Last season was tough for Nolan Carroll. After spending his first four seasons in Miami, he signed a two-year deal with Philadelphia in 2014, hoping to establish himself as a legitimate starting cornerback. But playing in a crowded secondary, he was relegated primarily to dime responsibilities in his first year with the Eagles.
Entering this season, he set out to prove to the coaching staff that he was ready for a bigger role. He worked harder than he ever had before during the offseason, and his commitment caught the eye of head coach Chip Kelly.
"When he got here on April 20, he was our most competitive guy in the weight room," Kelly recalled last month. "I think a lot of guys take that time from the end of the season until April maybe as time off. I think it was obvious to everybody that he didn't take that time off. He worked extremely hard. So when he got here - he's definitely shown up now. He's doing a heck of a job. He earned the starting corner job.
"Nolan's experience was as a dime mostly for us. He was really good at it, but could he be an outside corner? And I think he showed to us that he could be an outside corner. He's playing really well right now."
Through six games, Carroll has played arguably of the best football of his professional career, starting each contest and helping the Eagles hold their opponents to the sixth-fewest yards per passing attempt in the league. On Monday, he did something he didn't get to do all last season, pick off a pass.
In the second quarter of Philadelphia's 27-7 win over the Giants, the 28-year-old corner brilliantly thwarted an attempt by New York to run a pick play with two receivers on the left sideline. Recognizing immediately what quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants were trying to do, he came off his man, who was attempting to screen off another Eagles defender with a crossing route, and jumped in front of wide receiver Dwayne Harris to intercept the ball and take it 17 yards for a touchdown.
He timed his move perfectly, waiting just long enough to entice Manning into throwing the ball, but staying close enough to break at just the right time to make the play. The idea of "right place, right time" has been everything for Carroll this season.
"Last year, I was just trying to figure everything out, but this year I'm comfortable with a lot of things - the coaches, the calls, the plays, scheme, everything like that," he said, noting that he came into Training Camp knowing that there was an opportunity at one of the two starting corner spots that hadn't presented itself during the season prior. "I just think it was timing. The timing just had to be right."
While players like Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins and Bennie Logan have been garnering a lot of attention, and deservedly so, as the Eagles' defense continues to rise the ranks, Carroll has largely flown beneath the radar. If he can continue to make plays like he did on Monday Night Football, he too should soon enter that conversation.