The return of our three-and-out series focuses on one of the most talked about positions of the offseason - cornerback.
1. Who will start opposite Asante Samuel?
Of course, Eagles fans want to see the name Nnamdi Asomugha here. Let's look at the current roster. The two players who started last season - Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson - are not under contract for 2011. Hobbs was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury for the second straight year and while there have been rumors about retirement nothing is set. Patterson played well in his first few weeks as a starter but whether his aggressive style of play caught up with him or the fact that there was now plenty of tape to analyze, teams attacked him and stayed away from Asante Samuel with success. He was benched in the crushing Week 16 loss to Minnesota. Patterson was tendered a restricted free agent deal before the work stoppage, but with five years of NFL experience he could be an unrestricted free agent when the new labor rules are in place. There are going to be other free agents not named Asomugha and with a very good bargaining chip in Kevin Kolb, one could also be procured in a trade.
The only other two players on the current roster who could be considered would be veteran Joselio Hanson and second-year man Trevard Lindley. Hanson has played well in the slot for the Eagles and is best suited to that role. Lindley showed poise and promise last year after battling through a tough outing against the Bears to play well the following week against Houston and later on in the regular season finale vs. Dallas. As aggressive as the Eagles have been in free agency over the years, just look at the player manning the left cornerback spot, it would be quite a surprise to put it mildly to see the Eagles sit tight here. But looking at the roster as it stands today, Lindley would be the front-runner at this point.
2. Which young player on the roster has the most potential?
The answer to the first question heaped a lot of praise upon Lindley, who graded out highly after a successful junior season at Kentucky before an injury-plagued senior campaign. As a rookie in 2010, Lindley had 21 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. No matter what roster moves are made, the Eagles also have to begin thinking about life after Samuel who just turned 30 in January. Samuel is still under contract through 2013, but don't forget how the Eagles planned for when Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor left. They drafted Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in 2002 while Vincent and Taylor were one of the best cornerback duos in the game. Two years later, Sheppard and Brown were ready to start.
The most intriguing prospect on the roster is third-round pick Curtis Marsh. The running back-turned-cornerback has great size for the position at 6-0, 197 pounds. Despite his lack of experience at the position, Marsh displayed tremendous athleticism on the field and posted impressive agility numbers at the Combine. Marsh has the talent and the tools, now he just needs top-flight coaching to help put it all together. Here's a name that you don't know, but maybe should - Brandon Hughes. After a stellar career at Oregon State, Hughes' rookie season was spent on the injured reserve list with the Chargers due to a knee injury. The Eagles signed Hughes off of the Giants' practice squad in the middle of this season and he got a chance to play nearly the entire regular season finale against Dallas. At 5-11, 188 pounds, Hughes will be someone to keep an eye on in the preseason.
3. How will the new scheme impact the players?
A regular to Eagles Live!, Adam Caplan reported for FOX Sports that new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will have his cornerbacks play more in zone coverage. Obviously, that will benefit Samuel, who is the best off-cover cornerback in the game today. Samuel will also be accustomed to that style from his days in New England. The right cornerback position in Philadelphia had been more of the press spot. If that is now going to be more zone, then that takes some of the pressure off of. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine technique with the defensive ends and one-gap approach with the tackles is expected to generate more pressure on the quarterback. The cornerbacks, and secondary as a whole, will need to make sure to keep plays in front of them but could also be in position to pick off more rushed and errant passes.
Castillo has made references to playing a fast, Cover-2 style of defense in the same mold of the Chicago Bears. Our Fan-Demonium columnist Tommy Lawlor pondered whether there is going to be some influences from the University of Iowa where his son, Greg, is a defensive back. Iowa runs a very successful Cover-2 under renowned coach Norm Parker. The cornerbacks in this scheme are asked to funnel the receivers inside and cover the flats as their zone. When the ball is in play, the defenders must swarm to the ball. Castillo doesn't want his players thinking on the field; he wants them attacking.