Friday, August 5, 2011
The Eagles' crowd of cornerbacks
By Dan Graziano
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- What everyone wanted to know was how it would look when they were all finally allowed to practice together. When the league year finally got underway and the new signees could be on the field in pads with everybody else, who would be lining up as the Eagles' starting cornerbacks? Well, shortly after 8 a.m. Friday we got our answer. In the base 4-3, it was Nnamdi Asomugha on the right, Asante Samuel on the left, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the sideline. Which was fine with Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Eagles' Asante Samuel, right, celebrates an interception by Curtis Marsh in Friday's practice.
"I can respect that," Rodgers-Cromartie told me after the morning practice. "Those are proven guys in the league. That just puts pressure on me to be ready. I've got to be that focused, so when I come in or whoever else comes in, it won't be a dropoff. Anytime those guys need a break, I'll just go out there. I think it's workable, because I know football is a long season, 16 games, so I know I'm going to get my shot."
This is a guy saying all the right things. He doesn't even care that Joselio Hanson was getting the snaps as the nickel cornerback, because he says that was Hanson's role here last season and he's good at it. Rodgers-Cromartie says he's loving the chance to learn from Asomugha and Samuel. He says they've both been great about offering advice. And if he's going to maintain this attitude, he's going to make things very easy on his coaches.
"I know people go, 'How're you going to play them all?' but we'll find a way," head coach Andy Reid told me. "You've got great players, you find a way to put them in. They're all going to play. Everybody knows they're all starters. They've all got their accolades that they've received. They'll all play and they know that."
There was the Asante Samuel news conference this week where it sounded as if things might get a little touchy on this front. The one where he said "If they're tired of my big-play making ability, maybe they'll want to ship me off." But Samuel was his usual, loud, trash-talking self during practice Friday and seemed happy. And while there's a chance they could trade him if they get offered a great pick or maybe a great linebacker, there's a greater chance all three of these guys open the season on the roster, with Asomugha and Samuel starting and an eager Rodgers-Cromartie waiting to go in when he's needed.
"That's how it was today," Asomugha told me. "So I don't see them changing things when we've got a game in like three days or something like that and we've got to get ready for the season to start. I don't see a lot being changed between now and then."
Asomugha has pushed his coaches on expanding his role in the defense beyond the strict cover-corner responsibilities he had in Oakland. He told me he played safety in college until moving to corner in his third year, and that he's never considered himself, "just a cover guy."
"A lot of people have, though, because they feel like, if I can do it at the level that I've been able to do it, then that's all that I should be doing," Asomugha said. "But when you tap into it and you start seeing other things that I can do, it gives you a little bit more flexibility. I can do more than just play corner."
Which means they could, conceivably, play him at safety on a play here or there, or bring him up to help against the run, or -- and this is a suggestion that drew a big smile -- blitz and sack a quarterback.
"Oh yeah," he said. "We've got some of that in there."
What they have is a ton of talent at cornerback in a league that sees more and more passing every year. And if the worst-case scenario is that all three of these guys are on the team come September and battling each other for playing time ... well, a lot of teams would like to have the Eagles' problems.