Throughout the course of the week, we’ll be providing position-by-position previews of the entire Eagles roster. Click here to get to all of them. Today, we cover the cornerbacks.
The roster: Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes.
Player in the spotlight: Nnamdi Asomugha
Nationally, some are pushing the idea that Juan Castillo and the defensive coaches realized the error in their ways last season and will simply line Asomugha up on the right side and let him play man coverage all game.
But those of you who are regular readers of Birds 24/7 know that’s not the case.
Yes, the Eagles have made adjustments from last year’s defense. They have taken out certain coverage schemes that caused confusion in the secondary or were just generally ineffective. But Asomugha is still going to be used in a variety of ways. He’ll play some man coverage and press at the line of scrimmage. He’ll play some zone. He might switch sides with Rodgers-Cromartie at times. And he’ll move inside to shadow tight ends on certain weeks.
The question that we don’t have an answer to is this: At 31, does Asomugha still possess the same physical skills that made him an elite corner with the Raiders? If the answer is yes, then it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that the Eagles should use him the same way Oakland did. But if the answer is no, then they need to find the best way to utilize his current skill set after signing Asomugha to a five-year, $60M contract with $25M guaranteed.
With tight ends becoming such a big part of the NFL passing game, using Asomugha against the likes of Jimmy Graham and Jason Witten on certain weeks could make sense. He had success in that role last season.
Looking at Football Outsiders charting numbers, Asomugha was targeted 38 times last year, which translates to 9.7 percent of the team’s overall targets. That was an increase from his previous two seasons in Oakland (31 targets/7.9 percent in 2010 and 25 targets/6.5 percent in 2009). But quarterbacks still much preferred throwing at Asante Samuel on the other side. Samuel was targeted 62 times, which translates to 18.1 percent of the team’s overall targets.
The key for Asomugha in 2012 will be making plays on the ball when he is targeted. There has been a lot of talk about how the Eagles can part ways with Michael Vick after the season if he doesn’t produce. The same can be said for Asomugha, who’s due $15M in 2013.
You should also know that…
* Rodgers-Cromartie is in the final year of his contract. The 26-year-old has all the physical tools to be an elite corner, but he was a poor fit in the slot last season. Rodgers-Cromartie improved when he moved to the outside late in the season, although his tackling skills aren’t much better than Samuel’s. Given the target numbers I mentioned above, Rodgers-Cromartie can expect to see plenty of action this season. He could parlay a strong start into a contract extension.
* One player the Eagles need to find out about is Curtis Marsh. A third-round pick in 2011, Marsh will be the first cornerback in should Asomugha or Rodgers-Cromartie go down. He’ll also play on the right side if and when Asomugha gets moved inside. With a strong showing, Marsh could put himself in place to start in 2013, should the Eagles cut ties with Asomugha or let Rodgers-Cromartie walk.
* Brandon Boykin won the starting nickel corner job. That means he’ll likely be on the field for about half of the team’s defensive snaps. Boykin played inside in college and has outstanding athleticism. He’ll endure some growing pains but should be a solid contributor right away.
* Brandon Hughes provides depth and versatility. He can play inside or outside and will also contribute on special teams.
* The players have had nothing but great things to say about new secondary coach Todd Bowles. If this unit matches or exceeds expectations in 2012, Bowles will deserve a lot of credit.
Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.