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Tuesday, July 1, 2014
5 to watch: Nolan Carroll

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- With training camp looming on the horizon, let’s continue our weeklong look at the players with the most to prove, and the most to lose, this summer.

When the Philadelphia Eagles signed cornerback Nolan Carroll in free agency, it didn't exactly move the needle calibrated to Darrelle Revis. Carroll was the Miami Dolphins' gunner on kick coverage, and the signing seemed like more of a special teams move than an upgrade to the defense.

Carroll
But the Eagles were last in the NFL in passing yards allowed so no one in their secondary can be considered a lock to be back in the starting lineup. That includes starting corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, both of whom seemed like solid players most of the time. But the number 32 -- where they ranked in passing defense -- hangs over all of them.

So, yes, Carroll is competing with Williams and Fletcher for a starting job.

“It’s wide open,” Carroll said at the end of June practices.

“Nolan can definitely challenge to start here,” defensive backs coach John Lovett said last month. “He had a tremendous OTA. He’s another guy we were thrilled to death about getting. He’s explosive, he’s physical, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He understands coverage concepts. He’s really had a great preseason.”

Carroll is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, so he’s about the same size as Williams (6-1, 190) and Fletcher (6-0, 200). He has a couple of inches on Brandon Boykin, whom the Eagles prefer to keep in the slot.

So which of last year’s starters is more vulnerable to a challenge from Carroll? Pro Football Focus lists both Williams and Fletcher as “average” starters. Williams was inconsistent, according to PFF, turning in performances good and not so good, while Fletcher was steadier.

Of course, PFF also rates Carroll “below average” as a starter based on his play in Miami.

The Eagles like Carroll because he’s a physical corner who is good at press coverage. He was getting yelled at by coaches in June practices for showing a little of his prowess, violating the rules governing offseason workouts.

The truth is, the Eagles had a pretty bare cupboard when it came to cornerbacks last offseason. Their 2012 starters, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, had terrible seasons and were dispatched quickly. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman signed Williams, who was coming off a Super Bowl title with the Ravens, and Fletcher, who played for the Rams, to give his new coaching staff some reliable pros to work with.

They were just that, occasionally a bit more and at times a bit less. But they were also playing at the back end of a defense converting from a 4-3 to a 3-4. They should be markedly better after playing together for a full season.

But the Eagles went out and signed Carroll for a reason, and playing gunner on special teams was only part of it.

Roc Carmichael, Curtis Marsh and fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins are also in the mix at corner, but it looks like a three-man competition for the two starting spots.