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.

National champion Villanova honored by President Obama

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National champion Villanova honored by President Obama

WASHINGTON — For the most successful senior class in the history of Villanova basketball, Tuesday's trip to the White House was the culmination of a championship season and quite possibly the final time the 2016 National Championship team will be together as one.

President Barack Obama praised their poise, which was epitomized by the final play when Ryan Arcidiacono fed Kris Jenkins for the buzzer-beating, championship-winning three-pointer.

"A lot of teams would have had their spirit broken — the Wildcats, they took control, they responded," Obama said. "And on a play called ' 'Nova,' Kris took a pass from Arch and pulled up a few steps behind the line and shot this team into basketball lore. That was a good shot. It was like Christian Laettner-good. It was like a Jimmy-V-running-up-and-down-the-court shot. Charles Barkley apparently jumped out of his seat, which — (laughter) — he doesn’t do very often these days." 

In what has become customary for a championship team's visit, head coach Jay Wright presented the 44th President of the United States with a Wildcat jersey and the number "44." The Wildcats wore the uniform when they played Oklahoma on Dec. 7 of last year in Obama's home state of Hawaii.

"This was an amazing day for us," Wright said. "We not only presented him with the jersey, but with a picture of him that mirrored Kris Jenkins hitting that game-winning shot, because we've got a lot of respect for him as a great leader."

While gracious as guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., it was the Wildcats who spoiled Obama's tournament bracket when they knocked off the president's pre-tournament pick, Kansas, in the Elite Eight on their way to the Final Four. At the time he made his picks back in March, Obama mentioned Wright's Wildcats, telling ESPN, "I know eventually they're going to break through." He just wasn't confident enough to see the 'Cats win it all roughly three and a half weeks later.

Obama on Tuesday confirmed he should have listened to his second-in-command, "Joe (Biden) wanted me to remind you that he picked 'Nova to win it all. This is the type of wise counsel that you are looking for from a vice president. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow his counsel and so my bracket was busted.

Wearing a stars-and-stripes bow tie, junior Josh Hart, who decided last week to return to Villanova for his senior season, attended nearby Sidwell Friends School, where he was a classmate with President Obama's oldest daughter Malia.

"We talked a little, not too much," Hart said. "I try to give her some space. She's busy with senior projects and graduation and stuff."

Now Hart will refocus on guiding Villanova to become the first school since the Florida Gators in 2006-07 to win back-to-back National titles, and with that, a return trip to the White House.

Kris Jenkins shared video of Villanova doing Running Man Challenge at White House

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Kris Jenkins shared video of Villanova doing Running Man Challenge at White House

Tony Hawk has skateboarded at the White House. Women's lacrosse champions have worn fliflops at the White House.

Now, the Villanova Wildcats have done the Running Man Challenge at the White House.

The video was shared on Kris Jenkins' Instagram account this afternoon. They don't call him "Big Smooth" for nothing.

Officially ending this Runningman challenge. Presidential edition. #GameBlouses #NovaSzn

A video posted by Kris Jenkins (@bigsmoove2) on

In case you missed it earlier, President Obama welcomed the 2016 NCAA Champion Villanova Wildcats to his crib and called Jay Wright the, "George Clooney of coaches." He's not wrong.

Despite rocky offseason, Eagles QBs have "a really good relationship"

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Despite rocky offseason, Eagles QBs have "a really good relationship"

Sam Bradford says Carson Wentz is a great kid. Carson Wentz says his relationship with Sam Bradford is special.

So much for them hating each other.

Bradford and Wentz both spoke glowingly of each other Tuesday after an OTA practice at the NovaCare Complex.

And both spoke equally highly of Chase Daniel, the Eagles’ other quarterback.

Turns out they all like each other.

Boring? Yeah. Drama? No. But they all say that’s the reality.

“They’re great dudes,” Bradford said. “We have a really good room. Having Chase in the room for me and Carson has been great because he’s been in the system for what, three? This is his fourth year in the system? So he understands some of the smaller details.

“Like when we watch tape, he’s able to point out, ‘Hey, this play looks like this against this coverage,’ or, ‘You can short-cut this read and (throw) here a little quicker against this coverage.’ So I think having him in the room with me and Carson has been really good.

“Carson, he’s been great. He’s a great kid, he’s really talented. It’s been fun working with him, trying to help him, trying to just share bits of information that I’ve picked up.”

It was the Eagles’ decision to trade up to No. 2 in the draft and take Wentz that led Bradford to leave voluntary practices for two weeks and demand a trade.

It wasn’t until he returned earlier this month that he even met Wentz, the former North Dakota State star.

But Wentz said there’s been no tension between the two. The opposite has been the case.

“It’s been great working with Sam, working with Chase,” Wentz said. “We’ve got an awesome quarterback room. A lot of really good discussions about the play book, about life. It’s been great.

“And then on the practice field, it’s been great for me. We all have a really good relationship. Nothing but great things to say about those guys.”

Head coach Doug Pederson has maintained that Bradford is the starter going into the regular season. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said there’s open competition.

Whatever happens in September, it’s only a matter of time until this is Wentz’s team.

But Daniel said so far everybody is handling a tricky situation just fine.

“You know what, business is business,” Daniel said Tuesday. “Like I’ve said before, everyone handles (those situations) a little bit differently. For me, there’s no awkwardness. I know I’ve talked to Sam, there’s no (awkwardness).

“It’s you check your ego at the door, it’s time to go to work. Let’s go to work.”

If there are any hard feelings, these three quarterbacks are certainly hiding them very well.

“The relationship we have with us three is huge,” Wentz said. “We’re not out there to get each other, we’re out there to make the team better. (That) not only uplifts the team but makes us individually better.

“Being able to work together and not have to worry and stress out about the other stuff. At the end of the day makes the team better.”

Bradford is the incumbent starter. Daniel is the most experienced in Pederson’s offense. Wentz is the hot-shot rookie.

It’s a better story if they hate each other. But so far at least, they seem to be getting along just great.

“For me and the rest of the quarterbacks, we view every day as an opportunity to get better,” Wentz said.

“We have a little friendly competition among ourselves to make us better. If we’re all pushing each other, working together, it only makes the team better, and I think that’s something we have going on here that’s really special.”