Eagles Practice Observations

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo talks to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.One of the biggest criticisms Juan Castillo faced last year was that he completely misused Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha earned the reputation of being one of the best man corners in the league while in Oakland. But when he arrived last summer, Castillo talked about using him in more of a Charles Woodson-type role. Covering tight ends, playing inside and outside, maybe even back as a safety on a given play or two.

While Castillo tweaked the defense as last season went on, one thing stayed the same: He used Asomugha in a variety of ways.

And based on the first full-squad practice at Lehigh, that’s going to happen in 2012 also.

On one of the first plays today, Asomugha lined up inside against backup tight end Chase Ford. Last year, playing Asmougha inside was simple because the Eagles had Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside. But Samuel’s gone, and the new wrinkle today was that Curtis Marsh lined up outside at right cornerback.

Marsh, a third-round pick in 2011, played only 13 defensive snaps as a rookie. But with Samuel gone, he’s looking to fill a bigger role in his second season.

“We rotate. We have different guys that do different things well. It’s by gameplan,” Marsh said.

Last year, Asomugha was effective against opposing tight ends. He was matched up against Jason Witten quite a bit, and the Cowboys tight end totaled just 52 yards receiving in two games against the Eagles.

“If you play a team with a really good tight end, we can virtually take that tight end out of the game, so that’s another advantage,” Marsh said.

Of course, this was only the first glimpse of the Eagles’ defense this summer, so there could be plenty of changes ahead.

Some other practice observations…

* Samuel, generally the most vocal player at training camp, is in Atlanta. And it looks like Darryl Tapp will assume the role of Eagle most likely to be heard during practice. “If you want to know who the energy source of our group is at practice, it’s Darryl,” Jim Washburn said earlier this week. Tapp is entering his seventh season, and Cullen Jenkins is entering his ninth, yet they were as enthusiastic as anyone in the 96-degree heat.

* You should take all depth chart notes with a grain of salt, but Derek Landri saw a lot of time with the first-team, alongside Jenkins, in Mike Patterson’s place. Landri played nearly 71 percent of the defensive snaps with the Panthers back in 2010, but many believed he would benefit from fewer snaps with the Eagles. And that turned out to be the case. Landri was an effective rotational player, and his playing time increased towards the end of the season (more than 50 percent of the team’s snaps in each of the last five games).

But if Patterson’s not ready to go when the Eagles play the Browns in Week 1, my money’s still on rookie Fletcher Cox to start alongside Jenkins.

* It looks like Dion Lewis will open camp as the No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy.

* The linebackers were lined up as you’d expect: DeMeco Ryans in the middle, Brian Rolle at the WILL and Mychal Kendricks at the SAM. There were quite a few different combinations in nickel: Ryans and Kendricks, Ryans and Rolle, Kendricks and Jamar Chaney. As linebackers coach Mike Caldwell pointed out earlier this week, there will likely be different nickel packages, based on down and distance. So seeing those different combinations is not surprising.

* Casey Matthews was in the middle with the second team. Chaney and Jordan were on the outside.

* Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman were the first-team safeties with Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jaiquawn Jarrett running with the second team.

* The second defensive line foursome featured Brandon Graham, Cox, Antonio Dixon and Tapp.

* I didn’t see rookie Brandon Boykin get any reps with the first-team nickel. Aside from the Asomugha/Marsh/Rodgers-Cromartie combination, Joselio Hanson mixed in to his usual spot. The second-team corners were Marsh and Brandon Hughes on the outside, with Boykin in the slot.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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  • Skeptic_Eagle

    hmmm…can’t say I’m too thrilled Castilio penciled Asomugha in the slot again. Boykin is a good nickel corner, and they invested a pick in him, why not just give him those duties and let Asomugha do what he does best? What happens when they run right at Asomugha? He was horrendous in run support, and tackling in general, last year. I like Marsh, but Id’ prefer they let him give the starters a breather, and bring him along as a long term replacement. Greg Cosell says Asomugha’s strength is using the sideline and his reach–both pretty much negated in the middle of the field. Does Castillio think Nnamdis going to be able to jam Gronkowski at the line? My enthusiasm for the upcoming season is greatly tempered when remembering Juan Castilio is still organizing the defense.

    • ICDogg

      I wouldn’t take anything too seriously from a shorts practice early in training camp. They have a lot of things to try out and time to try them.

      I did find it interesting that Landri got the starting nod over Dixon in Patterson’s absence.

    • I’m not sure why there is such hand-wringing over Nnamdi in the slot. He played well against TEs last year and if you only do it on 3rd and long where the running threat is negated, I don’t see the problem (also considering the fact that there should be better LBs on the field too).

      • Skeptic_Eagle

        My personal hand-wringing stems from the notion that the Eagles signed the premier outside press man corner in the league, and managed to make him look terrible with schemes not suited to his strength; putting him in zones and in the slot. What games do you remember him blanketing the TE and taking him out of the game? He was OK against Witten–that’s about the high point. What springs to mind more readily than him erasing a TE is the image of Nnamdi’s blown tackles. He’s more graceful perimeter athlete than “football player”, suited for the middle of the field.

        If you put him in the slot on 3rd down, then you’re giving the opposition a better matchup with their #1 receiver on the outside. It’s hard to imagine a similar outcome in Arizona last year, had Asomugha been assigned to Fitzgerald throughout the game. Asomugha, historically, has gotten the better of Andre Johnson, when the Raiders assigned him as a shadow to press at the line; conversely, he’s given up huge plays to the likes of Josh Morgan, Michael Crabtree, and Brandon Gibson playing in Castillo’s “scheme” as an Eagle. I don’t know what other case I can make about his unsuitability for the slot than the reality of 2011.

  • Looks like a defensive check. it’s early. Really want to hear about the WR’s. Need a new third down receiver and one should emerge to press Avant into a camp casualty…

  • Doctor Dan

    I’m hoping that Vinny Curry gets a serious look at DE; he has the potential to be a Trent Cole clone.

  • sloan

    Put Asomugha at corner, leave him there all game. Don’t reinvent the wheel. He’s paid to be a shutdown corner. Castillo is over thinking this

  • Not_again_Juan

    I agree 100% with Skeptic_Eagle. As excited as I WAS for the upcoming season and the potential of this defense, I’m reminded of Juan Castillo’s brilliance and unparalleled ability to over-think things. Put Asomugha on an island with they’re best WR and leave him there. Period.

  • Good Lookin ouT

    I wouldn’t get to nervous with Juan’s aliments, there’s always Bowens around on the defense to chime in on those decisions. Nnamdi is a capable professional and can handle more than one role, he’s proven that with a stellar career. and virtually shutting down some quality Tight Ends last year. Tight Ends have long been a thorn in the azz of the Eagles Defense.