Cary Williams is standing behind a well-worn NFL cliche.
“The cream rises to the top,” the Eagles' cornerback said last week, referencing training camp later this summer and the impending competition at cornerback.
Williams was asked about surprisingly running with the second string behind career backup Curtis Marsh, even after signing a big free-agent deal in the offseason.
It’s a convenient ideology. After switching teams just a few weeks removed from winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens, Williams hasn’t exactly transitioned seamlessly into the defense.
Thanks to dental work, a wedding and honeymoon, airline travel issues and a daughter’s recital, Williams has missed about a month of the team’s offseason program, including valuable minicamp practices and organized team activities.
Admittedly, the hole Williams has dug has left him behind on the meaningless spring depth chart, looking up at first-team corners Bradley Fletcher (another free-agent signing) and Marsh, a third-year incumbent with very little to boast of on his resume.
The Eagles didn’t pony up $17 million over three years to have Williams play the nickel or replace an injured corner. Williams understands that he’s behind, so he isn’t voicing concerns about camp reps right now. His sole concern is being ready for the real competition later this summer.
“I just think it’s a part of the process. Guys who have been here for, what has it been, two months? And I’ve taken a month off. I understand that,” he said. “And I understand what Coach is doing. They want guys out there that are able to communicate and understand the defense, so that we can run seamlessly throughout the plays. But I haven’t been there.
“So it’s just one of those things where I’m trying to get acclimated back into what the calls are, what the defense wants of me. Once we put the pads on, the pads come on and it’s a different ball game.”
Interestingly, Marsh lives by the same adage. While fans and media deeply read into Chip Kelly’s spring tea leaves - despite the coach’s many cautions about doing just that - Marsh harbors no fantasies that his first-team reps in May and June portend the same for summer camp.
Marsh has enjoyed the clean slate afforded by the new coaching staff but hasn’t let his camp reps either encourage or discourage his objective.
“I just view it as being out there,” he said. “It’s whatever the coaches tell me to do, wherever they tell me to go, that’s where I’m going to go and compete and work hard. And I’m not reading into anything because we’re in May right now. Camp starts in August. The season starts in September.”
The reality is that Williams is locked into a roster spot while Marsh’s job isn’t nearly as concrete. It makes sense for the new coaching staff to get as many looks at Marsh this spring to accurately gauge the corner’s shot of making the team as a backup.
Williams, Fletcher and second-year pro Brandon Boykin are guaranteed to make the team, leaving one or two spots to grab among Marsh, Brandon Hughes, rookie Jordan Poyer, Trevard Lindley and Eddie Whitley. The last cornerback spots often come down to special teams. Hughes has been one of the team’s most productive contributors on special teams.
“I feel like everybody has a clean-slate opportunity with the new coaching staff because they’re gonna want to formulate their own opinions about the players and do the evaluations by themselves,” Marsh said. “I think it’s great to have a [new] start and a chance to have fresh faces and fresh ideas around the organization.”
Marsh, who converted from running to cornerback after his sophomore season at Utah, was seen as a project when the Eagles picked him in the third round of the infamous 2011 draft. Marsh said he’s been comfortable at corner since his senior year, but the last regime clearly gave up on Marsh’s potential. He couldn’t even get on the field as last year’s cornerback tandem of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie helped anchor one of the worst secondaries - if not the worst - in team history.
Marsh never approached the coaches to lobby for playing time. The team was so bad, Marsh just figured the coaches had already entertained the idea of making wholesale changes at some point and, for whatever reason, decided upon status quo.
“If they wanted to do that, they could have did it,” he said, “and I didn’t think me meeting with them or anything like that was going to change it.”
Marsh already has a leg up on Williams in learning the playbook designed by Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis, which Williams acknowledged. Williams knows he’ll be in catch-up mode until training camp. Then it’s best-man-wins competition.
“I missed a whole month,” Williams said. “I don’t know everything about the defense. When I came in, we had three different coverages. Now we have 30, 40 different coverages, so I’m just trying to work my way through. Once I get a good feel for that, I guess, things will change.”