Rookie Avonte Maddox is big part of Eagles’ defense

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              FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2018 file photo Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Philadelphia. Maddox has turned into a do-it-all defensive back in a secondary decimated by injuries. The rookie fourth-round pick began the season as Philadelphia's fifth cornerback, but has become one of the team's most valuable defensive players. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Avonte Maddox has turned into a do-it-all defensive back in a secondary decimated by injuries.

The rookie fourth-round pick began the season as Philadelphia’s fifth cornerback, but has become one of the team’s most valuable defensive players. Maddox entered the starting lineup at safety in Week 5 after Rodney McLeod sustained a season-ending knee injury and backup Corey Graham got hurt.

He moved to nickel cornerback in Week 9 after Jalen Mills also went down for the season. The Eagles also lost starter Ronald Darby for the season and nickel cornerback Sidney Jones has been plagued by injuries. Maddox missed three games himself before returning at outside cornerback and played a key role in a 30-23 upset at the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday.

“I don’t know if we win that game without Avonte,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “We use him where we need him. Every week’s been different. I have no idea how many different secondary lineups we’ve used. I’m sure it’s been a lot, just where we are and he’s been ‘Johnny on the spot.’ We’ve missed him when he wasn’t in there. He has great speed, plays with a lot of energy, and as long as he’s one of the 11 on the field, we’ll find a spot for him somewhere.”

The 5-foot-9 Maddox plays tougher than his size suggests and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.

“I pride myself as a DB, anytime I can go out there and play a position. I’m going to give it my all, take pride in it and learn,” he said.

Maddox played four seasons at Pittsburgh and wasn’t expected to contribute much beyond special teams after the Eagles selected him 125th overall. But injuries opened the door and he forced his way into the starting lineup with a strong effort in practice.

“He’s been a real consistent player for us,” coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s a highly intellectual guy that understands scheme. He’s a young player that’s just going to continue to get better. He comes to work every day, he feeds off the veteran players.”

Malcolm Jenkins has been the rock in Philadelphia’s secondary. While others around him keep going down, the two-time Pro Bowl safety has played every snap on defense and another 119 snaps on special teams.

Jenkins sets the example for Maddox and fellow cornerbacks Rasul Douglas and Cre’Von LeBlanc. The unit will have another tough task this week against Houston receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas.

“I think he’s by far the best player on their offense,” Jenkins said of Hopkins. “He’s going to make plays on the ball. He’s a great route runner, strong after the catch. You’ve got to find ways to just limit his impact on the game.”

Notes: DE Michael Bennett (foot), DT Fletcher Cox (hip), K Jake Elliott (illness), WR Alshon Jeffery (illness), Jones (hamstring), G Isaac Seumalo (pectoral), QB Carson Wentz (back) and LB D.J. Alexander (hamstring) didn’t practice Thursday.