It’s Sink or Swim for Eric Rowe
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — If you want to offer any advice to Eagles rookie cornerback Eric Rowe in advance of his first NFL start Sunday in Foxborough, you may want to try "get used to it."
On Thanksgiving Day when Rowe was forced into action due to the broken ankle suffered by Nolan Carroll, he found himself matched up on a future Hall of Fame receiver in Calvin Johnson. This time around the University of Utah product is going to be asked to hold up against perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history in Tom Brady.
Looking ahead it's Sammy Watkins, Larry Fitzgerald, an always angry when playing the Eagles DeSean Jackson and Odell Beckham Jr.
So, it's baptism by fire and time to see if the talented Rowe can sink or swim at this level.
“I think it’s time for him to go out there and see what we have,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said earlier this week when discussing Rowe. “I believe in Eric and I do think we’ll grow him. As a young guy, he’ll get more and more confidence and we’ll get more confidence in him.”
Rowe received a lot of criticism for allowing Megatron to catch two touchdown passes on Turkey Day but the rookie actually held his own, blanketing the 6-foot-5 Johnson on one of the scores rather well and forcing nearly perfect ball placement by Matthew Stafford, along with a great catch by a star player.
“He played 14 snaps matched up on Megatron last week, and he caught four, and I think Eric grew a little bit,” Davis said. “Two of those catches were in the field, which Eric was way too soft and far off, and we talked about it. He’s got to get up there and believe in himself and challenge him. He had two in the red zone.
"I think Eric is one of our best fade-stop players in the low red zone. The one he got caught on, I think Eric played a great down, and he made a great catch on. The other one was a bad down all the way around.”
From a physical standpoint Rowe has everything the Eagles want in an outside cornerback and he was impressing early in training camp until an ACL injury to fellow freshman JaCorey Shepherd sped up the team’s plans for the second-round pick.
Philadelphia was in search of a new slot corner after the trade that sent Brandon Boykin to the Steelers on the eve of camp and Plan A was to let Shepherd, the recently returned Jaylen Watkins and veteran E.J. Biggers handle the inside work in practice for a two-week period before reassessing where things stood.
With Shepherd out of the picture, however, Rowe was inserted in the three-man rotation and it wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing.
“My head was kind of spinning so it was just a block in my head," the young cornerback admitted to 973ESPN.com at the time. "Trying to think about my man technique, trying to think about nickel stuff. Then I got frustrated. I mean I didn’t show it on the field but I was mentally frustrated. I was on my heels in press technique and let guys get on top of me.”
Understand the move to corner in general is still a transition for Rowe, who played safety for three years at Utah before moving outside a senior.
“It’s not easy to go from three years of safety to corner,” Rowe explained. “Usually people go from corner to safety. There is not a lot of man coverage when you are playing safety and there’s a lot at corner so you can get exposed real quick.”
Returned to the outside after the ill-suited experiment in the slot Rowe never got much much playing time before the Lions game, earning significant snaps in just one prior contest, Week 4 at Washington when Byron Maxwell was out with injury.
Now, he's the next man up in a philosophy that defines his opponents on Sunday, the Patriots.
“I’m confident in my skills," the young cornerback claimed. "I’m not changing anything I do in practice. I practice hard. All I do is focus on my technique. Now I will try to take what I take from the practice field into the game.”
FRIDAY STOCK WATCH:
The good people at ProFootballFocus.com furnish 973espn.com with some of its signature stats week in and week out and this week's report wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring.
On the negative side, after his latest poor performance in Detroit, rookie receiver Nelson Agholor is graded as the worst receiver in football (122 out of 122) of those who have played at least 25 percent of his particular team's snaps. It also probably comes as no surprise that the Eagles starting guards of Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin rank as the worst in football during pass protection, allowing a combined 63 pressures.
Over on the other side of the ball teams are exposing the athletic but undisciplined Mychal Kendricks in pass coverage. The starting ILB is the fifth lowest graded at his position, allowing 15-of-19 targets to be completed for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Eagles' defense has missed a combined 20 tackles over the past two games in which they've allowed 45 points in each,
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen