Eagles' secondary bracing for another flag day

Eagles' secondary bracing for another flag day
August 15, 2014, 11:15 am
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The NFL refs' increased whistling of illegal contact within five yards most affected Bradley Fletcher (left), the Eagles' most physical corner, in their preseason opener vs. the Bears. (AP)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Eagles defenders savored their first taste last Friday of how NFL officials are emphasizing rules pertaining to pass defense.

Flags rained down early against the Eagles and Bears in the preseason opener at Soldier Field. Officials whistled DeMeco Ryans and Brandon Boykin for separate illegal holding penalties on Chicago’s second series and Cary Williams almost picked up another but somehow lobbied his way into a no-call.

With the refs' annual caravan visiting New England’s camp this week, flags were prevalent during two intense joint practices between the Eagles and Patriots leading up to Friday night’s preseason showdown at Gillette Stadium.

But if you think the cascade of yellow flags littering the field will impact Williams' approach to his position, think again.

“We’re not gonna change anything about our game,” the team’s enigmatic right cornerback said. “We’re gonna be just as physical as we [were] in the beginning to the end of the season. It’s not a change for us. We’re just gonna go about it as business as usual.

“We’re gonna use our feet a little more, use our hand placement a little smarter, just go about the game as best as we possibly can and not worry about what the refs are calling.”

But not all Eagles defensive backs echoed Williams' sentiment. Boykin said adhering to the strict enforcement of the five-yard halo for contact against receivers, which used to extend to six or seven yards, “is gonna take some adjustments.”

“Even the great players,” Boykin said, “you see like (Pats All-Pro corner Darrelle) Revis is out here and his game is to be physical and hold — not necessarily hold, but be physical and jam guys — and even he has to change his game.”

The rule enforcement won’t impact all teams equally. Teams that play zone and mostly two-deep coverages aren’t as likely to feel the same sting felt by teams that get up on receivers on the line of scrimmage.

The Eagles are a man-press defense, especially on third down. The front office built the secondary on physical corners who use their hands and bodies to knock receivers off routes and disrupt timing with quarterbacks.

“We’re a lot more man-to-man, and anytime you’re going up against them you want to get your hands on them and slow them down, so that’s kind of an advantage for them (zone teams),” Boykin said. “Somehow, someway we’ve got to get over it.”

Tighter calls seemed to most impact left cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who plays a very physical style of pass defense and drew his fair share of flags last week when the referees stopped by the NovaCare Complex.

Fletcher, who was being pushed by newcomer Nolan Carroll, another corner who prides himself on press coverage, said he’s been given a crash course on how he might be targeted this season.

A groin injury for Carroll, who won’t play against New England, has temporarily stunted his competition with Fletcher. For the moment, it appears Williams and Fletcher will be back as the team’s starting outside corner tandem for the second straight year.

“We definitely know they’re gonna be throwing a lot more flags this coming year,” Fletcher said. “We’ve got to play within the rules. They (the refs) came here a week ago, sat here and told us about what their emphasis is now and what they may be calling. We’ve definitely got to watch our hands downfield.

"Any little tug, anything along those lines, they’re gonna be calling that.”

But isn’t that his best attribute?

“I’ve just got to adjust to the rules,” Fletcher said. “I definitely don’t wanna to do anything to hurt the team. Everything I want to do is to help the team. So I’ve got to adjust the way I play so we can make plays and get off the field on third downs.”

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