The Eagles have seen some thrilling positional battles over the course of the Summer, but throughout Training camp and preseason, one of the most exciting has been the battle at Cornerback. With eleven defensive backs on the roster heading into Training camp and starting roles up in the air..it’s been a Summer of fierce competition and with just one preseason game left, that isn’t going to change.
Many regard the third preseason game as the dress rehearsal for week one of the regular season, but for the Eagles cornerbacks..week four is their last shot at laying it all on the line and proving themselves worthy of a spot on the final 53-man roster knowing that the final decisions have to be made by September 3rd.
Leodis McKelvin may have cemented his spot at the top of the pecking order with Nolan Carroll lining up opposite after a strong preseason and Ron Brooks heading the slot position. Brooks may not be the most polished corner on the roster and for those who have followed my weekly CB analysis articles, will see that he’s a very raw player. But, he has the ability to play both inside and outside..something Schwartz loves in his Defensive backs.
But beyond that, the depth chart becomes a free-for-all. When looking at how many cornerbacks Jim Schwartz has previously kept on his rosters, the possibility of five or six corners heading into week one seems to be the most likely.
2014 Buffalo Bills: 6 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2013 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2012 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 5 safeties
2011 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2010 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
With three roster spots already locked up and Aaron Grymes waived due to injury, that means that the Eagles could be forced to cut ties with one or two of their remaining cornerbacks. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? Wrong. Each of the remaining cornerbacks have had such contrasting preseasons that it could very much all come down to the fourth game to sway the opinion of Jim Schwartz and Doug Pederson.
After a tough summer in which he fell suspect to trade rumors and criticism due to his struggles in adapting to the Jim Schwartz system, Rowe has come out swinging in preseason and played extremely well when it comes to man-coverage. Although he doesn’t show up on the stat sheet with copious amounts of tackles or big plays, Rowe has arguably been the most consistent corner during preseason, albeit under the radar. The problem is that Jim Schwartz wants his corners to be anything but subtle. Hard hits, highlights and heavy aggression is what his system demands..and it’s those areas where Rowe lacks.
Rowe would be an unlikely cut for the Eagles but the second year corner could find himself sliding even further down the depth chart if he fails to turn heads dominantly against the Jets tomorrow night. Rowe has one last shot of salvaging a key role in the Jim Schwartz Defense..and he has to take that opportunity with both hands.
The seventh round pick has been limited this preseason after sustaining an injury that kept him sidelined against the Steelers. Against the Bucs, his play was nervous, reckless and costly to the Eagles Defense. Against the Colts however, the seventh round pick out of LSU seemed patient, relaxed and far more methodical in his coverage. The training camp standout is currently listed above Rowe on the depth chart, but is yet to live up to the hype in preseason.
Mills lost a lot of ground to the likes of Aaron Grymes after falling injured..but in a game where Grymes is no longer with the team and the emphasis is on finalizing the roster, the LSU product will have to claw his way back with the gritty underdog mentality he adopted once drafted by the Eagles if he is to keep his surprisingly high spot on the depth chart.
The surprise of the preseason, undrafted rookie C.J Smith has impressed at every turn. A former NDSU teammate of Carson Wentz, Smith has come down with crucial interceptions, big pass deflections and even led his team in tackles against Indianapolis. From longshot to underdog, Smith’s rise through the ranks shows no signs of slowing down which could cause big problems for Mills and Rowe if the two fail to come up big against the Jets.
Smith saw a lot of playing time against the Colts and if he is gifted a similar opportunity, watching him capitalize on it will be fun for the fans and the team, but potentially hold heavy consequences as he looks to force his way onto the roster.
Drafted by the Eagles a year ago, Shepherd is still yet to take a snap in a preseason game. He was listed as active for the game against the Colts but didn’t make it onto the field..and if he has any chance at all of making the final 53-man roster, he has to put in a monumental performance after a quiet Training camp that was again hampered with injury.
All four of these players have a different story, come from a different background and have their own reasons to give absolutely everything tomorrow night. It wouldn’t be unrealistic for any of these guys to make the final 53-man roster, but it is perfectl realistic to say that not all of them will.
Whether it’s playing with a chip on the shoulder, pushing to break onto the depth chart or doing everything possible to secure a spot higher up the depth chart, tomorrow night’s spotlight will be placed firmly on the cornerbacks. Can the underdogs rise to the top or will Eric Rowe show a flash of what he can produce under Jim Schwartz? The fate of the Eagles cornerback corps will be decided tomorrow night..and there’s more on the line than ever.