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.