When Chip Kelly addressed the media prior to Tuesday's practice, he mentioned a surprise candidate to replace JaCorey Shepherd at nickel cornerback: second round draft pick Eric Rowe. Why is Rowe a surprise? Because it was only a week ago when defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Rowe would be staying on the outside.
"Right now, [Byron] Maxwell and Rowe and Nolan [Carroll] will stay outside of the corner spot with Nolan jumping into some dime when we go there," Davis said. "But right now we won't put them in the nickel, but they are being taught the nickel."
Along with Rowe, Kelly also mentioned second-year defensive back Jaylen Watkins and veteran E.J. Biggers as players in the mix. Watkins has seemingly taken the bulk of first team reps in the slot since Shepherd went down with a season-ending ACL injury.
"We're going to rotate a lot of guys in there," Kelly explained. "Watkins will be in there, Eric Rowe will be in there, Biggers will be in there, and we all know that we have Walter [Thurmond] and Malcolm [Jenkins], but we had already planned for the first two weeks of just using corners in there anyway. We'll make an adjustment if need be after this Colts’ week."
But is Kelly worried he's putting too much on Rowe's plate as a rookie?
"No, because it was the plan all along," Kelly said." All those guys have to be versatile. If they're not going to end up being the starter, then they've got to be able to play everywhere. That's part of the whole plan, but I think through the spring we kept him in one position specifically just to get his feet wet."
"I thought he did a really nice job competing with Nolan out there. He's taken a lot of – Cory [Undlin’s] repetitions out there, he lets those guys kind of go with the first team sometimes. I think he's done a really good job in match‑ups when we're in one‑on‑ones and three‑on‑twos. I thought Eric had a really good first week."
Rowe is relatively new to the cornerback position after having mostly played safety for his first three years at Utah. The second round pick did play some nickel as a freshman, however.
"Yeah, he did, he played safety in college, and then he moved ‑‑ yeah, it does help him -- and then he moved out to corner just his senior year," said Kelly. "That was one of the things that we were attracted to him about when we got to the draft, was his position versatility. But we felt he was a corner when Cory [Undlin] worked him out, and then I was out there with Ed [Marynowitz] at his pro day. We felt he had NFL corner skills, and we always want to start on the outside and then be able to move in. We felt that because he had played safety and has the man‑to‑man coverage skills that he would be a natural nickel anyway."
Competing at nickel gives Rowe an increased chance of contributing as a rookie. He's already battling for an outside cornerback spot with Carroll. While it remains to be seen how the Eagles will configure their defensive lineup, it seems like the plan is to get Rowe involved one way or another.