It's the dawn of a new era at cornerback entering the 2012 season. Only one cornerback on the roster, Joselio Hanson, was on the team at the start of the 2010 season. Add to that a new position coach, and the turnover is considerable. So what do you need to pay attention to at cornerback once Training Camp gets underway? ...
What Kind Of Impact Will Todd Bowles Make?
After serving as the assistant head coach/secondary coach for the Miami Dolphins the last three seasons (and interim head coach for the final three games of last season), Bowles is set to begin his Philadelphia tenure charged with bringing together a talented secondary that was still vulnerable at times during the 2011 season. With Asante Samuel departed for Atlanta, Bowles' starting cornerbacks are all but certain – All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha and Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both are preparing for their second season with the Eagles and expect to play at a higher level with a full offseason under their belt to acclimate to the system – something neither was afforded last season.
Rodgers-Cromartie spent most of the 2011 season serving as the nickel cornerback, a role he had not played previously in the NFL. Rodgers-Cromartie's comfort with the outside was evident in the final two games of the season, when his immense physical tools were on display.
"He's probably one of the best five athletes at that position right now when you're talking about speed, hip turns and all of those things," Bowles said of Rodgers-Cromartie.
The expectation throughout the offseason is that the Eagles cornerbacks will press more at the line of scrimmage, as opposed to the zone style Samuel preferred. Both Asomugha, 6-2, 210, and Rodgers-Cromartie, 6-2, 182, have the physical tools to succeed in that style – in fact, they have in the past. But for Bowles, what's stood out about his starting cornerbacks hasn't been their physical talents, but rather the example they've set.
"Both of them are intelligent guys and both of them work hard," Bowles said. "They're very hard workers. They're contagious with the rest of the group when everybody's working toward the same goal, and that's trying to win a Super Bowl. I think those two guys are taking the right steps in the right direction."
Who Will Win The Nickel Job?
Though Bowles has said "We're looking at everybody at nickel right now," all indications are that the coveted inside cornerback role will ultimately be a two-man competition. Joselio Hanson, 30, is the incumbent. Hanson has served as the Eagles' primary nickel cornerback since 2006, save for his displacement by Rodgers-Cromartie early last season. Hanson was actually initially released to begin the season last year, but was quickly re-signed. In truth, the nickel cornerback is essentially a starting position, with the prevalence of passing in today's game. Because of that, Hanson's experience will serve him well.
Hanson's challenger, though, does have nickel experience as well, albeit on the college level. Brandon Boykin, selected in April's NFL Draft by the Eagles in the fourth round, is a dynamic athlete, having scored a touchdown at four different positions in college and earning the 2011 Paul Hornung award, given annually to the most versatile player in college football. But while he may be asked to contribute as a return man for the Eagles, the hope is that his real contribution, eventually, will be as the nickel cornerback. Boykin acquitted himself well throughout spring practices, and if he proves ready to compete in Training Camp, Eagles fans may be treated to a classic camp competition.
How Ready Is Curtis Marsh?
Marsh, the former collegiate running back turned corner, was drafted in the third round of last year's NFL Draft. At the time, the prevailing thought was that Marsh, 6-1, 197, had all the physical tools to eventually become a starting-caliber cornerback. But because he was relatively new to the position, Marsh would require some seasoning before he was ready to fulfill his potential. Combine that with the deep group of cornerbacks on the Eagles' roster last season, and Marsh didn't have much of a chance to shine as a rookie.
Now, with his first full offseason behind him, Marsh expects to show what he can do. He also fits in well with the newfound emphasis on playing press coverage.
"Curtis is long and Curtis can run," said Bowles. "I'm just basing it on what I've seen out here. He can run. He's hungry. He's got good press ability and I'm looking forward to seeing him in pads."
The hope is that Marsh can settle in as the third outside cornerback, ready to replace Asomugha or Rodgers-Cromartie, knock on wood, if the need arises. From there, he can continue to learn under Bowles and the two starters, while preparing for his time in the spotlight.
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