One of the most interesting battles set to take place during Eagles training camp this year is the one at the cornerback position. During his press conference on Monday, Doug Pederson mentioned a number of players who are in the mix at that spot. The one name that was conspicuously absent: Eric Rowe. Later asked about the second year cornerback, Pederson said Rowe had some "hiccups" in the spring and he was "pulled back a little back."
Maybe it doesn't matter all that much that Pederson didn't initially mention Rowe. He's not the defensive coordinator, after all. But if that's your line of thinking, Jim Schwartz also failed to bring up Rowe during his press conference on Tuesday.
"It's going to be fun to watch the corners compete," Schwartz said. "We have some guys that can cover. We have some guys that have a great opportunity here. If they’ll get up and they’ll challenge receivers, like I said before, if you can cover -- you can't cover many people if you don't want to challenge guys. That's God's honest truth. I could play the deep ball. I'd get my ass 50 yards deep and you couldn't get one over the top of me, but I couldn't cover anything else."
"There's a fine line in there. And the fine line is you have obviously have to play the deep ball in this league, but if that's the only thing you're worried about, you're not going to cover anything else."
"Just with the blend of veteran players: a guy like Nolan Carroll, who we talked about; Leodis McKelvin. Some young guys that have some opportunities: Jalen [Mills] has done a nice job for a rookie so far and Ron Brooks is going to have an opportunity. Guys coming off injury like ‘Shep,’ [JaCorey Shepherd] who has been out here. I think it's going to be exciting to watch those guys. If they show the ability to cover and they show that they will challenge guys, then we'll find use for all of them."
It's obviously way too early to write Rowe off completely. As of this post, he hasn't even reported to camp yet. But when he does arrive to Philadelphia, it seems like he has a lot of work to do to impress the coaching staff. He certainly won't be handed a starting job.
Watch Schwartz's Tuesday press conference in the video below via the Bleeding Green Nation Facebook page.
Read below for a transcript.
Q. Before the draft, Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson talked about the fact that you were kind of lobbying for more bodies at the linebacker position. Are you comfortable with that spot right now as you get ready to ramp it up?
JIM SCHWARTZ: We're happy with the guys we have. I think that's probably a better question for Howie [Roseman] and his staff because they are always looking to improve the team. I think that's the commitment we make to the locker room; that's the commitment we make to the city; that's the commitment we make to the organization: that we are always going to try to look to improve.
I think we added a couple good players in the offseason and we've been happy with the progress. There's always going to be times you need more depth and there's always going to be things that come up along the way. As we are out here coaching, those guys are always keeping their eyes on different opportunities to add to the team and I think it's the same for 31 other teams in the NFL, also.
Q. When you go back to the OTAs and the mini-camps and combine all the information that you have taught this group of guys over that time span, compared to other places you've been, how have these guys grasped the information that you given them?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Every team is a little bit different and your pace is a little bit different because your offense is a little bit different. I think they have made good progress. I wouldn't compare them to any other team. I wouldn't compare them to any other player. Everybody is going to do it at their own pace. I think the one thing we have kept in mind, is the home opener is a long way away. Our eye is toward improving every day and correcting little things, not getting too far ahead of ourselves.
So I think the same could be said, we could get a little too far ahead of ourselves if we try to compare them to other guys. But I've been pleased with the effort that the guys have shown. I've been pleased with their ability to communicate and their ability to pick it up. You know, we are not rocket scientists now. We are not trying to reinvent anything. We want to put guys in good position, communicate well and play what fits them. All those things are important to us, not trying to set a record for being difficult.
Q. You've had so many different defenses over the years. Can you tell at this point, aggregate wise, what kind of talent level you have and have you done that before at other places and been right or wrong?
JIM SCHWARTZ: You know, I think that you can make mistakes if you do that, because let's be honest, we haven't had pads on yet and football is meant to be played with pads. You can have a guy in the right position and look good out here, but if he can't make that tackle, the scheme didn’t mean anything. It's a cliché, but it does come down to blocking and tackling and those kind of things, and that's stuff that will be determined over the next six weeks. That's the stuff that training camp is about.
Q. What have been your early impressions of CB Aaron Grymes? In your experience, is there any kind of adjustment period for a guy coming from the Canadian Football League? Do they need to make an adjustment to playing on an NFL field, which is smaller than a CFL field?
JIM SCHWARTZ: You know, I think that from an adjustment period, sometimes it's a little bit easier for the guys. The field is a little bit smaller here. There is a little less movement. [CFL players] can run toward the line of scrimmage; more than one guy can be in motion; the field is longer and the field is wider. I wouldn't want to call it arena football, but they come down here and it's almost like going to arena football.
Aaron is a smart player. He's multi-dimensional. He's played outside; he's played nickel. Just because our numbers are low right now, he is playing a little safety, but that's just because he knows what to do. He has shown a good, confident attitude. You can't cover many guys if you're worried about getting beat and he's had that confidence to go up and challenge guys. I think that experience shows. The fact that he has played in a professional league and he's a little bit different than most of the other guys that are out here now because they are just out of college. He does have a little bit more confidence from his professional experience.
Q. CB Nolan Carroll is coming off an injury. How does he look out there as far as being able to be one of the guys that can compete for that corner job?
JIM SCHWARTZ: He made good progress through the offseason. We took it slow with him. Again, sort of falling into our same mantra, our game, we don't open until September, so we didn't need to rush him. He's a veteran player. He was excellent in the meetings. He was a good mentor for the younger guys. They are always picking his brain. He's a smart player.
He had a really good year last year. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves with him or take him out of his comfort level. But he took a little bit of individual at the end of our mini-camp and OTAs and actually took a couple team snaps in there, a couple 7-on-7, although I can't remember which one it was. So he was able to get a little confidence and feel like, ‘Hey, I can get up to speed.’
This is important for him now. It's a good opportunity for him to come back before the full club gets here, just to sort of test it out and see how he's feeling. You don't want to judge too much. He might need a day here or there. It helps that he's a veteran player. It helps that he's experienced and I think that he's able to make a lot of reps, that he's not out there, mental reps, so to speak. He can learn and learn vicariously through the other guys. He's done that.
Q. Every 4-3 defense will have their defensive ends split out wide on occasion. You seem to do a little more of that than most. Why have you gravitated towards that?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, a lot of times, it just fits the personnel that we have. You know, I think that we've done it with a little different flavor each stop along the way. It looked a little bit different with [former Tennessee Titans DEs] Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter when I was in Tennessee and it looked a little bit different with [former Titans DEs] Kyle Vanden Bosch and Antwan Odom. Then when we got to Detroit, it looked a little different with [former Detroit Lions DE] Cliff Avril. It looked a little different with [Lions DE] Ziggy Ansah. In Buffalo, it looked a little bit different with [former Buffalo Bills DE] Mario Williams and a guy like [Bills DE] Jerry Hughes.
All those guys have different skill sets and it's all about trying to put them in a position that they can execute the scheme, but within the scheme, they can, technique-wise, execute. I think there are some things that probably fly below the radar just from an alignment standpoint. But there are a lot of differences between what we're doing right now, to what we did in Buffalo, to what we did in Tennessee or Detroit.
Q. What do you think of the guys like DEs Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, who have played defensive end in a 4-3 before? Also, what do you think about guys like DE Connor Barwin who has been more of a 3-4 OLB in the past?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Connor did a lot of this when he was in Houston early in his career. Connor is a smart player and he's multi-dimensional. I think it fits the guys really well here. I think if you ask them, they would rather attack than read. It puts us in a little better position to rush the passer. It puts us in a little bit better position to set hard edges. It's been our philosophy, and I think if you ask offensive coordinators, they would tell you the same thing.
If you can get [to the quarterback] with four, you have a big advantage on defense. If you have to blitz to get pressure, you can be at a disadvantage and the offense can take advantage of you. When you can rush with four, it allows you to blitz on your own terms, rather than, ‘Geez, we've got to get pressure, so we have to blitz.’
So there's a lot of different reasons that we do it, the biggest being that we try to match the talent that we have to the techniques that we're asking guys to play. Even here, some of the stuff that Brandon is doing is a little different than what Vinny is doing. I think that's up to the coaches and Chris [Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson] has done a really good job there of trying to tailor a package for each guy.
Q. Can you big-picture describe your philosophy and defensive approach? Obviously, this is a new staff to a lot of the fans here in Philadelphia. Can you describe what you want to accomplish?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Yeah, that probably takes a lot of time. In a nutshell, we want to allow less points than our offense scores. I mean, you know, rankings, stats – the only thing that matters in this league is wins and losses. I'll take a 42-41 game. I might not sleep well afterwards, but I'll take it. I'd rather have that than a 7-3 game that you lose.
We keep our eye on that. We want to be an attack defense. We want to put pressure on the quarterback. Like anything, it's very difficult to defend the entire field, so what we want to try to do is defend the things that are easiest for the offense to capitalize on and try to make them do what is most difficult.
And also we have to be multi-dimensional enough that we can change from week-to-week. There might be some weeks where we play a lot of eight-man front – we have a good running team. There might be some weeks where we play very little eight-man front. We have to have smart enough and multi-dimensional players enough that we can morph from week-to-week, [for] lack of a better term.
Q. Do the linebackers stand to face more second-level blocking from offensive linemen in your scheme, or is it really not much different than two-gap?
JIM SCHWARTZ: No, it's a lot different than two-gap because when you're playing two-gap – I don't want to get too technical with you guys – you're generally building a wall along the front and guys are sort of falling back and linebackers are generally shuffling laterally more because your defensive linemen are going laterally.
When you play an attack front up front, your linebackers have to come down hill. They have to plug those holes. We’re probably more … We attack in levels, and I don't want to bore you guys, but back when I was playing high school football, the coach would always say, "Hey, everybody stay in your lane, everybody stay in your lane."
Nobody covers a kick that way in the NFL anymore, or college football. Because [if] one guy is out of his lane, it's gone for a touchdown. You attack in levels. You have guys that are disruptors, guys that attack the blocks and other guys that play leverage off of them. If we are going to play attack up front – and we are, because we want to put those guys in position to be able to rush their passer and play the run on the way to the quarterback – the linebackers have to be tied and the safeties have to be tied in.
There's techniques within that that they need to be able to play off the guys in front and they need to -- when they see a hole, they have to step up and fill, because like you said, if you don't, if you're lateral, you can create some gaps in there. So if our linebackers are playing well, if our safeties are filling well, you’re going to see those guys attacking downhill rather than waiting and catching blocks.
Q. Is there something you look for in nickel and dime defenders, or are they just like the third and fourth cornerback?
JIM SCHWARTZ: No, it's a little different skill set in there. It's a lot different covering on the outside part of the field than it is the inside. You have to have some miniature linebacker in you. You've got to enjoy the briar patch a little bit. You have to have the courage to throw your body up there against 240-pound running backs and you might have to take on a pulling guard from time to time or a tight end.
And a lot of times you're covering in a shorter area. It’s very rare that you're getting the same routes. You're not getting the same routes from the slot as you are from outside. So there's a different skill set. Some guys can play both, some guys can't. So it's our job to determine over the next six weeks where all the guys fit in that.
Q. DE Fletcher Cox is obviously a Pro Bowler and right now is smack in the middle of his career in his prime. Do you think there's one more level he can take it to where he has the chance to be a Defensive Player of the Year kind of guy?
JIM SCHWARTZ: You know, I think that his eyes should be on improving every day. Those things are for the end of the year. He fits our scheme. I think we'll have some things for him that will fit him well. He's a tough matchup. He's a tough matchup versus guards. He's a tough match up versus some tackles. And I like some of the stuff that they did with him here last year, moved him around a little bit.
They’re all going to know what number he wears -- so it’s our job to create some matchups for him. He's very skilled there. He's a good run player; he’s got great hands. I've said this before, he was drafted for a scheme similar to this, so it will be good to get him back to that and really see what he can do. We expect great things from him.