Asomugha Returns to Practice, Has Trouble Speaking

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi AsomughaNnamdi Asomugha was a full participant in practice Friday afternoon for the first time since a violent mid-air collision with Nate Allen on Monday.

Asomugha suffered a lip laceration and a sore neck. On Tuesday, Andy Reid said the cornerback had “whiplash-type symptoms.”

Yesterday, Asomugha began practice, but did not finish because of discomfort in his neck. He said today that he couldn’t talk much because his lip is still recovering. Asomugha added that his neck is fine.

“It feels good to be back, get the wind back.” he said. “I just can’t really talk.”

Asked about what was going through his head right after the collision, Asomugha said, “I didn’t know what was going on, just the initial pain down my spine. Besides that, it’s fine.”

Players were in full pads yesterday, but today, it was just helmets and shells.

Meanwhile, Joselio Hanson, Antonio Dixon and Curtis Marsh all returned to practice and participated fully.

Hanson suffered a dislocated right pinky finger yesterday. It was heavily wrapped today. Dixon left yesterday because of a left triceps spasm, but he returned. And Marsh has been dealing with a hamstring injury. He said he “definitely” expects to play Monday vs. the Patriots.

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

DB Review: Issues For DRC, Asomugha, Jarrett

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi AsomughaHere is my player-by-player review of the Eagles defensive backs after having re-watched Thursday night’s preseason game against the Steelers. I will provide breakdowns on the other positions on Friday and Saturday. Click here for the linebackers.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – On one play in the first, he followed wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was in motion. Brown started out to the right of the formation, went in motion, but then came back. Last year, Eagles cornerbacks generally played one side or the other. But I think you’re going to seem Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha match up with specific receivers at times this year when it makes sense. Rodgers-Cromartie was good in coverage. He gave up a 7-yard completion on the play I just described, but later stayed with Emmanuel Sanders one-on-one as Ben Roethlisberger took a shot at him deep. However, Rodgers-Cromartie had a couple of issues we saw with him last year. He missed a tackle on running back Jonathan Dwyer, allowing him to pick up a few extra yards. And on the very next play, Rodgers-Cromartie launched himself at Byron Leftwich and picked up a 15-yard penalty. It was pretty much a textbook play of what you’re not supposed to do. He’s paid to cover, but Rodgers-Cromartie needs to be more reliable in the other aspects of his game.

Nnamdi Asomugha – As expected, he was used in different ways – both on the left and right sides. Asomugha assisted in run support on a 2-yard carry by Isaac Redman and again on a 4-yard run. It looked like the Eagles were in zone on a 3rd-and-11 play where Asomugha was initially on Sanders, but then passed him off. Roethlisberger found Sanders for a 17-yard completion before Jaiquawn Jarrett could get to him. On another play, Asomugha was used exactly how people want him to be used, playing man coverage on Antonio Brown and pressing at the line of scrimmage. The only problem? Asomugha got beat inside on a 14-yard completion. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bigger hole in a zone than the one he, Jarrett and Brian Rolle left on the Steelers’ first touchdown. Later, Asomugha didn’t exactly give great effort on Dwyer’s 33-yard run down the left sideline.

Joselio Hanson – He’s holding on to the first-team nickel corner job for now and made a couple very nice plays in this one. Hanson tackled Chris Rainey after a third-down completion and stopped him short of a first. He also made a good tackle on Redman in the flat on third down, forcing the Steelers to settle for a field goal. I’m getting close to re-considering my decision to leave him off the 53-man roster.

Curtis Marsh – I may have missed it, but don’t think we saw the Nickel Nnam with Marsh joining Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie. He mostly played left cornerback with the twos. Marsh had good coverage on wide receiver Toney Clemons, forcing quarterback Jerrod Johnson to throw the ball out of bounds on a designed rollout.

Brandon Hughes – He played right cornerback with the twos, but can’t say I noticed him one way or another. Don’t believe Hughes was targeted. He’s squarely on the roster bubble.

Brandon Boykin – I’ll get to his kickoff return when I do a special-teams review, but Boykin was the nickel corner on the second team. He had a chance to make a tackle on Rainey near the 10 on the 57-yard touchdowns, but couldn’t bring him down. It’s going to be interesting to see if he gets a chance to run with the ones in Hanson’s place at some point in the next few weeks.

Kurt Coleman – He started alongside Jarrett. Safety is an especially difficult position to evaluate off TV, but I thought he played fine. Coleman had three tackles, including one on Redman after a 5-yard gain.

Jaiquawn Jarrett – Not a good performance for the second-year safety. Jarrett bounced off Sanders after a 17-yard completion on 3rd-and-11. He missed a tackle on Brown, allowing him to pick up 6 extra yards in the second. Rainey ran right around him on the 3rd-and-13 draw that picked up a first. Jarrett came flying in and ran into Vinny Curry on Dwyer’s 33-yard run (must-see GIF right here). And he got blocked in the open field by backup lineman John Malecki on Rainey’s 57-yard touchdown. At this point, it’s tough to tell if Jarrett takes poor angles, is just slow, or both. I don’t mean to pile on the guy, but other than the one day at training camp where he looked good, he has not shown signs of contributing since being drafted in the second round.

Oshiomogho Atogwe – Not much action came his way. Atogwe finished with a pair of tackles (one solo). He lined up at safety alongside Jarrett with the second team. If Jarrett continues to struggle and Atogwe can show something, he’ll have a chance to make the team. Of course, there’s also the possibility that both guys make it.

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

‘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.

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.

Eagles Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks

Leading up to the first full-squad practice, our position-by-position preview continues with a look at the Eagles’ cornerbacks.

Save ‘em a spot: Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh.

Somewhere along the line, I started to hear the argument that the Eagles’ defense finally started playing well last year when they used Asomugha in man coverage on one side of the field. But that wasn’t really the case. Very late into last season, Asomugha was still being used in a variety of ways, including inside against tight ends.

Yesterday, when veterans arrived, T-Mac asked Asomugha if he still expected to be used in different ways this season, and he said he did. The idea is that Juan Castillo now knows what worked and what didn’t work with him in 2011. But don’t expect Asomugha to just line up on the right side and play man coverage the whole game.

One other nugget to share about Asomugha. While he did not have a good season, opposing quarterbacks still stayed away from him quite a bit. According to Pro Football Focus, Asomugha was targeted about 6.3 percent of the time when he was in coverage. As a point of reference, Asante Samuel was targeted about 12.6 percent of the time. The problem with Asomugha, of course, was that when he was targeted, he gave up too many big plays.

As for Rodgers-Cromartie, he clearly looked more comfortable once the Eagles moved him to the outside, and that’s where he’ll line up in 2012. My guess is you’re going to read a lot of glowing reviews about Rodgers-Cromartie at training camp. But remember, this is the kind of environment in which he gets to show off his top-end speed and athleticism. The problem last year was that he was careless once opposing wide receivers made catches against him, and his tackling was poor.

Considering he’s scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, perhaps this is the year Rodgers-Cromartie will put it all together. But I’m in wait-and-see mode. Remember, the Cardinals were willing to include him in the Kevin Kolb deal even though Rodgers-Cromartie was only 25 and had already made a Pro Bowl.

Boykin, meanwhile, is a lock to make the roster, but will he start out the season as the nickel corner? According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles played nickel about 47 percent of the time last year. It’s up to Boykin to unseat Joselio Hanson and take over that role.

And finally, there’s Marsh. A third-round pick in 2011, he’ll have the inside track on one of the backup jobs, which is important because it means he could be called on should Asomugha or Rodgers-Cromartie suffer an injury. Marsh only played 13 snaps as a rookie, though, so he’s largely an unknown at this point.

Fighting for a job: Joselio Hanson, Brandon Hughes, Cliff Harris, Trevard Lindley, Wade Bonner.

Hughes saw some action last year, most notably in the Patriots game, but did not play particularly well. He has a good chance to make the roster, but will have to hold off the other names on this list.

As for Hanson, don’t forget that the Eagles cut him last year before eventually bringing him back. He was better than Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot, but did not play particularly well and turns 31 in August. The Eagles know what they have in Hanson. If he happens to make the team and win the nickel corner spot, it will be more of a reflection on what they’re not seeing out of Boykin.

Harris has been a play-maker through the first three days of camp. Assuming the Eagles keep five or six cornerbacks, competition is open, and he could push for a backup spot, especially if Harris is able to contribute on special teams.

Lindley, a fourth-round pick in 2010, and Bonner, an undrafted free agent, are longshots.

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

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