As we mentioned in our earlier "Scenes From Training Camp," second-year cornerback Curtis Marsh reportedly has been seeing action with the ones up at Lehigh, apparently in preperation for his new role as the immediate backup behind Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside. Some followers might describe this as a surprising development given the fact that Marsh only dressed in seven games last season, and was used very sparingly on defense at that -- just 13 snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
For the Eagles, it was all part of the plan.
Marsh was the club's third-round pick in 2011, so it was only natural to be somewhat disappointed when he amounted to a total non-factor in his rookie season. In Marsh's case however, his inability to get on the field was not a sign that he was a bust believe it or not.
For starters, it wasn't that long ago the Eagles were trying to find a way to get along with three Pro-Bowl corners who were all best suited on the outside. If it wasn't working out with Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Asante Samuel in the same secondary, adding the untested Marsh into the mix certainly wasn't going to be the solution. Heck, who would you dare have him replace? He was blocked, it's as simple as that.
At 6'1", 197, Marsh projects as another press corner in the mold of an Asomugha or DRC, only he happens to be a bit of a project, which also hurt his chances of making an impact from day one. Taken out of Utah State, Marsh actually began his collegiate career as a running back before switching over to defense as a junior. To make that leap and go on to be drafted in the third round, Marsh obviously demonstrated an instinct for the position, but there is just no way anybody could expect him to be as polished -- especially after a lockout-condensed offseason.
Not that it necessarily would have mattered either way. The whole situation is reminiscent of when the Birds took Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in rounds one and two of the '02 Draft. With Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor still under contract and doing their jobs at a high level, Sheppard and Brown only started 12 games combined during their first two seasons in Philly. Clearly it's not uncommon for the team to groom cornerbacks in this manner.
For Marsh's part, he was impressive during the preseason last year, albeit against second-rate talent. He showed a willingness to get physical with receivers though, and the size and athleticism to cover them. The coaches obviously liked what they saw too, as once they were able to work him in on special teams, Marsh even became the focal point of a of trick punt return. The fact that it failed is beside the point -- they trusted him enough to try.
It only makes sense to increase his role now that Samuel is out of the picture. Joselio Hanson is a pure slot corner, and 2012 fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin is likely to battle for that spot as well. That leaves a relatively thin crop of players behind Asomugha and DRC, and none with Marsh's pedigree or natural ability.
The fact that they aren't simply utilizing him as a second stringer, instead putting him on the field at the same time as Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, suggests his role may be even greater than imagined. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and Asomugha aren't backing down from the challenge of turning 24 into a do-it-all defensive back. If Nnamdi is going to line up anywhere other than at right corner on a regular basis, Marsh figures to be the man on the outside on gameday.
Whether Marsh is ready for that or not, obviously no one knows. It may be easy to explain why he wasn't on the field last year, but until he performs, he's still just another kid who has to prove he belongs. However, the Eagles must like what he brings to the table, because they don't seem to be afraid to keep putting more on his plate. Marsh is definitely a player to watch going forward.