Replacing 3/4’s of your starting Secondary is difficult to do in one offseason. Now, the Eagles have to replace 4/5’s of it after trading Brandon Boykin to the Steelers on Saturday night.
The Eagles essentially considered Boykin a starter because the slot CB position typically plays ~50% of the defensive snaps throughout the year, maybe more. It’s not as if the Eagles are replacing a backup here, so this move should not be taken lightly (not that it is).
When Kelly took over as coach in 2013, he replaced 3/4’s of the Secondary then as well and that turned in mixed results. Now he’s one-upping himself by adding another newcomer who will play plenty of snaps to the fold.
Trading Boykin has been speculated upon for months so it’s not as if this is a surprise. However, it still means that now the 2015 Secondary will have two new outside Cornerbacks, a new Safety and a new slot CB.
That’s a significant amount of change to one position group in one offseason.
Just like you hear with offensive linemen, players in the Secondary need to build chemistry. They need to learn one another and be able to communicate effectively both verbally and non-verbally in the heat of the action.
How many times did we hear about miscommunications between Nnamdi Asomugha and one of the Safeties? Same for Cary Williams. It seemed that miscommunication was to blame on several occasions when giving up big plays in the passing game.
A single communication breakdown in the Secondary can result in disaster. The vaunted Seattle Secondary has been so good not only because of talent, but because those guys are “tight” and seem to limit breakdowns to a bare minimum.
Slot CB is a different animal as compared to the outside jobs. Now we’re in a position to where whomever is going to replace Boykin is not going to have much experience in this position.
Byron Maxwell has experience moving to the slot on occasion and Walter Thurmond has played the slot before, but if that’s the plan going forward, it will only add to challenges of communication for a new group.
What sounds easier when it’s time to have the 3rd CB on the field…having a guy come in whose primary role is as the slot CB and he just jumps in, or, moving your outside CB to the inside and bringing in another outside CB (or moving your Safety inside and bringing in another Safety)?
Maybe it’s easier than I think it is, but it seems to me that having to alter two positions on the fly will only add to the potential for miscommunications.
And besides the challenges of communication, exactly who will be coming in for nickel situations?
Sixth-round pick JaCorey Shepherd is apparently being given the first opportunity. Besides him, there’s last year’s fourth round pick Jaylen Watkins, vagabond free agent E.J. Biggers, sixth-round pick Randall Evans and UDFA Denzel Rice.
Shepherd has been getting the most buzz since the OTAs and mini camp. He’s been pumped up for the fact he had more pass break-ups the past two years than any other CB drafted this year.
Along with that, it’s believed that his draft stock slipped to the sixth round because of a poor 40-time, which he ran with a torn hamstring.
Shepherd, though, converted from WR to CB in his sophomore season and was strictly an outside Corner for three seasons. Can he make the transformation to the inside? The coaches believe so as they immediately had him shadowing Boykin since the beginning of OTAs.
Fellow sixth-rounder Randall Evans did play some slot CB in college, as well as some Safety. He’s a little more versatile in that regard but at this point the coaches seem to feel Shepherd has the better skills for it.
The Eagles said similar things about Watkins last year and viewed him as a versatile guy who could play outside CB, slot CB or Safety, just as he did in college. The fact that Shepherd is getting first crack at the job and that Watkins isn’t getting a sniff at CB or Safety is telling, however.
They could move Maxwell in the slot in nickel situations and bring Eric Rowe in for the outside. Rowe, apparently, is not being considered for the slot position.
Shepherd may turn out to be the steal of the draft and could prove to be a good player. But again, it’s a question mark until we see him in live action when games start to count.
The entire Secondary is that way. I feel good about Maxwell, but beyond him and Jenkins, the rest are unknowns. It’s going to take time for these players to develop their skills and their on-field rapport with their teammates.
Losing Boykin, while anticipated, still hurts. It’s just one more question for an already questionable unit. I have hope it will work out, but that could just be me wearing my green goggles amidst the excitement of football season starting up again.