Eagles Wake-Up Call: CB Training Camp Preview

Each day this week, we’ll take a look at a different position group as we count down to training camp.

What’s changed?

Can I just write “everything” and move on to the next section?

Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are out. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are in.

In the summer of 2011, the Eagles appeared to be in excellent shape at this position. They had Asante Samuel on the roster, traded for Rodgers-Cromartie and signed Asomugha. They even drafted a developmental prospect in the third round in Curtis Marsh.

Just two summers later, Marsh is the only one still on the roster.

The pressing question: Did the Eagles do enough to improve this group?

The names are different, but will the results be?

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, Williams finished 79th out of 87 corners in success rate (definition here) last season. As a point of reference, Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha finished 62nd and 65th, respectively.

Williams also allowed a combined 41 first downs/touchdowns, third-most in the NFL, per the FOA. On the flip side, he only missed two tackles all season and had four interceptions to go along with 17 passes defensed.

Flethcher, meanwhile, got benched during the second half of last season in favor of younger options, but has had productive stretches in the past.

It would be hard for the corners as a group to be worse than last year. The Eagles allowed a league-worst 33 touchdown passes in 2012 and only had eight interceptions (30th). But there’s no guarantee that Williams and Fletcher will provide a significant upgrade either.

Don’t be surprised if…

Boykin emerges as one of the better inside corners in the league. His 58 percent success rate last year ranked 15th, according to Football Outsiders.

And per Pro Football Focus’ charting numbers, Boykin only allowed three receptions in the Eagles’ final six games.

The Eagles played with at least one extra corner 49 percent of the time last year. I’d be surprised if Boykin got a shot on the outside, but if he improves in the slot, the Eagles will be ecstatic.

Roster battles to watch

While Williams and Fletcher are the favorites, Marsh has an outside chance of stealing some playing time. The third-year corner had good measurables coming out of Utah State, but he’s yet to prove he can be a productive player in the NFL.

Seventh-round pick Jordan Poyer has generated some buzz nationally as a potential sleeper. Given his versatility, he has a chance to stick, although I don’t see him unseating Boykin for the nickel job.

Brandon Hughes, meanwhile, seems to just make the cut every year.

Williams, Fletcher and Boykin look like locks to make the roster. Marsh, Hughes and Poyer will probably be competing for two spots.

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles have invested $1 million in technology upgrades. T-Mac has the details.

Peter King makes a Chip Kelly/Jimmy Johnson comparison. Here’s what they’re saying about the Eagles.

Yesterday’s installment of the camp preview series looked at the running backs.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

SI.com’s Don Banks wonders whether Kelly will have the Eagles looking like an NFL version of Oregon by the end of the preseason:

Complicating the situation, of course, is the quarterback competition that will rage in the coming weeks, with Michael Vick, Nick Foles and maybe even rookie Matt Barkley vying to prove their skill set is the best fit for Kelly’s aggressive and attacking approach. The sooner the Eagles’ offense identifies its trigger man, the better. Starting next week, all seat belts should be fastened for a full-speed takeoff in Philly.

Paul Domowitch of the Daily News looks at Kelly’s decision to hold camp in Philadelphia:

As everyone knows, Kelly places a premium on players’ getting a good night’s sleep. You don’t have to be the CEO of Serta to figure out that a player is likely to sleep better in his own bed or at the Airport Marriott than on a lumpy dorm-room mattress with a 330-pound offensive lineman with sleep apnea lying 4 feet away from you.

COMING UP

Some notes on Kelly and what he looks for in the box score.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Where the Rookies Stand Going Into Camp

In exactly two weeks, the rookies will report to NovaCare to kick off Eagles training camp. July 22 is the report date, then they’ll practice for each of the next two days before the vets show up on the 25th.

With the rooks up first, let’s take a look at where the 2013 draft picks stand heading into camp.

OT LANE JOHNSON

The No. 4 overall pick began the spring working with the second team but got bumped up to first-string right tackle at minicamp. Ideally, the Eagles would like him to stay there. Now that the pads are on, the coaches will get a better sense of how he stacks up against seasoned pass rushers. The 6-6, 310-pounder out of Oklahoma is considered a raw talent. It’s a question of how much of the raw he can get out of him by September.

TE ZACH ERTZ

The tight end out of Stanford missed out on some valuable learning time, as the graduation rules prevented him from participating in OTAs and minicamp. Ertz says that he spent that time in his playbook but he’ll still have plenty of catching up to do, all while competing against Brent Celek and James Casey.

DT BENNIE LOGAN

Logan saw time at nose, the three technique and defensive end this spring. He is projected mainly as an interior lineman. The third-round pick out of LSU has been sticking close to Isaac Sopoaga in hopes of picking up tips that will shorten his learning curve. He’ll be trying to prove that he deserves some playing time in Year One.

QB MATT BARKLEY

Barkley — a four-year starter both in high school and college — is used to being the man, but enters camp behind both Michael Vick and Nick Foles in the quarterback pecking order. It will take a very strong showing in the preseason for the coaching staff to entertain the idea of starting the USC product Week 1. It would be unwise to rule him out completely until we see how he (and his competition) looks running Kelly’s offense.

S EARL WOLFF

The starting safety jobs appear to be up for grabs, and  training camp provides the fifth-round selection out of N.C. State an opportunity to prove that he deserves to be in consideration for one of them. He got a few snaps with the first unit during minicamp, though Patrick Chung and Nate Allen saw the most time with the ones.

DE JOE KRUGER

This could very well be more of a long-term project. Best guess as of right now is that he’ll be fighting to make the 53-man roster and stay off the practice squad.

CB JORDAN POYER

Like Ertz, Poyer was sidelined for much of the offseason training program because of the graduation rules. He has experience playing inside and could conceivably challenge Brandon Boykin for the spot, though it may best to think of him as special teams player to start and view anything else as a bonus.

DE DAVID KING

The D-end spot opposite Fletcher Cox is up for grabs, giving hope to the seventh-rounder out of Oklahoma. He got some work with the second team during minicamp.

WHAT YOU MISSED

One national writer says that few NFL coaches believe Kelly will succeed.

The brand of ball at cornerback promises to be different this season.

A look at the most overrated and underrated Eagles of all time, per NFL.com.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Dan Graziano believes the scheme change will benefit Cox.

Many 2012 draft analysts said Cox profiled as an ideal 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, but I think the hybrid-style stuff Chip Kelly and Bill Davis are working to install in Philadelphia actually lines up better with what Cox can do than a traditional 3-4 look would. Cox can play the run and operate in a two-gap defensive line scheme if need be, but his strength is his ability to shoot gaps and get into the backfield where he can chase down running backs or quarterbacks and break up plays. He’s strong enough to play a traditional 3-4 defensive end spot, which would basically require him to eat up blockers and keep pass-rush lanes open for the outside linebackers. And the Eagles may ask him to do some of that. But this is a player who’s at his best when he’s presented with variety and an ability to freelance. I think the Eagles’ new defense will allow him to do that, and I think he’ll thrive.

StadiumJourney.com (H/T to BGN) recently ranked all the sports venues in Philadelphia, and put Lincoln Financial Field at the top of the list above Citizens Bank Park and the Palestra. It seems to be more of a nod to the fans rather than to the actual venue.

The Philadelphia Eagles are more than simple numbers or the harassment of Father Christmas. Philadelphia is where greats like Reggie White, Chuck Bednarik and Brian Dawkins played and had their numbers retired. The Eagles’ fan base also consistently ranks among the best in the league, placing first in a 2008 Forbes survey and third in both a 1999 and 2006 American City Business Journal survey.

In case you missed it, Jimmy Kempski is shutting down his Blogging the BEast site after two successful years. He’s moving on to bigger and better ventures, and we wish him luck. He’s a good guy and a good writer.

COMING UP

Fourteen days until training camp.

Zach Ertz, Jordan Poyer Face Early Test

Rams running back Isaiah Pead called his rookie season “miserable.”

The 50th overall pick in the 2012 draft and presumed heir apparent to Steven Jackson never got off the ground. He slipped behind seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson on the depth chart and ended with only 10 carries for 54 yards on the season.

Rams general manager Les Snead attributed a portion of Pead’s struggles to the effects of the league’s graduation rule — the same one that kept tight end Zach Ertz and cornerback Jordan Poyer away from the NovaCare until recently. From PFT:

Pead slid behind Richardson in part because, as Rams G.M. Les Snead explained it during Thursday’s PFT Live, Pead wasn’t available for OTAs due to the rule that prevents rookies from joining their teams until after final exams have ended at their respective colleges.

Richardson’s presence, coupled with Pead’s absence, gave Richardson a head start he never relinquished.

A couple important things to point out as we examine Ertz and Poyer’s situation through this prism:

Missing time early doesn’t have this kind of impact on everybody. Andrew Luck, as an example, was forced to sit out last spring and turned out alright. The key is how you respond to it. Pead, who will miss the opener for violating the NFL’s policy for substance abuse, admitted that he allowed the early trials to get the better of him, and apparently arrived late to a couple meetings once he fell below Richardson on the depth chart.

The mental approach is key. And by the sounds of it, Ertz and Poyer have been handling things the right way.

“It was tough to see all my teammates out here doing a lot of football activity but at the end of the day there was nothing I could really do about it, so I took it with a grain of salt and studied the playbook as much as I could,” Ertz told the team’s website.

Poyer said that after the post-draft minicamp he went back to Oregon State and spent the time working out with his trainer and studying film.

“For not going to minicamp, I think I am where I need to be,” said Poyer.

Both Ertz and Poyer have missed all activity since the post-draft minicamp because of the graduation rules. They finally re-joined the team this week for the final few days of the rookie program. They’re using this time to try and get as caught up as possible.

Chip Kelly didn’t draft a weapon like Ertz 35th overall to sit him on the bench. He’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities his rookie year, even with Brent Celek and James Casey on the roster. And Kelly is very familiar with Poyer, who played at rival Oregon State. The seventh-rounder will have a chance to compete, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the cornerback position.

But they missed some valuable learning time. And it’s fair to question whether this rule, as it’s currently written, isn’t doing more harm than good to the students it effects.

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Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Cornerbacks

This is the second in a series. Throughout the next week or two, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Eagles’ roster. Yesterday, we broke down the safety situation.

The initial overhaul during the summer of 2011 didn’t work out, so the Eagles tried again this offseason.

Gone are Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. In are Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.

During the draft, the Eagles didn’t find corner help early, but they grabbed Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer in the seventh round.

Returning from last year’s roster are nickel corner Brandon Boykin, 2011 third-round pick Curtis Marsh and veteran Brandon Hughes. The Eagles also have Eddie Whitley, who spent the last four weeks of 2012 on the practice squad. And 2010 fourth-round pick Trevard Lindley is still around as well.

Here’s a look at all the cornerbacks on the roster (alphabetical order):

 
Height
Weight
Age
Years/Starts
Brandon Boykin5-10185221/4
Bradley Fletcher6-0200264/26
Brandon Hughes5-11185263/1
Trevard Lindley6-0183271/1
Curtis Marsh6-1197252/0
Jordan Poyer6-0191220/0
Eddie Whitley6-0191231/0
Cary Williams6-1190285/33

Pencil ‘em in: Williams, Fletcher, Boykin.

While we’re still about four months away from the opener, Williams and Fletcher seem like the favorites to start. Williams started 32 games for the Ravens the past two seasons. Fletcher only started four games in 2012, but he will have every opportunity to win the job opposite Williams.

Boykin certainly had his share of growing pains as a rookie, but overall, he held up pretty well in what turned out to be a dysfunctional secondary. He’s got the inside track on the nickel job, although it should be noted that Poyer can play inside and should provide some competition.

Fighting for spots: Marsh, Poyer, Hughes, Lindley, Whitley.

The measurables on Marsh were good coming out of Utah State: 6-1, 197, 4.46 40. But we’ve seen no signs that he’s a starting-caliber player. Marsh has played a total of 75 snaps the past two seasons (per PFF) and is squarely on the roster bubble.

Poyer has a really good shot of sticking because of his wide array of skills. Poyer has experience playing inside, outside, safety and special teams (returner and coverage). Of course, if Chip Kelly and the coaches determine that Poyer is not particularly good at any of those skills, he could be let go. But at this point, he’s got a good chance of making the team.

Hughes’ value comes on special teams. He was the first man down in coverage a team-best 37 times last year, according to stats kept by the coaches.

Lindley and Whitley are long-shots.

Bottom line? There’s a good chance only two players from this group will make the team. My guess is Poyer takes one of the spots, but the other one will be up for grabs.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Jordan Poyer: ‘I’ll Remember Who Passed Me Up’

Asked for a  moment that could shed some light on the make-up of Jordan Poyer, Oregon State secondary coach Rod Perry pointed to October 6 of this past season against Washington State. Poyer had three interceptions in the game to lead the Beavers to a 19-6 win. It wasn’t the performance that was noteworthy to Perry, but rather what prompted it.

“[Washington State] was jawing at him before the game. That got him fired up,” he said. “What I got out of that is that he is a highly-competitive guy that won’t back down. You don’t want to get him riled up. You don’t want to back him into a corner.”

If it’s firewood he needs, then he should be able to pull an acre’s worth from his draft experience. The consensus All-American and Bednarik Award semifinalist (top defensive player) was projected by some to be a top-100 pick. Instead, he slid all the way to 218 before finally getting plucked in the seventh round by the Eagles.

“It [was] a long couple days, that’s for sure,” said Poyer. “It was [agonizing] but I kind of want to have an idea of who passed me up because I kind of use that stuff when I play. I’ll remember who passed me up and I’ll use it and let it fuel me.”

Poyer (6-0, 191) started his college career as a safety before transitioning to corner as a sophomore. A special teams contributor all four years, Poyer became a starter in 2011 and earned second-team All-Pac 12 honors, ending with four interceptions and 16 passes defensed.

Last season the coaching staff decided to move Poyer around, frequently deploying him in the slot. He responded with seven interceptions (second most in the country) and 14 passes defensed, adding a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. Chip Kelly saw his versatility and effectiveness up close at Oregon.

“Just an outstanding football player,” said Kelly. “He’s a corner, he’s also a nickel, he’s also a very, very good returner. I thought we got some depth from a special teams standpoint. I think he had six picks this year as a nickel. He has a lot of experience playing inside and covering slot receivers. He’s a tough, physical, hard-nosed player.”

Oregon State decided to move Poyer inside for several reasons. He matched up well with slot receivers, showed the instincts necessary to create in that space, and didn’t shy away from the physical element of the game.   Plus, it’s easier to avoid throwing in a corner’s direction if he is exclusively on the outside.

Perry, a former Pro Bowl cornerback with extensive NFL coaching experience, likened Poyer to longtime pro Terry Cousin and Ricky Manning, Jr., whom Eagles fans are all too familiar with.

It came as a shock to Perry when Poyer was arrested in May for trying to get into a bar which he had previously been banned from.

“At times you make bad decisions when you’re young and you learn and grow from it,” said Perry, who touted Poyer’s work ethic in the gym as well as the classroom. “That was a one-time type deal. His character is outstanding.”

Poyer served as the gunner on punt coverage and as a punt and kick returner while at Oregon State. He doesn’t know exactly why he slipped in the draft, but plans on coming in and contributing early — whether it be on special teams or otherwise.

“I am ready to play wherever they need me. I’ll play on all special teams and however they want to use me I’m ready,” he said.

“[The draft] was a long couple days, but like I said I was just happy to go somewhere. I know I’ll make the most of my opportunity.”

Draftbreakdown.com cut-ups:

In Oregon State’s 2011 matchup against Arizona State, Poyer intercepted Brock Osweiler twice. On both picks (:18 and 1:45) he shows good anticipation and instincts. You can also see him as a kick and punt returner here (he muffs a punt in this game.)

In the 2012 Alamo Bowl against Texas, you can see  just how much his role changed from one year to the next. He lines up all over the place. He comes on the blitz at 3:05, tracks down the quarterback at the 3:45 mark and shows the ability to lay a big hit at 4:25.

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