles’ 28. Rodgers went over the middle to tight end Tyler Davis. Blankenship used his speed and instincts to get to the ball first for his first career interception.
- “I saw Aaron Rodgers looking that way and I broke on it,” Blankenship said.
- “I’m surprised he actually threw it, though. That’s what surprised me but I’m happy I got there in time and was able to do something for my team.”
The interception was the first one Rodgers had ever given up to an undrafted rookie.
- “I honestly didn’t know what to do,” Blankenship said. “I forgot that I could get up and start running again.
- “Then the next thing, what am I going to do celebration-wise. I’m going to learn from [Darius] Slay. I’m going to get some celebrations and hopefully have something next week.”
Blankenship, 23, is the Eagles’ first undrafted rookie to have an interception in 19 years. Roderick Hood had a pick against Washington in October 2003.
Blankenship had six tackles — tied for team high with tackling machine T.J. Edwards — and seemed to have his nose in the middle of everything.
Blankenship has passed 2020 fourth-round pick K’Von Wallace and recently recalled Andre Chachere on the depth chart. When Gardner-Johnson went down, Blankenship was up.
Should Gardner-Johnson be sidelined, Blankenship made a strong case to continue to replace him.
“Still working through that,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Monday about Gardner-Johnson. “Still running tests and seeing what’s going on. Don’t have any new information for you yet besides that it’s something in his rib area, his midsection.”
Sirianni was asked if Gardner-Johnson’s injury was considered long-term. “We’re not there yet,” Sirianni said. “Hopefully not. I know he was in some pain yesterday when he took that hit.”
Blankenship wasn’t perfect. He took a bad angle on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Love to Christian Watson. He also was assessed an unnecessary roughness penalty on Watson.
SMALL COLLEGE GUY
Blankenship didn’t arrive in Philly last summer from a football factory like Alabama or Ohio State. If he had played college ball at one of those places, he probably would have been drafted.
His road to Philly started at Middle Tennessee State. In five seasons as a starter over 54 games, he had nine interceptions and 419 tackles.
We reference his stats with the Blue Raiders because he had so few numbers with the Eagles. He now has nine tackles with the Eagles.
- “A couple of guys I coached with at Indy were at Middle Tennessee State,” Sirianni said.
- “When we signed him to rookie free agent deal, they said, ‘This guy’s a stud. You don’t understand this guy. We love this guy. You don’t understand how special that kid was for us.’
- “When we went live with our young guys [in training camp], pretty much once a day with our young guys, when we had pads on. And it just seemed like every time he was coming up and making tackles.
- “We liked him without pads on and now we *really* liked him when he’s able to show his physicality out on the field. I think that’s where we really started to talking about him more and more and more.
- “That was a big-time play [interception] and he made some big-time tackles … It was on display in preseason games and in camp.”
During preseason games, Blankenship was always around the ball — charging up from his safety position to make tackles or assist on tackles. He was one of four undrafted rookies to make the roster, along with Josh Sills, Britain Covey and Josh Jobe.
“Being undrafted you always have a chip on your shoulder,” Blankenship said as some of his teammates chanted “Reed, Reed, Reed” in the background.
“My job’s not done. I’m so excited to get in and watch more film … I’m not going to change. There’s nothing I should change. I’m going to be consistent in what I do.”
None of the undrafted rookies have made the same impact that, in one game, Blankenship has.