Prior to the end of Eagles minicamp in the spring, Doug Pederson named Leodis McKelvin as one player who impressed him the most during offseason workouts. It's safe to say he's in line to be one the team's two starting cornerbacks on the outside this season. But who is the other starter? Pederson gave his thoughts on the position following the team's first training camp practice on Monday.
"I think again, there's great depth there," said Pederson of the cornerback position. "I think with the addition of Jalen Mills it brings some good competition there. You've got Ron Brooks sitting over there. Nolan [Carroll is] coming off the injury and I expect him to fully compete at that spot."
"So it's going to be a position that we continue to look at and continue to evaluate throughout camp. It's exciting to have so many guys at one position that you can really evaluate and make those roster moves. Then you've got combinations. Whether you're nickel or you're dime and then all of [Jim] Schwartz’s packages and everything. So as we go, we continue to evaluate it, but I’m excited that we have depth at that position."
Pederson named three corners, but it was who he didn't name that was most conspicuous: Eric Rowe. The second year cornerback mostly took reps with the second team defense during the spring. Whereas other defensive backs stood out in a good way, Rowe seemed to struggle during OTAs and minicamp practices. Publicly, at least, Pederson doesn't agree with that assessment.
"He had a good spring," said Pederson when specifically asked about Rowe. "He's another one that's in the mix. He's part of that depth that we have there. I’m looking forward to seeing him when we put the pads on. Part of playing corner is how well and how physical they can be when you put the pads on and start tackling and all that. And he's a big kid and I look forward to seeing his progress now this camp."
Pederson eventually did admit, however, that Rowe did struggle to some extent.
"He's learning a new defense and new techniques this year from [Schwartz’s defense]. And there were some hiccups in the road a little bit this offseason and he was pulled back a little bit, but you just want to see that growth and that development with any player on your roster."
"But the chance to come out here and compete and put yourself in that position, you know, I've said this from Day One, the competition is the best thing you've got going for you. I give credit to Howie [Roseman] and his staff for bringing in the guys now that we can have that type of competition and Eric's one of those guys that you want to see compete on a daily basis."
Prior to spring practices, many (myself included) thought Rowe was favored to be a starting cornerback. It's still possible he ends up in that position. Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin once said he believes Rowe can be a "top-level" starter in the NFL. Rowe flashed good starting potential as a rookie. It seems less of a given now, however, than it ever did before. The 23-year-old defensive back faces stiff competition from the corners mentioned by Pederson. Mills, the seventh round rookie from LSU, has been especially impressive. He picked up right where he left off in the spring with a strong first day of training camp practice.
No matter how it shakes out, the fact that the Eagles have strong competition at the position is a good sign. Having two unquestioned studs as starters is obviously the ideal, but that's not the situation Philadelphia is in. Instead, the next best thing is to have guys battle it out and allow the best player to step up and seize the job.