Much has been made of the Eagles' retooling of the cornerback position this offseason. First, the team traded away Kevin Kolb for a second-round pick and 25-year-old Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Then, is the stunner of free agency, the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha, considered by many to be perhaps the best cornerback in the league. All of a sudden, the Eagles had three Pro Bowl cornerbacks, including returnee Asante Samuel, plus Joselio Hanson, a proven nickel corner.
But the infusion of talent at cornerback isn't limited to the veterans. Beyond the aforementioned four, the Eagles have three young, promising cornerbacks that give the team an abundance of riches at what was an at-times troublesome position in 2010.
Start with Curtis Marsh, the team's third-round pick in April's draft, who has opened eyes in training camp thus far. Despite having only played two seasons at cornerback in college at Utah State, Marsh has not appeared to be a long-term project. He even drew plaudits from Samuel, who singled out "Number 31" as a player to watch.
"I'm so blesses and privileged to be sitting behind these guys and learning from these guys," said Marsh. "I have time to develop and eventually be a starter like these guys, but I'm just trying to get better, trying to compete and trying to learn from the best that I can right now."
Trevard Lindley is entering his second season after joining the Eagles as a fourth-round draft pick in 2009. At 6-0, 183, Lindley fits the changing profile of the secondary. Lindley played sporadically as a rookie, earning the kind of experience to draw from as he looks to take the next step.
"Last year I was out there basically just running around," Lindley said. "This year, I'm a little more comfortable with one year under my belt. Just go out there and play, try to make a lot of plays."
And then there's the sleeper. After one season on injured reserve for the San Diego Chargers and another spent primarily on the New York Giants' practice squad, Brandon Hughes played his first NFL game for the Eagles Week 17 last season against the Dallas Cowboys. Hughes impressed in that game, covering proven receivers like Miles Austin and Roy Williams. This summer, Hughes has looked to take the next step. He's worked occasionally with the first-team defense in sub packages and in a sign that the team is looking to find a place for him, Hughes, who has played only on the outside in his career thus far, has been cross-training as an inside cornerback.
"I feel like I'm kind of coming into my own like a rookie would again because it's been that long since I've actually gotten a true opportunity to show what I can do," said Hughes. "Those reps that I get with the ones, and those reps that I get with the twos, they're all valuable because I get them at different positions."
Of course, as impressive as Marsh, Lindley and Hughes have been, it's unrealistic to think that any of them will unseat Asomugha, Samuel or Rodgers-Cromartie any time soon. But the three youngsters wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is the best position I could possibly be in," said Marsh. "I feel like I have an opportunity to take a piece of each person's game and put it into mine every day.
"Nnamdi is real, real patient at the line. Just a crazy athlete and he's been able to teach me a lot of patience. Asante, he sees the routes. So it's like you use your instincts and he's been helping me use my instincts to jump routes. And I kind of feel like (Rodgers-Cromartie) is a mix between both, but I also feel like his body and the way he plays is the most similar to me. So I've learned a lot from (Rodgers-Cromartie) and I sit next to me and he's been giving me a lot of pointers. It's great.
"As a student, you learn from everybody," said Hughes. "Even a rookie you can learn from, just different things. They all bring their own attributes to the game. What you try to do is you watch film with them, you watch in practice, you watch how they work and you just try to take little tidbits from them. If you're not doing that, you shouldn't be playing the game because you're not paying attention. There's a lot of great talent out here, so why wouldn't you use that to the best of your ability."
But while they cherish the opportunity to learn from the best, there's a reality that there may not be room for seven cornerbacks on the roster. This is a time for competition and while the number crunch is ever-present, it also brings out each player's best.
"You have to go out there and play your game, do what you know how to do," said Lindley. "We're out there all trying to help each other out, trying to get better and make the team better."
"I'm not in the business of worrying," said Hughes. "I did that my first year and my second year. I've seen guys come out and play extremely well and get cut. I've seen guys play extremely poor and get kept. I've been hurt for an entire year. I've been on practice squad. I'm not in the business of worrying, I just come out and do my job. I don't have time for all that."