Iron sharpens Iron: Eagles cornerback competition is one built for success and surprise

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Heading into the offseason, cornerback was the Eagles number one need. That hole was only further amplified when the team opted to part ways with former starters Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll. While wide receiver was bolstered through free agency with the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, cornerback was largely filled through the Draft. The team double dipped at the position when they picked Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, but there still lie many questions that require answers before a regular season snap is played.

The Eagles currently have eleven cornerbacks on the roster, and a total of zero starting spots decided. Sidney Jones remains the elusive talent that may well end up redshirting his rookie year due to injury, meaning that it’s open season for the Eagles DB’s. While Pederson named Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson as the starting corners heading into OTA’s, there is a lot that can happen between now and the end of Training Camp.

To begin with, there’s the fate of West Virginia product, Rasul Douglas. One of the most overlooked corners coming into the Draft, Douglas has great length at 6’2, and size at 209 lbs. The Eagles don’t just crave a long cornerback..but a playmaker. In his senior year, Douglas intercepted 8 passes and broke up 8 more. Douglas contributed heavily to a Mountaineers defense that dominated the Big-12, and has all the makings of a strong press corner.

While it’s expected he will compete for a starting role, he is going to have to beat out some stiff competition, or will he? Jalen Mills is widely regarded as a starter after his impressive rookie year in which he ended up playing in 65% of defensive snaps, following an impressive Training Camp himself, but Patrick Robinson was considered to be a much better fit in the slot than outside.

As things stand, veteran Ron Brooks, who saw his 2016 campaign cut short due to an injury will be starting in the Nickel, but if former Colts CB Patrick Robinson is to give him competition, it blows the door wide open for that second outside starting role…and Douglas is by no mean’s a lock to cement that role.

By the end of Training Camp, the Eagles will have a Secondary of players who have proven they have the tenacious nature and work ethic to compete at the NFL level. The group in itself is extremely young, but if the rookies can ball out and earn the trust of both Undlin and Schwartz, then we could be set for a few surprises.

Among the names vying for one of the vacant starting roles, are two corners who earned their stripes in the CFL, Aaron Grymes and Mitchell White. There is a clear reason why the Eagles dipped into the CFL for cornerback help, and the returning Aaron Grymes will be a familiar face to many. But their presence on the roster goes far beyond the term “camp body”.

Ottawa DB coach, Ike Charlton spoke with us for a feature on the two corners, breaking down exactly what both bring to the Eagles roster.

“Both guys are incredibly capable, they both have really good size and if you watch Grymes in the preseason last year, he went out and earned it. Most guys when they come down, they get injured, they get released and that’s their shot. He got injured and still had a chance to stick on which is a testament to his hard work he put in. Obviously he showed enough to warrant being kept around”. “It’s about making plays. Grymes was a playmaker.

“Mitchell’s a football player. He’s going to lead by example. He’s not a big rah-rah guy. Every guy leads in a different way. For some its vocal and for some they lead with their play. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to put himself in a position to win. If you’re looking for a player that’s going to come in and compete on a day to day basis, you’re gonna get that from him.”

Grymes infamously stole the hearts of fans during last season’s Training Camp, going on to make a crucial preseason interception before injuring his AC Joint, ultimately cutting his season off before it even started. However, the Eagles liked him enough to bring him back just weeks later on their practice squad.

Then comes a slew of undrafted talent, looking to make the same impact that Grymes was able to just one offseason before. Headlined by Jomal Wiltz of Iowa State, the returning C.J Smith, and newly signed Randall Goforth will all be looking to prove their worth.

For Wiltz, the decision to join the Eagles was a no-brainer, as he broke down to us in an exclusive interview after being signed:

“As far as why I chose Philadelphia, well I looked at their roster, and saw that they play with guys my height (5’10), but they also love aggressive players, guys who are willing to hit, willing to make a play and that fits me perfectly. I had other chances for other teams, during the pre-draft process there were a few teams interested in me, but when it was all said and done, I felt like this is the best spot for me. I wanted to go somewhere I could really compete, and be who I am as a player, I think the coaches like my style of play, so it was really a no-brainer.”

Finally, there’s former Jags corner Dwayne Gratz, who earned his stripes on special teams…a crucial part of the Eagles structure.

The position group may be young, but it is absolutely stacked with potential…and starting roles are by no means secure for anybody. Just like Jalen Mills and Aaron Grymes shined in 2016, it’s time for this year’s hopeful to show the coaching staff that they have the required grit to glow in the NFL.

A polished group of wide receivers, who will all equally be needing a strong offseason to earn their spot on the final 53-man roster, will look to sharpen the corners, just as Shelton Gibson did to his former teammate, Rasul Douglas back in their West Virginia days. The talents of Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and Jordan Matthews will put each cornerback through their paces, opening a slight window into what could be with the nurturing of Coach Undlin.

The wide receiver group is stacked with talent, but also faces an abundance of questions and the same can be said for the Eagles corners. It’s easy to look at the position and say Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas are likely to be the starters, but it would be absolutely criminal to do so. Behind the likes of Wiltz, Grymes, White, Goforth, and Gratz, lies a heavy chip on the shoulder. A chip that for some, will see them slot perfectly into the Jim Schwartz Defense. When you have a group of corners who are unrelenting in their practice, knowing that every single snap counts, matching up against a group of wideouts who bare the same mentality, what you have is a recipe for success and surprise.

The Summer is going to be an extremely exciting time for fans, and an extremely intense one for players looking to force their way past the odds once again. The Eagles cornerback corps may be anything but solidified, and as of right now, it may not offer the star-power that many other NFL teams have running deep into their locker room…but it could be. And that’s something that cannot be overstated enough when looking at the stories and careers of all eleven defensive backs with their NFL future on the line.

 

Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

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