PHILADELPHIA — Chants of “Reed” were growing louder in the corner of the Philadelphia Eagles locker room, where Darius Slay and James Bradberry reside. Slay led the charge, as reporters rushed to speak to Reed Blankenship – an unsung hero of Sunday night’s win over the Green Bay Packers.
Replacing injured CJ Gardner-Johnson, the Eagles chose Blankenship to play it safe. Not only has Blankenship only played two prior defensive snaps during the year, but the Eagles’ safety was tested from the get-go. The first target Blankenship ever saw in the NFL was Aaron Rodgers.
Interception. The rookie was not tested again the rest of the night.
“Coming into this game, I had no idea I was going to be able to go out there and do what I was supposed to do,” Blankenship said after a thrilling Eagles victory. “I know my name was going to get called eventually; it’s a long season. But I was ready for it, I was prepared and I went in there with confidence. I have guys in the room who are mature and I just learned from them every day.”
Slay was already jealous of his young teammate. He played seven seasons in the NFC North, never knocking out Rodgers while with the Detroit Lions. Blankenship was targeted once by Rodgers – and earned the interception in the red zone of a 20-14 game, just when Packers tight end Tyler Davis appeared to have a walk-in touchdown if the game was not interrupted by the rookie.
“My mouth would also be dry if I knocked out Aaron Rodgers,” an excited Slay said of his teammate. “I’m quietly jealous. I’m not going to lie – because he got it before me. I’ve been in a league for 10 years. He’s a fucking rookie!
“Congratulations to him, man. I’m happy for my homie. I’ve been in the business for seven years and couldn’t kick his ass, good for him.”
Most hadn’t heard of Blankenship before his interception off Rodgers. Undrafted rookie free agent from Middle Tennessee State, Blankenship made the 53-man roster against established veterans like Jaquiski Tartt and Anthony Harris in training camp. The Eagles kept him on the roster when they traded for CJ Gardner Johnson hours before the final roster cut, seeing the promise of the hard-hitting safety.
Blankenship ended up playing 35 snaps, finishing with six tackles and that interception which was certainly unexpected – well, not for those watching Blankenship in training camp.
It was a continuation of what Philadelphia saw in training camp. Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni certainly knew a performance like this was coming. That’s why the Eagles couldn’t afford to leave Blankenship off the 53-man roster in the first place.
“When we had pads. It just seemed like every time he would come in and do tackles. We loved him without pads and now we really like him when he’s able to show off his physique on the pitch,” said Siriani. “So I think that’s when we really started talking about him more and more.
“We got booed in Miami’s pre-season game, but some of the tackles he was doing in that game, and it was visible in training camp and in pre-season games.”
Should Gardner-Johnson miss a lot of time, the Eagles know they can count on Blankenship to replace him. Safe depth has been a question mark all year, but Blankenship has provided an answer – for one night at least.
“You have to work on the nerves a bit,” Blankenship said. “I haven’t played defensive snaps in ages, but as soon as I landed that snap I was like, ‘I’m back’.”