If things remain the status quo from here until the start of the 2012 regular season, there will be three new starters on defense for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Two of them are among the linebackers - DeMeco Ryans in the middle and Mychal Kendricks on the strong side.
Who is the third? He was among the big post-lockout acquisitions in 2011, in fact, he was the first of them.
In case you forgot, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will make his return to the starting lineup. The former first-round pick and Pro Bowl selection in Arizona was a slot cornerback for most of 2011 after Nnamdi Asomugha was signed to join he and Asante Samuel. After Samuel was traded this offseason to Atlanta, Rodgers-Cromartie is set to slide into the left corner spot vacated by Samuel.
"I get a chance to play more and I like that. That's exciting," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I know I have a lot of work to do, so that's why I'm here getting after it."
Even though Rodgers-Cromartie played last season in Philadelphia, he said that returning to the outside isn't exactly like riding a bike. Working so much on the inside in 2011, Rodgers-Cromartie said there is "some rust." It hasn't shown much during the first week of Organized Team Activities. However, Rodgers-Cromartie's insertion into the starting lineup is a symbol of a more physical, aggressive defense that coordinator Juan Castillo wants in 2012.
"I think we're going to be aggressive and get after it," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Whatever they ask me to do, of course I will do it."
On the field, Rodgers-Cromartie defers to Asomugha, whom he calls an "old head." Asomugha has the ability to follow an opponent's best receiver, which could move Rodgers-Cromartie in the process.
Rodgers-Cromartie is 6-2, 182 pounds and has elite closing speed. He isn't afraid to press. In fact, he relishes the chance to play in more man than zone this season. While Asomugha moves on his receiver like a shadow, Rodgers-Cromartie is like the flash appearing it seems everywhere. Rodgers-Cromartie said that Asomugha makes it look easy because of his ability to recognize routes, which is something Rodgers-Cromartie would love to absorb.
It's a critical year for Rodgers-Cromartie. He was the centerpiece for the Eagles in the Kevin Kolb trade a year ago. Rodgers-Cromartie's rookie deal expires after this upcoming season. The soft-spoken Rodgers-Cromartie might not boast on the field the way Samuel used to, but he feels like he's at home again on the outside. And if he and Asomugha can figure out how to make it work, receivers will not embrace facing Philadelphia in 2012.
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