This has been an offseason characterized by continuity for the Eagles. DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis were re-signed while homegrown standouts LeSean McCoy, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole were granted long-term extensions. The team's biggest foray into free agency, left tackle Demetress Bell, came only in the wake of an injury to All-Pro Jason Peters. And on the coaching staff, things remained virtually the same. But there is one brand new set of eyes in the coaches' area of the NovaCare Complex and they belong to Todd Bowles, the former Temple standout who comes to the Eagles as secondary coach after working with the position group in the NFL since 2000 with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and, most recently, Miami Dolphins.
Part of the beauty of Bowles' addition to the Eagles coaching staff, in addition to his long track record, is his ability to look at the Eagles' secondary with a fresh point of view. For instance, when asked if Joselio Hanson has been told the nickel position is "his to lose," Bowles smiled and chose his words carefully.
"Everybody's job is open to gain," he said with a laugh. "The NFL is what have you done for me lately, and in my opinion, it's not what you did last year or the year before, you have to prove yourself every year. At some point in time, you're going to have to show up. I'm new so I need to see it."
When addressing his expected starting cornerback tandem, Bowles said that he expects both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to benefit from a full offseason after they were both thrown into the mix during training camp last summer following the work-stoppage-shortened offseason. It appears they've both made a positive first impression on Bowles.
"Both of them are intelligent guys and both of them work hard," said Bowles. "They're very hard workers. They're contagious with the rest of the group when everybody's working toward the same goal, and that's trying to win a Super Bowl. I think those two guys are taking the right steps in the right direction.
"Dominique has always been a good football player. This is not a new thing for him. I think everybody's looking at this like it's his first time, it's not. I mean he was a first-round pick. He played in Arizona. He's played some football in his time. He just has to get back on the field and get comfortable. I don't know the situation he had coming in, but to be traded right before camp and to have the (work stoppage), there was probably a learning curve there for him and Nnamdi. So this year coming in fresh, I think they're both looking at it like a fresh start to get better and help the team win."
The outside expectation, with the zone-loving Asante Samuel departed for the Atlanta Falcons, is that the Eagles will employ more press man-to-man defense on the outside with Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha. If that is the case, Bowles explained some of the cost-benefit to that style of play.
"If we can take away the first read and (make the quarterback) go somewhere else, that will help out a lot," he said. "But (the secondary and the defensive line) go hand in hand. Sometimes we're going to have to cover longer; sometimes they're going to have to rush quicker. It goes hand in hand ... (Our cornerbacks) are not going to get a good jam every time. They're going to miss some, but they have to be in position to run. To say that a press corner gets hands on every time would be false, I mean nobody does that.
"It's a risk any time you press that you can get the deep ball, but that's what corners do. That's what they get paid for."
As for the notion that Asomugha will be utilized primarily as a counter-weapon to the opposing team's best receiver, that is likely to be much more situational, according to Bowles.
"That will be by game plan," he said. "It's not just Nnamdi, everybody has to match up well. Nnamdi can't go inside and we have a bad matchup outside. Everybody has to have similar matchups for that to work to do that type of thing. That will be a gameplan adjustment, it won't be every time. It may not be a lot, or it may be a lot depending on who we play that week.
"You don't do it for one guy, you have to do it for a few guys."
Backing up to the nickel position, Bowles said that, at this point, it's an open competition.
"We're looking at everybody at nickel right now," he said. "Everybody's getting reps at nickel because we're trying to feel out and see what everybody can do. OTAs are for seeing who can do what and how fast can they learn, so everybody's getting shots in there right now."
Hanson's most prominent competitor for the position is probably fourth-round rookie Brandon Boykin, who has the advantage of having played the inside position during his decorated collegiate career at Georgia.
"Early stages, he's a very intelligent guy for a rookie. He's not your average rookie. He's quick and he's got some long speed and he's got great hands," said Bowles. "I think anybody that's played nickel in college should have some familiarity with the position. We play a lot of slot with the corners over, which essentially is the same spot as the nickel, so it's going to eventually present itself. He played a ton of it in college and he's familiar with a lot of it."
Finally, Bowles provided his scouting report on 2011 third-round pick Curtis Marsh. When the Eagles drafted Marsh, they made it clear that the former collegiate running back would require an investment of time before he was able to realize his potential. Robbed of his rookie offseason, Marsh is now getting the benefit of offseason workouts and coaching, and it may just be making a difference.
"Curtis is long and Curtis can run," said Bowles. "I couldn't take too much out of (his preseason tape) because he was (work-stoppage-shortened) also, so he missed that part of the year and I try to give everybody a clean slate so I'm just basing it on what I've seen out here. He can run. He's hungry. He's got good press ability and I'm looking forward to seeing him in pads."
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