Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Cornerback

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Cornerback

We pick up our training camp preview at cornerback, where despite the "losses" of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles look as though they might be improved and even somewhat deep.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | Offensive Line
Defensive Line | Linebacker | Safety ]

Is Cary Williams going to be a free-agent bust?

That might depend on your expectations going in. Williams isn’t a shutdown corner by any means. In fact, only six corners in the NFL surrendered a higher percentage of first downs and touchdowns per snap than Williams during the regular season in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus, which is highly suggestive that opposing quarterbacks are willing to go after him.

His disinterest in the Eagles’ spring workouts won’t allay any concerns, either. Williams was absent from OTAs with a number of excuses, and while it’s debatable just how much that really matters, his attitude likely only created even more doubters.

Still, it seems like the former seventh-round pick is a perfectly adequate replacement for right now. He was good enough to start all 32 regular season and six playoff games for Baltimore in the past two years, including the Ravens’ victory in the Super Bowl this past February. The 28 year old even became something of a playmaker for the first time in ‘12, hauling in six interceptions with 23 passes defensed over 20 games.

The Eagles are only on the hook for three years, $17 million with Williams. It’s not a contract reflective of a star, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect to have one. That said, for that kind of money I’d expect Williams at least perform better than Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did last year, something he seems more than capable of.

Who is the other starter at cornerback?

The competition is probably a bit more wide open opposite Williams, but for now it appears the favorite has to be Bradley Fletcher. Fletcher was actually the first corner the Eagles signed this offseason, which probably doesn’t mean all that much other than their interest level was high. He’s also the only other corner on the roster to have started more than one NFL game on the outside.

Signed as a free agent from the Rams at a very reasonable two years, $5.25 million, the third-round pick out of Iowa posted solid numbers as a sophomore in 2010, intercepting four passes and defending 11 more in his first full year as a starter. Injuries derailed his follow-up campaign though, and the organization was quick to move on in the offseason. New head coach Jeff Fisher brought in his buddy Cortland Finnegan from Tennessee, then used a second- and third-round picks on Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.

Fletcher appeared in all 16 games last year and started four, performing well with the snaps he was given – one pick and eight passes defended in 374 plays. He’s been working with the first-team D for the Birds this spring, and as long as he can stay healthy it seems like an excellent low risk/high reward signing.

Can Brandon Boykin play on the outside?

Maybe he can. Thought of almost exclusively as a nickel cornerback when the Eagles drafted him in the fourth round of the ’12 draft, Boykin is lobbying for a chance to start, and Chip Kelly gave the Georgia product some looks on the outside with the first-team defense this spring.

The primary concern is Boykin’s size. At 5-10, 185, bigger wide receivers can move out of the way, or one would think go over the top of him. However, the latter might not be the case. Anybody who’s ever seen Boykin dunk a basketball knows what we’re talking about. The dude can fly.

Boykin still may not be the ideal person for that role. He’s coming off a fine rookie season in the slot, playing all 16 games for the Birds last season, and they might not have anybody better suited for that position right now, whereas there is some competition on the outside. That said, Boykin could probably handle the responsibility in a pinch – perhaps he could even do more with the chance than that.

Will Curtis Marsh make the team?

He’s on the bubble to be sure, but has a shot. The Eagles used a third-round pick on Marsh in 2011, although he hasn’t been able to get on the field for a number of reasons. He was very raw coming out of Utah State, having begun his collegiate career as a running back. Since then of course he’s been blocked by the likes of Asomugha, DRC, and Asante Samuel to name a few. Marsh has just 75 career snaps at cornerback in the NFL.

It’s a little curious he never got a chance to play last season while two of those other guys were stinking up the joint. Marsh has good size (6-1, 197) and athleticism (4.46 40-yard dash), and always seemed perform fairly well versus stiffs in the preseason for whatever that's worth. Thanks in part to Cary Williams’ absences, he got to run with the first teamers a bit in the spring, but he did in 2012 as well, and look how much that meant.

I’d venture a guess there is a fifth CB spot on the roster, and it’s between Marsh and Brandon Hughes. We’ve seen what Hughes can do, and it’s nothing special. Wouldn’t mind seeing Marsh get one last opportunity instead.

Could Jordan Poyer make an impact in his rookie season?

Perhaps as good or better of a chance as any mid-to-late-round draft pick on the team. Projected to be an early mid-rounder (if that makes sense), Poyer was a pleasant surprise for the Birds in the seventh. He was a consensus All American his senior season in college with respectable size (6-0, 191) and measurables (4.54 40, 30.5-inch vert). He’s not lacking confidence, either. Having played in the Pac-12 at Oregon State, Chip Kelly is plenty familiar with his capabilities as well.

There is surprisingly some stiff competition at corner, and Poyer will be starting at something of a disadvantage having missed most of spring workouts due to the graduation rule. Even still the 22 year old could rise up the depth chart to No. 4 – ahead of Marsh or Hughes – relatively quickly, which would put him right in the mix for playing time. I really expect to see him on the field in meaningful games and situations this season.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- In retrospect, the Sixers would have done things differently.

For more than a month, the team did not announce a timeframe for Joel Embiid's return from a left knee contusion. After he missed 14 of the last 15 games, the Sixers said on Wednesday Embiid would be out the next four games and are targeting a March 3 return.

The next day, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo addressed the lack of timetable provided. 

"We should have just said 'out indefinitely,' even though the treatment was still day to day," Colangelo said. "But the fact that there was uncertainty, I'll own that."

Embiid's injury goes back to Jan. 22 when he suffered the contusion against the Trail Blazers. After the Sixers held him out three games, he played on Jan. 27 against the Rockets and has been sidelined since.

Embiid was very candid on Thursday in expressing his displeasure of how his injury news had been shared. While he had been optimistic he would return earlier than March, citing a recovery period of less than a month, it didn't line up with the day-to-day status.

"I wasn't too happy with the way it was kind of handled before," Embiid said.

"I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn't happy with the way it was handled.

"I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I'm happy that they did that today and they said that I'm out for the next four games."

Colangelo addressed that timetable.

"The two-to-three week comment, I think I know where that came from," Colangelo said. "There was a lot of discussion, and despite the fact that we were saying it's day-to-day treatment and evaluation, two to three weeks may have been mentioned as a possibility of what it may be. But a possibility.

"To say that publicly may not have been the best thing at the time because I was also told sometimes it's four to six weeks for a bone bruise to resolve itself."

The lack of clarity on Embiid's return had upset Sixers fans who wanted more transparency. They had been through years of lengthy injuries, including the past two with Embiid, and were frustrated by this recent absence.

"There's never, ever been any effort to deceive fans, to mislead fans, to mislead [media]," Colangelo said. "We give the information as we're given the information. We've got very good medical care, very good medical oversight. Everything is explainable, but injuries are unpredictable is the best way I can describe it."

Embiid isn't the only player whose status was made public this week. On Friday, Colangelo also announced Ben Simmons will miss the remainder of this season. The first overall pick has been sidelined since training camp after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot.

"There's no deceit, there's no movement toward doing anything to be dishonest here at all. It's quite simple," Colangelo said. "Injuries are a hard thing to manage. Injuries are a harder thing to manage with daily interface with the media, the public, games being played, the schedule, no practice, practice -- it's a sensitive issue. 

"And you're not talking about simple things. You're talking about complex injuries, you're talking about high-level performers and I'm calling them our stars. They're the ones everyone wants to see. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. And they're both out. Nobody is more frustrated than them."

After not committing to injury timetables, the Sixers are committing to taking a different approach. 

"It was our mistake to put out 'day-to-day' opposed to 'out indefinitely,' Colangelo said. "But that mistake will not be made again."

If you hate the Nerlens Noel trade, you value him more than Sixers do

If you hate the Nerlens Noel trade, you value him more than Sixers do

I'll make the Nerlens Noel trade simple for you.

The Sixers don't think he's worth the money he'll be offered after the season.

He's a restricted free agent, and the Sixers don't anticipate matching the offer he'll receive, so they got what they could instead of letting him walk and getting nothing.

"I've often said I wouldn't make a bad deal," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday, "but yesterday I made the best deal that was available to us."

Mavericks president Donnie Nelson put himself in Colangelo's shoes, telling ESPN that the Sixers were in "an extremely difficult situation" and "did the best they could with the situation they had." He added that it was "hard for us" to give up Justin Anderson, whom he called "the critical piece."

Nevertheless, if you're fixated on the "bad deal" part of Colangelo's quote -- and judging from the reaction in our newsroom Thursday and on Twitter and on our site, plenty of you should be -- then you have a higher opinion of Noel than the Sixers do. 

And that's the point of contention. 

Maybe Nerlens turns out to be Dennis Rodman 2.0. 

If that's the case, Bryan Colangelo will be ripped like Larry Brown has been for choosing Larry Hughes over Paul Pierce (it will never end). The move will be grouped with Moses Malone for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson, and the No. 1 pick (Brad Daugherty) for Roy Hinson. 

(Sixers fans would have broken Twitter had it existed in 1986. If your Sixer fandom survived those trades, then this one barely should elicit a shrug.)  

But Noel also may just be the next Samuel Dalembert.

It will take some time to answer that question, but critics of this trade are also asking about the timing of the deal.

Why not trade Noel earlier? If they weren't sold on him, they could have dealt him last year when free agency wasn't on the horizon and they had more leverage. 

Remember, circumstances were different at the end of last season. Joel Embiid had yet to play. Noel and Jahlil Okafor were their insurance policies -- and Okafor was recovering from a knee injury too. 

"We were plugging in Nerlens Noel as our starting center at that point," Colangelo said. "There was no other way around because the unknowns related to both Joel and Jahlil."

Plus, when Colangelo arrived last April, there were only two games left in the regular season.

"When I was brought in, he was already basically an RFA," Colangelo said. 

Then why not wait until after this season and possibly retain Noel at a decent price? Colangelo didn't want to take the chance.

"Him being a restricted free agent certainly affected how people approached that type of player," he said. "It was more or less the case with every conversation I had that that concern about what that contract might look like in the future was certainly a factor in people's apprehension to move forward."

Perhaps the biggest conclusion to draw from the deal is this: The fact that the Sixers traded Noel -- and were clearly also willing to trade Okafor -- is a sign of their confidence in Embiid's potential, and more importantly, his durability.

"That Joel has emerged as a transformational type of player, it certainly made the decision to possibly move Nerlens that much easier," Colangelo said.

The Sixers clearly are confident that Embiid will not be the next Greg Oden and will recover to be the player who -- as a rookie -- is averaging nearly a point a minute. 

Risky? Certainly. Crazy? We'll find out. 

That said, the Sixers are also asking you to remember Richaun Holmes, who, as Colangelo put it was "in the shadows last year as an emerging backup."

And he's still emerging. Holmes has shown promise on both ends of the floor and is more polished and versatile offensively than Noel. Let's see what the kid can do. Maybe he'll find a home backing up Saric at the four and Embiid at the five.

Speaking of backups, the Sixers clearly weren't satisfied with the offers for Okafor, who unlike Noel isn't facing free agency. So they held onto him. Good move; he's too young to give away. 

Now it's up to the coaching staff to convince Okafor that the best way to earn a starting spot anywhere is to play defense and actually hustle after a rebound or two. 

The coaching staff's other priority is Justin Anderson, the key piece in the Noel deal. Anderson gives the Sixers another solid wing defender to go with Robert Covington. But -- like Covington this season -- he's struggled from three. Anderson recently has shown signs of being the player worthy of the 21st pick in 2015. Brown and company must help him rediscover his shot and become the next Jae Crowder

But back to the beginning. Regardless of your opinion of Noel, remember this: The keystones of this team are Embiid and Ben Simmons. Colangelo on Friday called them "our stars." If they recover from their respective injuries and live up to expectations, then this team should -- with its wealth of assets and cap room -- be in position to complete "The Process." 

If not, then there's probably nothing Nerlens Noel could have done about it anyway.