After trading Brandon Boykin away to the Pittsburgh Steelers and losing rookie JaCorey Shepherd to injury early in training camp, it's fair to say the Eagles' nickel cornerback position is unsettled. It's not the biggest deal in the world since the Eagles play nickel on less than 50% of their defensive snaps, but it's still a question mark on Philadelphia's defense. The good news is the Eagles have some options they can work through to find an answer.
It seems the first man who will get a shot at playing nickel is none other than Nolan Carroll, according to himself. This isn't a surprise because the Eagles tested out Carroll in that role during the team's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. According to Pro Football Focus, Carroll was targeted once during the seven snaps he played on the inside. He allowed one reception for 25 yards. While that's obviously a small sample, Carroll has some brief experience during his career. The numbers are somewhat encouraging:
"While Carroll mostly played as the team's dime cornerback in 2014, he also played some nickel, according to Pro Football Focus. In the 73 snaps Carroll played as a nickel cornerback last season, the veteran cornerback was targeted 11 times. He allowed seven receptions for 42 yards (6.0 average). Opposing quarterbacks had a 71.0 passer rating when throwing in Carroll's direction. It's a small sample size, but the numbers look decent. Carroll hardly played on the inside when he was with the Dolphins. In four years with Miami, he logged 33 snaps as the nickel cornerback. He was targeted seven times but only allowed one reception for five yards. Again, it's a small sample size."
Carroll will still be the team's starting outside cornerback across from Byron Maxwell when the nickel defense isn't on the field. When Carroll moves to the slot, one of Philadelphia's other cornerbacks will replace him on the outside. But who will that be? Carroll said he wasn't sure.
It could be Eric Rowe, but the rookie is still new to the position and he struggled during the preseason. Maybe it could be E.J. Biggers. The veteran had a mostly good summer save for one terrible outing against the Packers. Undrafted rookie free agent Denzel Rice is likely the team's fifth cornerback, and he might be inactive on game day. Or maybe the Eagles could move starting safety Walter Thurmond (and/or Malcolm Jenkins) down and fill their spot with backup safety Jerome Couplin? That doesn't seem likely, but it's not impossible.
Having options is a good thing. But having a good option is more important. Philadelphia's secondary seems to be improved from the horrendous state it was in last season. For the team's sake, they need to figure out what secondary combination works best for them. Atlanta's passing attack could provide a challenging test for Philadelphia's defense.