Eagles Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Leading up to training camp on July 25, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. We have already covered the defensive linequarterbacksoutside linebackers, running backs and inside linebackers. Now it’s on to the cornerbacks.

The pressing question: Can Nolan Carroll II push for a starting job?

The best bet for the Eagles' defense going into 2014 is that this unit will return 10 of 11 starters from a year ago - the only exception being new safety Malcolm Jenkins.

But if you want a position battle to watch on that side of the ball, it's at cornerback. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were the starters last year, but the team signed Carroll from the Dolphins in the offseason. The 27-year-old started 12 games in Miami last year and 10 more in 2012. He has adequate size, plays with great effort and only missed seven tackles the past two seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

In the spring, Carroll was the Eagles' most active cornerback, breaking up passes on a regular basis. But that was in shorts. The intensity gets ratcheted up when training camp begins later this week. Chip Kelly constantly harps on competition determining roles and roster spots.

With a strong summer, Carroll could push one of the starters (most likely Fletcher) for playing time.

Roster battles

We just covered the main one, but it's worth examining the depth at this spot.

Williams, Fletcher, Carroll and Brandon Boykin are locks to make the roster, so there are not a lot of openings up for grabs here. The Eagles drafted defensive back Jaylen Watkins in the fourth round, and it would be a stunner if he didn't make the squad. That leaves at most one opening for someone like Roc Carmichael or Curtis Marsh.

One idea we've thrown around in this space is that the Eagles could play some more dime in 2014. They have more options on the back end and were not able to add inside linebacker depth in the offseason. Maybe the move is to go with a sub package that features six defensive backs and just one inside LB.

I threw this thought out to some of the coaches in the spring, and the sense I got was that the Eagles will have a dime package, but it's unlikely that they utilize it with regularity in 2014. In other words, it could make sense against certain teams and in certain third-and-long situations, but don't expect it to become a staple.

Things could change in the summer, depending on personnel, but that's where things stand right now.

One thing I think

At some point, frustration could seep in for Boykin. So far, he Eagles' play-making cornerback has done an admirable job of speaking honestly while not rocking the boat. He wants to play more snaps and be a starting corner, but he's also a team-first player who has excelled as the nickel and on special teams.

The Boykin situation is fascinating because it pits a couple of Kelly's philosophies against one another. On one hand, he wants to emphasize competition as the determining factor in playing time. On the other hand, he has specific measurables that he's outlined at each position.

At cornerback, it seems safe to assume that the coaches are not willing to bend the rules and start someone under 5-10 on the outside. If they were, Boykin, who clearly outplayed the competition last summer, would have started in 2013.

Boykin is mature enough to handle his role with the Eagles. But at some point, he may start thinking about money. The Eagles can redo his contract after the 2014 season, but will Boykin be open to that? More likely, he'll want to test free agency after 2015 and see if can get an opportunity to start somewhere on the outside.

We're obviously getting way ahead of ourselves, but Boykin is one of the most talented and productive players on this defense. His situation is worth monitoring going forward.

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  • myeaglescantwin

    Boykin is a freak.

    • nm344

      Goddamn those arms…

      • macadood

        Even back in college… Only gotten bigger since with smoothies and all

  • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

    Why is it that people always say Carroll is going to push for Fletcher’s job and not Williams’? When the two are on the field, it’s very clear that Fletcher is the better of the two. So, is it because of injury concern, or because Fletcher is a FA at the end of the season? I have to be missing something.

    • JosephR2225

      I’d love to see the film breakdown on the two of them, because I’m with you. Fletcher generally seemed to have tighter coverage than Williams. I think Cary more or less did what he was asked to do, which was keep the play in front of him and limit YAC, but I am curious to see if the tape shows something I missed the first time around.

      • Jerry Pomroy

        No, I think you’re both right. Living in the Baltimore area now, the biggest thing that I’d heard from local fans about CW was that while he could tackle & likes to be a tough guy, he would always give up the catch. Pretty much what I was told is what we’ve seen of his play. Fletcher seems to me to be the better player without question.

        • JofreyRice

          he also misses a fair share of tackles.

    • aub32

      Money maybe? They will both be FAs after this year. No way CW sees any of that money for the 2015 season.

      • Eagles1018…Please no more du

        I feel strongly it’s about the money

        • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

          But how? Because CW makes more the writers assume he’s untouchable? That wouldn’t make any sense.

          • aub32

            My guess is the writers may be doing their make believe depth chart based on cap number since there isn’t a huge gap between the two. Though I do think Fletch is a better cover guy than CW.

      • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

        The only way the money factors into it is if we cut Fletcher if he loses the job to Carroll. Otherwise, it just seems to be that Fletcher is the victim of the writers’ scorn. Does he not do interviews or is he a jerk to them? I demand to know.

  • TNA

    Do the new officiating guidelines focusing on less DB contact place more value in Carroll’s speed? Last year, Williams and Fletcher both had ongoing conversations with refs at the beginnings of games to find out how much they could engage receivers, and they would adjust their game based on those conversations. But if they, especially Williams, are not able to use their forte, which is to press and be somewhat physically disruptive while running down the sidelines with receivers, Carroll may provide more than just relief if he can prove to be more effective under the new officiating guidelines.

    • Dominik

      Carroll was signed for his press abilities. Carroll didn’t attend the combine (I can’t find any numbers on him), but I don’t know if he’s a better down the field corner compared to Fletcher and Williams.

      He’s a great STer, we play a lot of press (or at least want to), I think that’s the reason we signed him.

  • aub32

    Hey Sheil. I’m not on twitter to ask a question for the mailbag, but is it possible for us to get some clarification on why Fletch seems to be the media favorite for losing playing time where most fans seem to think that it’s CW that we’d like to see ride the pine. Is this just due to injury concerns? Or is there something that most fans, myself included, are missing that make CW a better option than Fletcher?

    • Jack

      I asked this the last time. Fletcher always seems to play better than Williams, yet Fletcher would be the one replaced by Carroll?

      • MagatBrackendale

        Money? Contracts?

    • John E. Zang

      Even Geoff Mosher stated in an article that he thought Bradley Fletcher played surprisingly well “always seeming to break up passes in the end zone” yet his next article he writes about his job being up for grabs. Are we missing something?

      • Andrew Bruno

        Mosher is also a goober, I take what he says with a grain of salt for reasons just such as this.

    • JofreyRice

      Good point. Especially if the rules for PI are going to be tightened. Cary Williams’ was the beneficiary of what I saw as a little bit more lenient philosophy of letting the DBs put their hands on receivers at the LOS. Fletcher has much better ball skills, better mirroring of receivers, better awareness, better tackling skills. Just don’t see how you’d pull him off the field and leave Cary out there.

      • RIP illa

        Fletch had more PI’s than C-Will, by like one or two. So the rule emphasis will hurt both our CBs. Also disagree on Fletch having better ball skills. Cover skills…yes. But ball skills, I think they both are average or just below. Plus Fletch lacks the ability/speed to stay with a WR down field, or stay with a deep threat, not that C-Will is a track star in comparison, and his injury history. Never saw the mirroring skills, or just might be forgetting them. Just remember him always being lined up, so far off, that he could keep the play in front of him. However, if mirroring skills, go hand in hand with cover skills then I mostly agree.

        Still torn on which one to bench, as I hope Carroll can take one of their spots. Either way I’m hoping that both Carroll and Watkins, can step up and take over for next year and that we draft another CB to groom, so that we can have a real young and solid future for the position.

        • shady25

          I read on one of the many Eagles blogs that Billy Davis said Fletcher and Williams were lined up off the ball a lot because they didn’t necessarily have the safeties who were versatile enough to cover for them in press coverage and Earl Wolff was a 5th rd rookie learning on the fly. Malcolm Jenkins changes that plus Allen and Wolff have a year of the learning the scheme under their belt so maybe we’ll see more press man with help over the top. Also Wolff is a very athletic safety (check combine numbers) and I think the coaches are hoping he steps up and takes the job from Allen.

          • RIP illa

            Sorta, and you probably read that here on Birds 24/7 :-)

            We have sluggish CBs, so we definitely need and will play Safety help over the top. And yes, better Safeties can cover for and allow for more press or bump and run. However, Nate has always been susceptible to getting beat deep, even when helping in coverage, whether it was the 4-3, wide-9, or this scheme…which his 1st, 2nd, and 3rd responsibilities have been pass. Wolff having speed is fine, as long as he knows his responsibilities and isn’t too far out of position, but I’m not pinning my hopes on him. And teams are not just gonna attack us on the outsides. Along with that, they are gonna send a slot or TE to force the Safeties to choose whether to play the deep route on the outside, or the deep post or seam on the inside. That’s how teams have been attacking us for the last 3 years, and it’s not gonna stop anytime soon, because it’s very effective against, not just us, but many teams. Makes me wish we had a real athletic slot WR or TE to do it last year, so we could have obliterated single high with a Safety rolled to DJax.

            So yes, I do believe will press more, however, I don’t think we can so much so that it’s like a night and day difference from what we have been doing, as long as we have C-Will and Fletch in. Unless we just commit are Safeties to helping them our 100% and depend on Ryans, Kendricks, Barwin, and/or Smith to dominate the middle of the field.

            And this is not to try and bring down C-Will and/or Fletch. I just don’t trust them deep one on one, nor do I think anybody should. And I also don’t trust our Safeties, until they prove it. Wolff has a lot of show-n-prove to do, cuz right now he’s just a huge question mark. Allen is just Allen (although I’m not down on him like most). And Jenkins has to prove that he can be anything other than abused, in the passing game

          • shady25

            I agree 100%. What would solve all of that is a shutdown corner. Hopefully Watkins can develop into one. That would be so sweet if we could not worry about half of the field. I hope Wolff develops into a competent safety. I hate to say it but he’s all we have. He should be running with the first team in a few weeks hopefully. I just don’t think Allen is smart enough or has the necessary intangibles. Was pretty decent his rookie year then got hurt and the rest is history.

            If Demeco had Kendricks speed or if Kendricks had Demeco’s brain then coverage in the middle of the field would not be an issue. Can’t wait to get started and see how much this unit improves.

          • RIP illa

            Yeah me too. Despite all that I say, like you, I still have a feeling that there will be improvement from our pass D. Just don’t know how much, but still can’t wait to see it.

    • shady25

      I didn’t hear one negative thing about Fletcher during OTAs either. So I don’t understand. I would keep him because he’s younger, cheaper and he’s pretty good obviously. Not a playmaker, but he’s solid.

    • sdk152

      It’s a fair question. Let me look at the tape and see if I can come up with something in the next couple weeks. The sense I get from those in the organization is that Fletcher would be more likely to be replaced. I think they really like Williams. But that is not an evidence-based answer. We’ll dig deeper on this. -SK

      • aub32

        Thanks. Looking forward to it.

  • aub32

    I don’t get the rationale behind seeing more dime looks out of our defense. We didn’t make any upgrades in the front 7, and we saw what happens against the Saints when we focus solely on stopping the pass. We face: Lynch, Lacy, Gore & Co., Morris, Murray, Cam/Williams/Stewart, and Foster. The Rams should also look to run the ball more this year. Wolff won’t help against the run more than Ryans/Barwin.

    • JofreyRice

      IMO Rams are going to be nasty on the ground. Zac Stacy & Tre Mason. Putting the LT they drafted at #2 in a guard spot and letting him utilize that mauling strength instead of going through the learning pains of pass protectiion on the edge might not be the best long term strategy, but it basically ensures they’re going to get a lot of bang for their buck with the pick right away.

    • RIP illa

      Seems like the whole Dime concept thing, from fans, comes from an attempt to get Ryans off the field on passing downs and to also mitigate some of the lackluster safety play (although I’m not sure as to how it would exactly do that), especially on 3rd and longs, where we struggled.

      I’m with you on this one. Without any upgrade(s) to our rush, with our schedule, and with the lack of clear evidence and or theories on how it would actually benefit us on 3rd and longs…I’m not gonna be storming the castle to see it happen.

      Just remembered, that there was a lot of talk last year about Davis wanting to use a 3rd safety in some situations. We might of even saw it a time or two. But I don’t really see the benefit in that either, as seeing we do not have any big/dominating safeties, Like Chancellor, who can be the equivalent of an extra LB, if opponents decide to run. Nor do we have a dominating coverage safety that can man up like a top flight CB. So I’m still failing to see the benefit of going Dime, for this year.

      • dnabrice

        You only do Dime on 3rd and long, which was the bane of the Eagles def last year. No risk of a run, and if it is, the DB are big enough to wrap up and wait for help to arrive, which should happen well before the 1st down. Have to stop those 3rd and long conversions that happened way too frequently.

        You could accomplish it by bringing in a safety like Jenkins to replace the ILB. Not quite LB for CB, but LB for S who can cover RB/TE slipping out.

  • Eneagled3

    My hope for Boykin is that he will at least get more playing time and start strategically. Sure, CK wants has measurables and wants tall CB’s to combat the leaguewide trend towards tall WR’s, but these are general trends. Team by team fluctuations exist. I think it would be a mistake not to start Boykin against the skins (or similarly sized team), where their top 2 WR’s are 6′ and under. He could still play nickel when we want 3 CB’s

    • aub32

      I don’t know why fans have this notion that Boykin will be a good match against DJax just because of their size. Has anyone in this forum ever gone to camp? I have. None of the CBs on this team came anywhere close to stopping Jackson one on one. That includes Boykin. I really like Boykin. I was happy we drafted him, but going against and stopping #3 WRs is not the same as beating DeSean on the outside.

      • Eneagled<3

        My point was that, if Boykin were the best CB on the team, except for the size aspect, it would be a good idea to play him against teams that had smaller WR’s where size wouldn’t be an issue. I never said he could stop Jackson. But since you brought it up, How about Pierre Garcon? Do you think it would be better to have someone else cover of DeSean?

        • aub32

          I think it’s best to have at least two people cover DeSean at all times. I love Boykin. I met him once and he’s a cool guy. However, I side with the coaches that there’s a reason he doesn’t play outside. Who would you feel comfortable with him lining outside against? Maybe Beckham? I wouldn’t put him outside against Fitz, Dez, Crab, Benjamin (6’7″), Harvin, DJax, Wayne, Johnson and so on. I think he’s best served taking away the #3 WR instead of needing help to go against the #1 or #2 guy while simultaneously leaving us without someone to defend the slot.

          • Eneagled1

            Wow, you’re working really hard to try to make my point a bad one and backup yours. So, let me clarify. I didn’t actually state this, but I imagined that Boykin would still be our slot corner if we had 3 corners on the field. Since you keep circling back to Desean, (who was never my focus to begin with) I’d agree that regardless of which CB is covering Djax, I think you’d want to have safety help. Maybe Boykin would cover Garcon, who I helpfully mentioned before you even asked who I would want him covering. I noticed you mentioned a bunch of big receivers after I specifically said that I wanted Boykin starting against teams with smaller WR’s. This might point to a problem with reading comprehension. I’ll clarify without running through all of our opponent’s rosters. Any wideout 6’1″ and under. Maybe 6’2″. So yes, Harvin as well. It also doesn’t have to be the WR1, it could be WR2.

      • RIP illa

        We talked about this, your point before, and yet people still ignore it. SMH. I have all the respect and love in the world for Boykin, but I’d rather go by past occurrences, rather than that respect and love.

      • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

        I get your point, but it isn’t always the #3 receiver playing in the slot. i.e. Victor Cruz.

        • aub32

          Cruz is a special case. Cruz is a slot receiver who plays outside because Nicks couldn’t stay healthy and Randle has been disappointing thus far. Cruz was best when he had Nicks and Manningham playing outside.

  • Jerry Pomroy

    I’ve argued since signing that Carroll opted to sign here for a reason and it wasn’t to regress in his amount of playing time and ride the bench. He had to believe that he had a legit shot to start and that notion had to be shared from inside the organization.

    • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

      Let’s just hope the coaches make the right call and start him over Williams and not Fletcher.

      • Jerry Pomroy

        Let’s hope. In my eyes, CW is the 3rd best CB on this team right now. Give Jaylen “The Other” Watkins a season to acclimate & I think CW could become 4th on that list.

      • OldDuckMcDoc


        I weep every time I see someone talking about him replacing Fletcher when Williams is *right there* in all his sub-mediocre glory.

        I mean I don’t actually weep, because I’m too manly and stuff, but you get the idea.

        • MagatBrackendale

          It’s okay. You have allergies, right?

        • Johnny Domino

          I actually do weep when I see or hear “That leaves [at most] one opening for someone like Roc Carmichael or Curtis Marsh.”

          • Dominik

            Don’t think we’ll go with more than 10 DBs. Why should we? Jenkins is an emergency CB, Watkins is an emergency Safety (maybe even more than that, but they look at him as CB at the moment). So you can have 6 CBs or 6 Safeties if you want to.

            If you pick a player like Reynolds in the 5th and tell the media he would have been a higher pick next year, you better not cut him. Maybe he gets the IR treatment, but if not, he should be on the roster. They knew the Stanford thing, so it shouldn’t surprise anybody in the organisation.

            They signed Maragos this offseason to boost ST – and he was the back-up for Earl Thomas in Seattle, so he shouldn’t be Colt Anderson like when it comes to playing Defense. Don’t think Carroll would allow that.
            Allen, Wolff and obv. Jenkins are locks.

            I guess nobody besides those two (Roc and Marsh, that is) and their families/friends wants them to be on the Eagles 53 roster. But they only will be if they IR Reynolds and then I could life with it, even though I don’t like them as players.

          • Johnny Domino

            At least Roc has nice one name recognition, kinda like Cher.

          • dnabrice

            If they look at players for fit based on what they’ve done in the past, why is Watkins being talked about as a CB instead of a S? Wouldn’t you want to come into the draft as a CB not a safety?

  • 370HSSV 0773H

    The problem with putting Boykin on the corner is, who will play the slot? Right now we have two decent corners and the best slot cover in the game. Whoever we put in the slot will not match up well against a teams third wide receiver.

    Has Carroll played the slot? Watkins could eventually, but we don’t know how good he is yet. If we don’t have someone who can play the slot, teams will exploit it.

    • RIP illa

      Pretty sure Carroll has been an Outside guy pretty much his whole career. And this (what you said) should be a major concern or at least thought, for fans clamoring for Boykin to start and who are worried about losing him later down the line. Pretty much robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is never a good idea. And for those that are on the train of thought of, ‘Start him on the outside and let him switch to the inside, as needed…’, sounds good in theory, but nobody knows for sure if it can work like that. Can he do it??? Who knows. Do we really wanna to try this experiment during the season??? Prolly not. We could try it out in preseason, but that’s just way too small of a sample size, plus there’s a concerted effort to mitigate your player’s (starters and top talent) exposure to injury for a reason.

  • paul from nc

    “the best bet for the Eagles defense …. is that they will return 10 of the 11 starters from a year ago”
    If that’s the “best bet”, we’re in deep trouble. How can he think the other 10 guys can’t be improved upon?
    Prior to the draft, weren’t we talking about needing edge rushers, CB’s and LB’s?

  • soze

    Apparently alot if you guys forgot that once a game it seemed, fletch was getting called for PI, not for being overly aggressive, but for not turning his head around and running into the Wr…idk about how davis or chip feels about those plays, but those are numbskull plays…being in perfect position and getting called for PI over and over again because you simply wont turn your head around…CW only grabbed you if he was beat, most coaches can live with that…