The real test is coming. What the Eagles did during the spring practices, sans contact and full uniforms, was to acquire a taste of what they have at the cornerback positions. In the weeks ahead, the coaching staff is going to know for sure.
At cornerback, the Eagles introduce … who, exactly? How is it going to work out with a young, largely unknown group of players who together hope to make the kind of significant strides heading into the regular season to give the team confidence that life on the island – both sides – is going to be OK?
"Look," defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said as the spring practices were nearing an end, "all I know is that we've got a room of guys who are working hard to improve. They love to play ball, and that's all I can ask right now. I see them getting better every day. But where they're going to be when the season starts in September, I don't know that right now."
And, truth be told, nobody does. It's that uncertainty that makes the cornerback position so much of a question mark. The Eagles are, once again, changing the look of their cornerbacks. It's a group that has been ever-changing for many, many seasons. The combination of Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams lasted from 2013-14, but that was hardly a dynamic duo. The Eagles haven't really, truly been stable at cornerback since the Lito Sheppard-Sheldon Brown pairing ended in 2007.
Since then they've trotted out Asante Samuel and Brown for a couple of seasons, with decent success. The Dimitri Patterson/Ellis Hobbs combination at right cornerback didn't help Samuel out a whole lot in 2010. The Great Experiment with Nnamdi Asomugha in 2001 was a nightmare and it didn't get any better when Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie replaced Samuel in 2012.
Then it was Fletcher and Williams, and it was a struggle. Signing Byron Maxwell was a bomb in 2015, and Nolan Carroll was only OK. Last year, Carroll started and was stable. Jalen Mills gave quality reps as a rookie. Ron Brooks was a fine slot cornerback until he was injured. Leodis McKelvin was not particularly strong.
, signed in free agency to a one-year deal? He's a former first-round draft pick who has never found firm footing in the NFL. Maybe he blossoms. Third-round draft pick Rasul Douglas is a candidate to start, but don't forget that he was at Nassau Community College three football seasons ago. Dwayne Gratz has 25 starts and 43 games of NFL experience since the Jaguars drafted him in the third round in 2013, but he's been on three teams in the last 12 months (Kansas City, Los Angeles Rams, Eagles).
Beyond that, the Eagles are barren of players who have any tangible NFL experience. Aaron Grymes was a star in the CFL, but can he make the transition to the best league in the world? C.J. Smith made the roster last year as a non-drafted rookie after a five-week stint on the practice squad, and played in 10 games, including one snap on defense.
The questions are justified regarding the cornerbacks because nobody knows for sure what to expect. There is a lot of inexperience here. There are a lot of moving pieces. Second-round draft pick Sidney Jones, for example, continues to rehab his Achilles tendon injury and his return to the practice field has no timetable.
It's a wait-and-see proposition, as the coaching staff acknowledges. Who emerges at cornerback? It's one of the most pressing questions this football team has as Training Camp sets to kick off.