Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2016 is almost here. Coaches and players report as soon as Monday, July 25. The Eagles' training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the cornerbacks.
Leodis McKelvin, Eric Rowe, Ron Brooks, Nolan Carroll, Jalen Mills, Denzel Rice, JaCorey Shepherd, Randall Evans, Aaron Grymes, C.J. Smith
Many point to cornerback as a position of weakness on the Eagles' defense. It's not totally unreasonable. The Eagles don't have a pair of sure-fire, lockdown corners. With that said, I don't think the overall cornerback situation is as bad as some think. Before even getting into the specifics players, just think about their support system. Philadelphia's pass rush should be improved with the addition of the wide-nine. Extra pressure should make life easier on the secondary. As if that wasn't helpful enough, the Eagles project to have one of the best safety tandems in the league. Having good players on the back end should also help out the cornerbacks to some extent.
Leodis McKelvin is a virtual lock to be one the team's two starters on the outside this year. The 30-year-old veteran was singled out by Doug Pederson as one of two players who really stood out during spring practices. McKelvin earned praise for consistently making plays on the ball. And even though it was only practice, McKelvin brought an intensity to the field. On one of the rare plays he got beat, McKelvin was very disappointed in himself and started yelling. Eagles fans are going to enjoy the passion and energy he plays with, as long as he continues to play well.
Eric Rowe could be the No. 2 cornerback. The feeling here is he should be the No. 2 cornerback. It doesn't appear like that's a lock to happen, though. Rowe took a lot of reps with the second team defense in spring practice. It could be that the new coaching staff (Jim Schwartz) isn't high on him. We do know that his position coach likes him. Last offseason, Cory Undlin said Rowe has the potential to be a "top-level cornerback" in the NFL. Rowe struggled a bit during spring practices but he has plenty of time in training camp to step up and win a starting job. He needs to deliver on the promise he showed as a rookie late last season.
Nolan Carroll will have a chance to beat out Rowe. The 29-year-old was solid yet unspectacular as a starter for the Birds last season. Carroll missed a lot of spring practice due to recovering from the season-ending ankle injury he suffered on Thanksgiving. He's expected to be fully ready for training camp.
Ron Brooks leads the Eagles in having amazing press conferences. Shortly after he signed with the team, he kicked his presser off with "I'm Ron Brooks, obviously." He hasn't been too bad on the field, either. Brooks got a number of looks at first team outside cornerback and the slot as well. The feeling here is he's the early favorite to be the team's nickel cornerback.
Jalen Mills, who played safety at LSU, was the other player Pederson singled out for having a strong spring. The rookie cornerback made a number of plays on the ball. If Mills keeps playing at a high level, the Eagles will be forced to find him playing time.
You may have forgotten about Denzel Rice. He came out of nowhere last offseason. He went from being the 800-something ranked prospect on CBS Sports to being the only undrafted rookie free agent to make Philadelphia's 53-man cut. Rice didn't play much as a rookie, but he might not just be a one-offseason wonder. Rice recorded a lot of pass breakups in OTAs and minicamp, just like he did last year. Don't count him out.
The Eagles were very high on JaCorey Shepherd last year. His performance during 2015 spring practices led the Eagles to feel comfortable with trading Brandon Boykin prior to training camp. Then Shepherd got hurt and missed the entire season. It remains to be seen if the new staff likes Shepherd as much as the old regime did. He still has a lot to prove.
Randall Evans, Aaron Grymes, and C.J. Smith are the longshots at this position. They're likely competing for a spot on the practice squad. Out of this group, Smith has stood out the most so far. Maybe future franchise quarterback Carson Wentz can push for the Eagles to keep his former North Dakota State teammate.
How will it play out?
McKelvin is a lock to be a starter, assuming he can stay healthy. Then it's either Rowe or Carroll. I'll say Rowe wins the job while Carroll contributes as a dime cornerback. Brooks will be the slot cornerback. Mills could get some rotational playing time as well.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Eagles could use starting safety Malcolm Jenkins in the nickel cornerback spot at times. They relied upon him heavily in that role last season. Schwartz might use him differently.
Who could be a surprise cut?
Earlier this week, I explained why Carroll and Shepherd are the potential surprise cuts at this position.