For the first time Friday morning, we got to take a look at what has the chance to be a dynamic defensive backfield that features three Pro-Bowl cornerbacks, including two newcomers.
You already know Asante Samuel. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, acquired from the Arizona Cardinals as part of the Kevin Kolb deal, has been working primarily at right cornerback over the past week of practice. But the looming question heading into Friday's practice, the first time veteran free agents could participate in practice, was how the defense would accommodate all three cornerbacks. It turned out that not only would the defense work in all three cornerbacks, they'd utilize the top four cornerbacks.
The defense showed a lot of the dime defense during the 11-on-11 session with the first-team offense, with Samuel at left cornerback, Rodgers-Cromartie at right cornerback and Asomugha and Joselio Hanson covering the slot receivers. In the base defense, Asomugha was at right cornerback with Samuel on the left side.
"It's pretty awesome man," said Samuel. "You've got four pretty good players that can cover and make it hard for the offense. So that will be a good package for us to have on the defense."
For Asomugha, the morning practice, which included an interception that set the crowd aflutter, was the culmination of a long waiting period.
"I've waited since like December, the last time I played real football," said Asomugha of his first action as an Eagle. "It was good to get out there and get the movement down again, start getting in there."
Asomugha still has a long ways to go before he gets the defense down, especially since it looks like he'll be playing several roles on the defense.
"It's one thing when he and I talked, he was in a system that's been very successful for him at Oakland in a system where they play man coverage," said Andy Reid of Asomugha. "Al Davis loves man coverage. Recruits players there and drafts players that can play man coverage and that guy was the best in the business at it. But now he's going to be exposed to all of these different coverages. He welcomes that. That's what he wants to do. And he wants to be moved around and put inside and do that. He expressed that to me when we talked."
At one point, Asomugha was charged with guarding the tight end.
"They put that on me because they know and I know that I can get it down soon," Asomugha said. "I'm out there and everyone's talking to me it seems in the middle of the play, so I'm out there trying to figure it all out. But they did have me in a lot of different roles today, so I have to get in my book and really figure that out."
"No more tight ends killing us," said Hanson.
Hanson added that the stable of cornerbacks will suit the team well when the high-powered offense gives the team a lead. When teams are forced to pass to play catch-up, the Eagles' new-look defensive line can rear back and attack the quarterback, who will be forced to throw into a blanketed secondary.
"If we get up two touchdowns, it's going to be a tough way to come back," he said.
For Rodgers-Cromartie, the NFL's evolution into a pass-heavy league means that even though he's not currently in the base defense, he'll still see plenty of playing time.
"That's just the role I have to play," he said. "The main thing is just to pay attention and when they call me, go in."
Meanwhile, the focus will be on working out the kinks and getting the communication down. Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha are coming to a new team, learning new terminology, while even Samuel and Hanson are learning a new defensive scheme.
"That's what it's about. Gelling and playing together. Repetition is the most important thing," said Samuel. "If there are new players out there, there are going to be a lot of communicating errors in the beginning anyway, so that's why we're out there practicing, getting reps so everybody can get on one page."