Eagles Camp Countdown: #4 – Cornerbacks
Battles at the cornerback position will help shape the Eagles roster both in the secondary and beyond. One of the most important position battles in training camp is brewing between incumbent slot corner Joselio Hanson, entering his eighth NFL season, and rookie Brandon Boykin, a fourth round draft pick out of Georgia.
The Eagles top two spots belong to Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who takes over for Asante Samuel. The Eagles are likely to use a higher percentage of press, man-to-man coverage this year due to the departure of Samuel.
When the Eagles dealt the veteran cornerback to the Falcons for a seventh round pick, it was in part due to the contrast in styles between Samuel and Asomugha. Whereas Asomugha’s strength is pressing at the line of scrimmage and shadowing receivers in tight man-to-man coverage, Samuel is a ball-hawk who prefers to play off the wideout, read the quarterback and jump the route.
With Samuel gone, the Eagles can shift to a style that favors Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, and attempt to make life harder on opposing wide receivers in terms of getting off the line of scrimmage.
Behind those two, Hanson and Boykin battle for the third cornerback spot, in the slot. Hanson needs to win the spot to avoid being cut, while Boykin is a sure-thing to make the roster as a rookie.
The Eagles released Hanson in their final set of roster cuts last year, then re-signed him four days later to a two-year deal. Clearly, they have considered moving on from the Hanson era in the slot.
If Boykin wins the job, Hanson’s departure will increase the chances of Cliff Harris, Trevard Lindley or Brandon Hughes making the team. It means that if the Eagles keep just five corners, one of those three is in and there is a better chance of a fringe player like Damaris Johnson, a wide receiver and return man, making the cut.
It also means the Eagles could keep six corners, and keep two of the three youngsters on the edge of the roster.
Either way, Curtis Marsh should be safe entering his second year with the Eagles, while D.J. Johnson seems a longshot to make the roster.
Ultimately, the Eagles will end up with a very strong top three – if Boykin beats out Hanson, it proves that he’s capable of playing at a high level. Either way the Eagles won’t have a lot of experience in their depth, but the position looks to be loaded with talent for the future.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.