If you're looking for a metaphor for last season's unmet expectations, look no further than this season's cornerback tandem.
During Training Camp last season, former Cardinals Pro Bowl selection Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was brought in via trade to start opposite Asante Samuel. But the surprising addition of free agent Nnamdi Asomugha moved Rodgers-Cromartie to a role he had never played – the slot.
The resulting season was a disappointment, both personally and for the team. Last year was Rodgers-Cromartie's first without an interception or touchdown. He also posted career lows in tackles and passes defended.
But that was last year. With Samuel now gone, Rodgers-Cromartie is back at his natural position and soaking up words of wisdom from his All-Pro cornerback partner. And that knowledge isn't limited to things happening on the field.
"You take a younger guy like me, and somebody like him, who you learn from," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "It's a great plus for me, just to brain-pick him and understand his knowledge. (He'll) basically just to teach me how to be a better pro.
"I've learned how to take my off-the-field issues and not allow it to affect me on the field. I look at him, and he's just all about his business. I tend to be more goofy, have-fun type of guy but when I hit the field I've learned to be more focused and just all about business. I can learn that from just being on the business side of that."
Asomugha is working to make Rodgers-Cromartie's job simpler. And that involves letting the former Cardinal be himself.
"Dominique is Dominique," Asomugha said. "He's going to go out and try not to think too much. We try to keep his job simple. I think he was doing the same things last camp. He was showing that he was the fastest, quickest guy out there. From the look standpoint, it seems similar."
This is great news for the man in charge of the Eagles' defense. Coordinator Juan Castillo has enjoyed watching the camaraderie between his starting corners.
"Both Dominique and Nam are really playing off each other," Castillo said. "They know they're both good corners in the NFL and they're really competing against each other. I think they're having fun to see who does better and who does a better job of shutting their guy down in practice."
This friendly competition is noteworthy because of players' differing styles. True, they're both tall, physical corners. But Asomugha is known around the league as one of the few shutdown corners, while Rodgers-Cromartie is a ballhawking playmaker.
Despite being in the league five years longer than Rodgers-Cromartie, Asomugha only has one more career interception. Still, the competition should bring out the best in both players.
"That's always between the corners," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You always want to tend to lead the team in picks or tend to make more plays. When he makes some, I'll be like, 'Oh, I've got to come back' or vice versa, so you can always get that. So that's why that competitiveness between us is going to make us better."
Meanwhile, the much more stoic Asomugha downplayed the competition.
"It's more like quiet competition for the cornerback position," Asomugha said. "Any time there's two of you and you're interchangeable, that happens. We won't vocalize it, but when a guy makes a play, the other guy wants to step up and make a play.
"Every year I've been in the league, whoever the guy opposite me is, there's always that competition. It brings a different side of you out, and a side that's going to show up and help out."
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