It’s been a bumpy offseason so far for the Eagles cornerbacks. After signing the likes of Patrick Robinson and double-dipping in the draft, the unit finally appeared to be heading in the right direction. They say iron sharpens iron…but when you have a group of corners with such minimal NFL experience lining up against top-tier and explosive wideouts, that development was always going to be tough.
By the time preseason rolled around, it was clear the Eagles needed some extra help. The slew of undrafted rookies continued to flash, but with their third-round draft pick still finding his feet, a solidified starter would have been the dream. The loss to Green Bay certainly shined light on just how much work there was to be done at corner, leading the Eagles to pull the trigger on a trade that sent Jordan Matthews to Buffalo.
Ronald Darby is an instant upgrade at the position. In his first two NFL seasons after being drafted in the second round, Darby started 29 games for the Bills and registered 137 tackles, 2 interceptions and 33 passes defensed. He started straight out of the gate as a rookie, amassing 2 picks and 21 passes defensed along the way. It’s safe to say that the 23-year old corner has a huge upside and brings a lot of production and potential to a position in dire need.
Upon his arrival, Darby was inserted straight in with the ones during Training Camp, while Robinson was demoted down to the third unit to begin with. Robinson has consistently struggled throughout camp and with a less than flattering preseason debut, one has to wonder what the future holds for the former Colt who signed a prove-it deal with the Eagles just a few months ago.
“With [CB] Ron Brooks down [due to a hamstring injury], it gives that opportunity to get somebody in there.” Jim Schwartz explained yesterday. “Also, it’s trying to get Darby some outside reps. Patrick played a little bit in New Orleans in there; he played San Diego in there; he played a little bit of Indianapolis in there. So he’s familiar with everything. We’ll have a lot of different combinations over the next three weeks to try to figure out what our best combinations are and what our best match-ups are. The day before that, it was all Malcolm [S Malcolm Jenkins] in the slot and Corey [Graham] came in [at safety].”
It’s an interesting predicament and with the Eagles rotating corners around, it’s also elevated Aaron Grymes to the starting nickel corner for now in the absence of Ron Brooks. Robinson had his most productive season working out of that position during his days with San Diego, allowing a stunningly low 55% completion rate when targeted. If Robinson is struggling on an island, then moving him inside as Mills, Darby, and Douglas rotate and compete for starting roles seems logical…but is the door closing?
Aaron Grymes has had an impressive camp for the second season in a row, but with Ron Brooks taking a pay-cut earlier in the year and embedding his fingerprints at the position, it could lead to a completely new battle over the final three weeks of preseason.
If Robinson ends up as a backup corner on the outside, there’s no guarantee that the Eagles will keep him around. For Robinson to now really solidify his spot on the roster, he simply needs to shine for the remainder of the offseason. The potential is there and if competition really does bring the best out of everyone, Robinson has to strike while the Iron his hot.
The arrival of Darby has reshuffled the Eagles cornerback corps in a way that originally looked like it hurt Patrick Robinson…but maybe the right dominoes fell at the right time. With Brooks still missing time due to a hamstring injury, if Robinson can prove that he can rekindle that Chargers fire…we may even see him emerge as a starter inside instead. Only time will tell…but with competition now surging through the position at a previously unseen rate, it’s a likely scenario.
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