Eagles 2015 Training Camp Battles: The Secondary | Eagles Addict
Nolan Carroll

Eagles competition in Secondary should be tight. Photo courtesy of gcobb.com

With Eagles training camp set to begin tomorrow, I thought we’d start looking at some of the most interesting camp battles ahead.

That leads me to the Cornerback and Safety positions, which have the most questions when it comes to the starters.  There are two starting spots completely up for grabs in what will again be a refurbished Secondary.

Right now, the only sure-fire starters are Malcolm Jenkins and Byron Maxwell.  The coaches still need to determine who is the best CB to start opposite Maxwell and the best Safety to start opposite Jenkins.

Heading into last season, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were entrenched as the starting corners along with Jenkins at Safety.  The only slight competition was the other Safety spot but nobody really challenged Nate Allen.

This year is different.  There are two spots that are open…WIDE open.

If we go by the OTAs and mini camp, Nolan Carroll gets first shot at the open CB spot while surprisingly Walter Thurmond, whom is making a position switch, gets first crack at the open Safety spot.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything at this point.

Here is the complete list of contenders currently on the Eagles’ roster:

Nolan Carroll
Walter Thurmond
E.J. Biggers
Jaylen Watkins
Jerome Couplin
Randall Evans
JaCorey Shepherd
Eric Rowe
Denzel Rice
Chris Maragos
Chris Prosinski
Ed Reynolds
Earl Wolff
Brandon Boykin

That’s 13 total players vying for two starting spots as well as likely five or six reserve spots (depending if they keep 9 or 10 DBs). As for the starters, which pair of players from this group do you think will work best with Jenkins and Maxwell?

The most immediate exclusions I see are Maragos (ST’er), Prosinski (ST’er), Reynolds, Biggers, Rice and Boykin…who despite what the coaches say, will almost undoubtedly stay as the slot CB.

That leaves seven players who, at least theoretically, have the best chances of earning a starting spot.

The main battle for the open CB spot will most likely be Nolan Carroll vs. Eric Rowe.

Nolan Carroll is listed at 6′ 1″ 205 lbs and is  28 years old.  He came to the Eagles last year as a free agent after spending his first four seasons in Miami.  He was a fifth round pick in the 2010 draft.

Has started 26 games in his career and has totaled 26 passes defensed, five INTs, three sacks and one FF.  Played last year primarily in the Eagles’ dime package and even at the dime LB position.

Carroll received some compliments from Chip Kelly, Bill Davis, Cory Undlin and Malcolm Jenkins back in May about the way he has prepared himself both physically and mentally for this upcoming season.

Here’s a quote from Undlin:

“Nolan has come in exactly with the mind-set that we want from every player,” Undlin said. “He’s not satisfied where he was. He’s not satisfied with where he was yesterday. So every time he comes into the building right now, his mind-set is telling him, `Listen, I’m going to find a way to become better than I was yesterday.’ And he has honestly done that every single day he’s been here.

“… I believe every guy in there has done that. Nolan has stuck out. We do those competitions, and he’s won a lot of them. You just feel it. You ask anybody on the team and they feel Nolan Carroll right now.”

 

Kelly loves players that are well prepared and when combined with his experience, he’s the obvious player to give first crack at the starting CB spot.

But, can he run away with it?  That’s the question.  His time in Miami was up and down and Dolphins fans were said to be frustrated with him because on one play he’d show good skill with tight coverage and then the next he’d get beat for a big play.

Unfortunately, that kind of sounds like Bradley Fletcher before he became a full time dumpster fire.  Not that Carroll is condemned to the same fate as Fletcher, it’s just something to note.

If there’s one thing that bothers me about Carroll being the potential starter it’s that he seemingly couldn’t supplant Fletcher last year until the Eagles were out of playoff contention.

Why didn’t Bill Davis make the move sooner?

Fletcher was flat-out bad last year and it was evident from early in the season, yet Davis stuck with him.  If the “best players will start” and Fletcher kept starting ahead of Carroll, what does that say about Carroll?

If we are to assume that the coaches know what they’re doing in regards to putting their best players on the field, it’s fair to say that the coaches viewed Fletcher as a better option than both Carroll and Boykin.

And that’s more than a little scary.

It’s possible that Carroll had a learning curve in his first season with the Eagles, but “learning curves” are usually reserved for rookies or first year players.  Carroll came with four years experience and quality starting experience so I don’t buy the learning curve excuse.

And it’s that experience along with his offseason preparation as the reasons why he’s getting the first chance to run with the starters.

Furthermore, he should certainly be motivated financially. He’s in the second year of a two-year deal and this is his best chance to win a starting job and parlay that into another contract.

However, he’s going to have to hold off what promises to be a strong push from rookie Eric Rowe. He comes in as a top-rated college DB, albeit one with far more experience at the Safety position (36 starts) than at the CB position (9 starts) during his four years at Utah.

Size-wise, Rowe is listed as the same exact height and weight as Carroll on the Eagles’ web site (6′ 1″, 205 lbs), but per Carroll’s measurements at the NFL Combine in 2010, he’s actually two inches shorter at 5′ 11″ (same weight).

The following quote from Cory Undlin with context from Tim McManus of Birds 24/7 could be what ultimately propels Rowe over Carroll when it’s all said and done…

“I strongly believe the kid can be a top-level corner in this league. That’s it,” he said.

What skill set does Rowe possess that gives him that type of ceiling?

“Mental. The guy is smart, the guy’s got some length, he’s got good change of direction, he’s got everything — obviously we took him in the second round — he’s got all the attributes that you would like to hope would make him a good corner in this league,” said Undlin.

There have been some positive signs here in the early going. Undlin pointed to “an unbelievable play” Rowe made on Wednesday that speaks to his level of growth in a short period of time. The new defensive backs coach didn’t want to offer up too many specifics, but explained that based off the offensive formation and split of the wideout, Rowe properly diagnosed the situation and made a call that put the defense in position to have the upper hand.

“Actually, it was really impressive,” he said.

If Rowe is already making this kind of progress with the mental aspect of the game, I would imagine he’ll be as ready as possible by late August.

Carroll is being given the first shot here because he is the veteran and that’s how it should be. While I’m not exactly excited by it, I do think there is a decent chance he ends up being the starter in September.

But whether or not he is still starting by December is another story.

I also think there’s a decent chance Rowe wins the job initially as long as two things happen: He doesn’t obviously struggle during camp and preseason, and the coaches really do keep an open mind and not just hand Carroll the job because they want to appear loyal to veterans.

If Carroll gets the nod, I don’t think Davis will wait as long as he did with Fletcher to yank him from the starting job should he struggle a few games in a row.

Now, as far as the battle for the open Safety position opposite Jenkins, the main event seems to be Walter Thurmond vs. Earl Wolff.

Thurmond comes to the Eagles after spending his first four years with Seattle and last year with the Giants.  His accumulative stats after five years in the league as a CB are 89 tackles, one INT, one sack and two forced fumbles.

To put those number in perspective, they are comparable to the stats Bradley Fletcher posted just last year alone.

The problem with Thurmond is that he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to start as he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career.  In 2011 when he had an opportunity to be the starter, a broken fibula ended his season.  He then re-broke the fibula the following offseason which caused him to start 2012 on the PUP list.

After being activated off the PUP in 2012, he ended up missing time with a hamstring injury.  In 2013, Thurmond was suspended for four weeks after violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Then finally he missed just about all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.  If you think that’s lengthy, I didn’t even mention the torn ACL he suffered in his final year in college.

So, if you’re counting along, he’s only had one season out of the past six years where he didn’t miss time for one thing or another and that was his rookie year in 2010.  This would be a good time to insert the obligatory joke forumula: Former Duck + injury prone = Chip Kelly player.

But, I’ll resist.

In any case, Thurmond is thought to have enough skill level to start in this league.  When he was originally signed, most thought it was to be the slot CB in case Brandon Boykin was traded.

That could still be the case if a decent offer for Boykin rolls in at some point.  But, for now, he seems to be firmly entrenched in the battle to start at Safety.  Reports out of OTAs and mini camp were that he looked good in his new position and seems to be adapting well.

We’ll see if that holds up during camp.

As for Earl Wolff, the first thing he needs to do is work his way out of Kelly’s dog house.  During the mini camp and OTAs, it seemed as though Wolff and Kelly weren’t on the same page regarding Wolff’s recovery from the knee injury he suffered in 2013.

Kelly apparently felt that Wolff should be doing more and participating, but Wolff says he wasn’t quite ready yet.  It could end up being a continuing source of friction between the two.  As Chip likes to say, the best ability is availability.

For now, though, the expectation is that Wolff will be full-go to start camp.  Will he be able to beat out another player with an extensive injury history who has never even played the position before?

If he gets back to the potential he showed as a rookie, he stands a decent chance.

In his first 8 starts as a rookie, he totaled 49 tackles, five pass break-ups and one INT.  He had the look of a future starter, if not a stud.  He was making plays and also had a great hit on Dez Bryant that caused the big receiver to take a knee after the play.

Any time I see an Eagles Safety put a jarring hit on a WR, especially a Dallas player like Bryant, that gets me fired up.

Coming out of college, Wolff was seen as an athletic specimen who could cover, run, and hit. He was viewed as being versatile enough to play both deep and in the box and many around Philly felt he was a steal in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.

I’m not trying to paint Wolff as some kind future HOF’er, I’m just saying that he at least had enough skills to be a starting Safety and shouldn’t pale in comparison to his current competition in camp this year.

Will anyone else from the group of defensive backs on the roster step up and realistically challenge for the starting job opposite Jenkins?  On paper, it just doesn’t appear likely.

I’m intrigued by Jerome Couplin and I’m looking forward to seeing how he performs in camp and preseason.  Jaylen Watkins apparently bulked up in an effort to compete at Safety this year so he could be someone to keep an eye on.

The only other player I’d be seriously interested in challenging at this position would be Eric Rowe.  He was mostly a Safety in college but the Eagles want him at CB, at least at first.

However, what if Nolan Carroll really impresses during camp and legitimately earns the starting CB spot?  It would be hard to keep a guy like Rowe on the bench, especially if we’re struggling at the Safety spot.

If Rowe were to take over the Safety position, Thurmond could easily backup Carroll on the outside.

We’ll see how it all pans out, but for now, who do you see as the best two options to start with Maxwell and Jenkins? Carroll/Thurmond?  Rowe/Wolff? Some other combo of these four guys? Some other player altogether?

The only guy I can say for sure that I’d like to see earn a starting job is Rowe.  He’s the future at either CB or S so we may as well get him going.

 


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3 Responses to Eagles 2015 Training Camp Battles: The Secondary

  1. Buddyball46 says:

    Outta that list of 14 I see Ed Reynolds Earl Wolff Brandon Boykin, Denzel Rice and EJ Biggers not making the team. Do we have anyone who can play gunner as well as Boykins? He was awesome at downing punts in the 20 and near the goal line.

    • Hey Buddy, not sure who will be the gunner now. Chip will probably try multiple players there and see who does best. We’ll find out as TC moves along.

  2. Berdj J. Rassam says:

    The Eagles need to improve their secondary – and you can never have enough talented guys in the secondary.


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