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.

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — On the whole, the Phillies have made steady progress in their rebuild this season.

Cameron Rupp has improved. Maikel Franco has had a nice year. Odubel Herrera, even with his recent inconsistency, has had more ups than downs. Cesar Hernandez has been on a good roll. Freddy Galvis has 36 extra-base hits, and Tommy Joseph has opened eyes with his power. In the bullpen, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos have shown that they just might be future studs.
 
For a good chunk of the season, the young starting pitching has shown promise, as well.
 
But lately, that corner of the team has taken some hits. Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin were both ruled out for the remainder of the season last week with elbow and knee injuries, respectively, and hard-throwing Vince Velasquez has been tagged for 19 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings over his last three starts.
 
Jake Thompson’s first four major-league starts haven’t exactly inspired confidence, either. The 22-year-old right-hander was hit hard in a 9-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). He gave up eight hits, including five for extra bases, and seven runs as his ERA swelled to 9.78. Only Mike Maddux (9.98) in 1986 had a higher ERA for the Phillies in his first four big-league starts.
 
“I’m not used to this,” Thompson said after the defeat. “I feel certain that I’m a lot better than my performance has indicated.”
 
Few pitchers come to the big leagues and dazzle right away. There is a learning curve and occasionally growing pains. But no one expected Thompson to have this much trouble out of the chute, not after what he did in his final 11 starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
Thompson went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
In four starts with the big club, he has given up 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He has walked 13 and struck out 13.
 
He was advertised as a control and command pitcher. He has yet to show that in the majors.
 
“A lot of it has to do with his age and, I think, the fact he’s in the big leagues for the first time trying to make a good impression,” manager Peter Mackanin said. “He probably feels like he needs to make perfect pitches every time. All he’s got to do is keep the ball down. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He relies on command and control and he hasn’t shown that. I attribute a lot of that to his youth and inexperience.”
 
So does Rupp, the catcher.
 
“How many guys do you see come to the big leagues at 22 years old and just flat out dominate every time they go out?” Rupp said. “Not very many. He's young. It was his first time in Triple A this year and he pitched really well and now he's got a chance in the big leagues. I'm sure he feels like there's pressure. When you come up and you pitch so well all year and then you finally get your opportunity, you want to impress. It puts a lot on you. And as a kid, you've got to be able to control it and it's tough. It's hard.

“Nobody wants to see anybody fail. It's hard to go through. It's something that's going to make him better when he does finally figure it out."
 
Two of the walks Thompson gave up Tuesday night became runs. He gave up back-to-back homers to Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau in the fifth inning as the White Sox turned it into a rout.
 
“Just too many pitches up in the strike zone,” Mackanin said. “Everything he threw was thigh high, waist high. He couldn’t get the ball down. It’s as simple as that.”
 
Thompson concurred with his manager.
 
“The issue is pretty evident,” he said. “I'm not throwing strikes and when I am throwing strikes, they're not good strikes. It’s a frustrating thing because it's a relatively easy thing to do. I don't really have the answer right now to fix it.”
 
The game moves fast at the big-league level and confidence can become bruised quickly. Thompson said his confidence was unshaken. Still, Phillies officials have to be careful that this difficult baptism to the majors does not snowball and become something that adversely impacts Thompson's growth.
 
“It’s something that you’re concerned about and I’m concerned about,” Mackanin said.
 
Concerned enough that Thompson might not make his next start?
 
Mackanin said he expected Thompson to stay in the rotation, but added that he would speak with general manager Matt Klentak on the topic.
 
“I don’t want to see him keep getting beat up and keep struggling like this,” Mackanin said. “We’ll talk about it and see what Matt wants to do.”

Best of MLB: Royals shut out Marlins for 9th straight win

Best of MLB: Royals shut out Marlins for 9th straight win

MIAMI -- Yordano Ventura escaped two threats while pitching six innings, and the Kansas City Royals extended their winning streak to nine games by beating the Miami Marlins 1-0 on Tuesday night.

Ventura (9-9), who reached 101 mph on the scoreboard radar gun, allowed six hits and one walk while striking out six. Royals starters have an ERA of 1.69 during the winning streak, Kansas City's longest since June 2014.

Three relievers closed out the win and extended the bullpen's streak of 32 consecutive shutout innings since Aug. 10. Kelvin Herrera pitched a perfect ninth for his eighth save.

The Marlins had won three straight but were shut out despite totaling seven hits. They went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position (see full recap).

Nova, Pirates beat Astros to snap 4-game skid
PITTSBURGH -- Ivan Nova took a shutout into the ninth inning and finished with a six-hitter while Gregory Polanco hit two home runs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 7-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

Nova (10-6) struck out six, walked one and threw 69 of his 98 pitches for strikes while improving to 3-0 in four starts since being acquired from the New York Yankees in an Aug. 1 trade.

It was the fourth complete game of the right-hander's seven-year career with the others coming in 2013.

His bid for his third career shutout ended when Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve led off the ninth with consecutive doubles.

After the Pirates scored four runs in the first inning, Polanco hit solo shots in the third and fifth off Joe Musgrove and Tony Sipp to extend the lead to 6-0 and raise his season total to a team-high 19 homers (see full recap).

Gausman, Jones help Orioles roll over Nationals
BALTIMORE -- Kevin Gausman scattered six hits over six shutout innings, Adam Jones went 4 for 5 and the Baltimore Orioles breezed past the Washington Nationals 8-1 on Tuesday night.

Chris Davis hit his 30th home run for the Orioles, who won two straight over Washington to conclude a 3-5 homestand.

Baltimore is 34-24 against the Nationals in a rivalry that began in 2006. The series shifts 38 miles south to Nationals Park on Wednesday for the first of two games.

Gausman (5-10) walked two, struck out two and permitted only one runner past second base. He's 5-1 at home and 0-9 on the road.

The 25-year-old Gausman outpitched Nationals rookie Reynaldo Lopez, a 22-year-old making his fifth major league start. Lopez (2-2) yielded six runs, four earned, and seven hits in 2 2/3 rocky innings (see full recap).

Instant Replay: White Sox 9, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: White Sox 9, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — Jake Thompson’s difficult big-league baptism continued in the Phillies’ 9-1 interleague loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night.
 
The rookie right-hander was tagged for seven runs in five innings. He allowed eight hits and walked four as his ERA in four starts since coming up from Triple A swelled to 9.78. Only Mike Maddux (9.98) in 1986 had a higher ERA for the Phillies in his first four big-league starts.
 
Offensively, the Phillies did little against White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon. They had just five hits for the game.
 
The Phillies have lost five of their last seven and are 58-68 on the season. They have been outscored 18-1 in their last two games.
 
Starting pitching report
Thompson, 22, has been a much different pitcher since coming to the majors than he was in his last 11 starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
In four starts with the big club, he has given up 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He has walked 13 and struck out 13.
 
Two of the four walks that Thompson gave up in this game became runs.
 
Five of the eight hits he allowed were for extra bases, including a pair of homers.
 
Rodon, 23, was the third pick in the 2014 draft, four ahead of Aaron Nola. The lefty held the Phillies to three hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He walked one.
 
Bullpen report
David Hernandez was tagged for two runs.
 
At the plate
Freddy Galvis broke up the White Sox’s shutout bid with a solo homer off reliever Chris Beck in the seventh. Galvis has 13 homers.
 
Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau hit back-to-back homers against Thompson in the fifth inning to help the Sox pull away.
 
Abreu has homered in three straight games.
 
Minor matters
Pitcher Alec Asher, who serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a PED, has begun a minor-league rehabilitation assignment with the Phillies’ Gulf Coast League team. Asher is expected to be activated by the big club during the second week of September and he could make several starts down the stretch as the club watches the workload of several pitchers.
 
Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday night. Jerad Eickhoff (8-12, 3.91) opposes right-hander James Shields (5-15, 5.98).