‘Nickel Nnamdi’ Still Alive And Well

Call it a failed experiment if you will, but the idea of moving Nnamdi Asomugha around last season had some logic to it. With proven talents like Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at your disposal, you can sell the notion of Asomugha as a “rover” to try and create matchup advantages.

This season it’s a tougher product to pedal because Samuel now plays for the Falcons. If you’re going to be moving Asomugha all over the field, who will be playing left cornerback in his absence?

The answer at the moment is Curtis Marsh, who has been seeing plenty of snaps with the first team at training camp.

For a refresher, Marsh was a third-round selection by the Eagles out of Utah State last season. He played running back in college before being converted to corner after his sophomore campaign, and was thought of as a project pick.

That project is apparently on the fast-track, as Juan Castillo seems to be full-steam ahead with his plan to use Asomugha in a variety of ways. That means Marsh – or whoever wins the job — gets thrust into an important role.

“That’s our plan right now – we put [Marsh] in a lot of different packages just so we can try to take advantage of matchups,” said Asomugha. “The more he progresses, the more we’ll be able to do.”

Last season Asomugha played 107 snaps in the slot (roughly 11 percent of the time), which is the exact number of snaps Rodgers-Cromartie saw inside – and he was the starting nickel corner for about half of the year. The results were mixed. There were definitely growing pains early but Asomugha was also effective against tight ends at times. In Week 16, Dallas’ Jason Witten managed just four catches for 26 yards against him, which was his second-lowest output of the season.

The Eagles still see value in putting him in the interior. There’s even a name for the package – the “Nickel Nnam” – where Asomugha slides inside and Marsh gets the call on the oustside.

“I approach it as being a starter because I have to come in and play with the first team in certain situations, so I have to be just as prepared as somebody that’s out there all the time,” said Marsh.

The 6-1, 197-pounder’s athleticism jumps right off the page, and he spent almost the entire offseason in Philadelphia at the NovaCare Complex to work on technique. The results are showing, according to his coaches and peers. Still, he was active for just seven games last season and has almost no real record to go off.

What is the biggest hurdle for Marsh?

“Juan,” Asomugha replied. “He’s got to prove it to Juan, he’s got to prove it to his teammates on gameday…We’ll see how well he is playing and see if we can actually do the packages we want to do.”

Brandon Hughes would seemingly be the next man in if Marsh struggles in the role.

“We like to be able to move Nnamdi around, so there’s some competition there,” said Castillo. “They’ll be plenty of plays, plenty of reps to see who comes out on top.”

Right now the spot belongs to Marsh. Is he up to it?

“I think I’m getting there, I definitely think I’m getting there,” said Marsh, “and I’m ready.”

We’ll find out.

Follow Tim on Twitter or email him at tmcmanus@phillymag.com.

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