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#EaglesCamp Preview: Cornerback

Posted Jul 30, 2015

1. Can Byron Maxwell Be A Shutdown Corner?

That's the expectation for Maxwell, the biggest-ticket signing of an Eagles offseason that included adding the league's reigning rushing champ. Maxwell was the Eagles' top target in the secondary all along, and the team took no chances in bringing in the 27-year-old Maxwell on a six-year deal, reportedly worth up to $63 million. After a season in which the Eagles surrendered both the most pass plays 20 yards (72) and the most plays over 40 yards (18), it's no surprise that the secondary was the primary concern for Chip Kelly and his staff.

In Maxwell, the Eagles have something like the platonic ideal of a Chip Kelly cornerback. With size (6-1, 207), length (33.5-inch arms, good for the 96th percentile among cornerbacks in the MockDraftable database) and speed (a 4.43-second 40-yard-dash during the pre-draft process), Maxwell has everything the Eagles look for at the position. They also got an up-close look at what Maxwell can do when he shut down the Eagles when Seattle visited Lincoln Financial Field last December.

And theoretically, Maxwell should do even better than he did in Seattle, when quarterbacks were always looking in his direction thanks to the presence of Richard Sherman on the other side. The counterpoint would be that, because of Sherman, Maxwell was used to facing No. 2 receivers, but that's not really the case since the Seahawks almost always kept Sherman on the left side and Maxwell on the right. It remains to be seen whether defensive coordinator Bill Davis plans to move Maxwell around, but that would go against his M.O. over the last two seasons and against what the team did throughout the spring.

The expectations are clearly high for Maxwell as he joins Malcolm Jenkins as the two should-be studs in the back four. To his credit, Maxwell has already emerged as a leader within the secondary room under new position coach Cory Undlin.

"It's all been great, learning the defense and getting to know the guys and building this thing," Maxwell said in the spring. "I love it. We have great energy here. I think we're putting something special together. That's the way it was in Seattle and I see it going that way here. Everyone is on the same page and we're getting after it. That's what you have to do."

2. Who Starts On The Other Side?

This question was debated recently on the season's first episode of the Eagles Insider Podcast, producing two nods for second-round rookie Eric Rowe and one for the veteran Nolan Carroll, who primarily manned the spot opposite Maxwell throughout the spring. Still, Carroll is likely to be the one given the first chance at the job this summer after an offseason that has been lauded by both Chip Kelly and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin. The 27-year-old does have starting experience, having started the final game of the season for the Eagles last year, and, more importantly, 26 games with the Miami Dolphins previously.

Rowe, meanwhile, brings the talent of a second-round pick – one so coveted by the Eagles that they traded up to acquire his services. At Utah, Rowe started for four seasons, including during his true freshman season. Rowe played safety the first three of those years before transitioning to corner as a senior, where he excelled. At 6-1, 205, Rowe also has the size and speed (4.45 40-yard dash) coveted by Kelly on the outside. Whether Rowe makes a move to the starting rotation early in his rookie season is to be determined, but he may be the most talented option.

Carroll and Rowe are far from the only options, though. There are a couple "swing” defensive backs who will compete for spots all over, including Walter Thurmond – the odds-on favorite to start next to Malcolm Jenkins at safety – and 2014 fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins. Free-agent signee E.J. Biggers fits that mold as well.

Unlikely though it may be, the three "other” rookie cornerbacks will do their best to push for playing time, though simply earning a roster spot might be goal No. 1 for the likes of JaCorey Shepherd, Randall Evans and Denzel Rice.

And then there's the incumbent nickel corner, Brandon Boykin, who has been yearning for an opportunity to play on the outside for some time now. Bugged by persistent questions about his size (5-10, 185), Boykin has still been the only mainstay in the secondary for the past two seasons and he has proven his ability to make plays on the ball. He'll do everything in his power to give the coaches no choice but to consider him for a spot on the outside.

3. Who Wins The Nickel Job?

While Boykin looks to spread his wings to the outside, there is competition for the nickel job whether displacing Boykin means he's won the outside spot or not. Carroll manned the dime spot for the Eagles last season, so he's accustomed to playing inside. If safety isn't the spot for Thurmond, he has a proven track record of success as a nickel as well – in fact, he preceded Maxwell in that role for the Seahawks two seasons ago. Watkins and Biggers have experience inside as well, while Shepherd, the sixth-round pick out of Kansas, has been deemed a player to watch by no less expert than Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro.

It should all make for an interesting and competitive #EaglesCamp. We wouldn't want it any other way.

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