Manditory Photo credit: Mitchell Leff, Getty Images
One of the more intriguing training camp battles for the Eagles this upcoming season is in the secondary, specifically the cornerbacks. No secondary has undergone more chances this offseason than the Eagles. Gone is Carey Williams, gone is Bradley Fletcher, and now gone is Brandon Boykin. Bryon Maxwell, who signed a massive contract in the offseason as a free agent, is locked in at the number one cornerback spot. It seems like the second cornerback spot though is now a two horse race between six year veteran Nolan Carroll and 2nd round draft pick Eric Rowe. The rest of the cornerbacks on the roster will likely compete for the vacant nickel corner spot.
Nolan Carroll, who took first team reps Sunday in practice, is considered to be the favorite. At 6’1”, the Maryland product has all the physical traits that Chip loves in his corners. Carroll saw limited action in all 16 games last season, making only one start, a week 17 victory against the Giants. Throughout the offseason, Chip has raved about Carroll’s improvement and work ethic. If Chip is indeed so high on Carroll, it is a little confusing as to why he did not start over Fletcher or Williams last year, both of which were horribly inconsistent. Was Carroll not good enough? Towards the end of the season fans were practically begging for Carroll to start over Fletcher. With Fletcher getting burned constantly by receivers, it is a little concerning Carroll seemingly was unable to beat either of them out in practice. Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis on Monday did however admit that he probably should have given Carroll a shot to start last season.
Eric Rowe, the team 2nd round draft pick, is another candidate to start opposite Maxwell. At 6’1” the former Utah standout also has the physical traits that Chip loves. Coming out of college Rowe was pegged as a versatile player that could play both cornerback, and safety, both big positional needs for the Eagles. Several scouts believe Rowe projects better as a safety, but Chip for now wants to keep him at corner. Rowe is no Patrick Peterson or Joe Haden. He is not considered a must see cornerback prospect. Yes, he is a very talented player, but he is still a rookie, and like any rookie, would struggle. It is rather easy to understand Chip would prefer to have a veteran start at the beginning of the season and ease Rowe into the lineup.
JaCorey Sheperd, a 6th round draft pick out of Kansas, took first team reps on the first day of training camp at that spot. In his press conference on Sunday Chip Kelly had very high praise for Sheperd. It seems at this point, with Walter Thurmond trying out at safety, Sheperd is the favorite to succeed Boykin, but it is still too early to really make any decision. If Thurmond does not work out at safety, he could start in the nickel spot as he played the position for Seattle’s famed Legion of Boom during their Super Bowl run in 2013. The Eagles other 6th round draft pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State, who, unlike Sheperd, has nickel corner experience, could also be an option. Davis reiterated in his press conference on Monday that they would look at several guys at that position, including 2nd year pro Jaylen Watkins, veteran E.J. Biggers, and undrafted free agent Denzel Rice. He also said that Carroll and Rowe will remain outside.
With all three starters from last season gone, the only player guaranteed to start is Bryon Maxwell. The Eagles have several talented players to choose from. Chip and Billy Davis will give ever player 1st team reps. The battle could potentially go on as long as the preseason. It would not shock me if Chip waits until at least the 3rd preseason game before he names a starter. This battle is shaping up to be, at least in my opinion, the most exiting of training camp.
Follow Matt Gaffney on Twitter at Mgaffney542