Rowe to Safety? Not so Fast
PHILADELPHIA - Most scouts believed Eric Rowe's NFL future was at safety before the 2015 draft.
Most but not all and the Philadelphia Eagles, enamored with the Utah prospect's length and athleticism, targeted him as a outside cornerback and traded up in the second round to get him.
Rowe spent his first three seasons in Salt Lake City as a safety before moving outside to corner for his senior season, adding versatility to the many assets personnel people around the league coveted.
Coming off a season where the now-deposed Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher allowed far too many big plays, especially down the field to bigger receivers with elite ball skills, the Eagles projected Rowe as the complement to big money free agent Byron Maxwell and imagined a similar setup as Seattle had with two long, physical corners disrupting routes before they really got started.
Early in camp things were going swimmingly as Rowe played with confidence on the outside, often flashing the skills the Philadelphia coaching staff believed were there.
A turning point came when fellow rookie and slot candidate JaCorey Shepherd tore his ACL in the team's first open practice at Lincoln Financial Field. That unleashed a set of dominoes which resulted in Rose cross training inside, a development that admittedly stunted his progress.
“I think I had a rough day,” the young cornerback told 973espn.com in mid-August after his first day getting looks inside. “Just in my man technique. My head was kind of spinning so it was just a block in my head. 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.”
Rowe further explained the transition to corner as a whole was still a work in progress.
“It’s not easy to go from three years of safety to corner,” he admitted. “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.”
And Rowe has gotten exposed real quick in recent weeks by the backup receivers of both the Packers and Jets.
The lone starter set to return from last year’s defensive backfield, veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, claims the ultimate plan this year is to get the five best defensive backs on the field when the team goes into nickel.
Talent wise, Rowe is certainly in that group so now it’s all about getting him up to speed and comfortable no matter his ultimate position.
“In the spring we kept (Rowe) in one position just to get his feet wet,” coach Chip Kelly said. “I thought he did a really nice job competing with Nolan (Carroll) out there. (But, this) was the plan all along. All those guys (the defensive backs) have to be versatile. If they’re not going to end up being the starter, they’ve got to be able to play everywhere. So that’s part of the whole plan."
The plan hasn't worked all that well in recent weeks and with the season opener just days away, the Eagles are now giving Rowe at least a few looks at his more natural position.
"Today, I didn't go to nickel, but I did a little bit of safety," Rowe said after practice Thursday. "Coach said everyone is going to have to play everything. I was the first to try it out."
Those who believe this is a sign the Eagles are disappointed in Rowe at corner are likely off base, however.
It's more of a nod to the fact we are in regular-season mode with 53 available bodies and 46 on game day.
“I think Eric can have a significant role right out of the chute,” Kelly claimed. “We are confident in Eric going into this game (against the Falcons).”
But what is his role?
For what's it's worth the rookie seemed thrilled to get a few looks on the back end where the Eagles lack depth behind Jenkins and follow starter Walter Thurmond.
"It was nice to get another view of the field," Rowe said.
It remains to be seen what kind of opportunity Rowe will get against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White on Monday night but the time for growing pains is over.
"This is the regular season," Kelly said. "We are thinking about this season and we are not keeping guys around who we think can help us two or three years down the line."
Because Thurmond has plenty of previous experience at corner, the option exits to move him back to the slot and allow Rowe to slip into a more natural position but that smacks of desperation this early and may be an overreaction to typical rookie inconsistencies.
Growing pains doesn't necessarily equate to failure.
"It's more of an experiment," Rowe claimed. "Down the road, if someone gets hurt, everyone has to get reps in there. Maybe down the road, I can step in."
FRIDAY NOVACARE NOTES
-Both tight end Zach Ertz (groin) and linebacker Marcus Smith (hamstring) remain limited and Kelly said a final determination on both players will be made on Sunday after the team's final training session for Atlanta.
-Quarterback Sam Bradford only took 34 snaps during the preseason and will be expected to run upward of 80-plus plays on Monday but Kelly claimed he's not worried about the signal caller's conditioning.
"We are real confident in Sam's conditioning," Kelly said. "I'm not concerned at all at the number of plays (he will be asked to run)."
-Former Super-Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy was here to talk with the team after being on hand for NBC's broadcast of the season opener between Pittsburgh and New England in Foxborough last night.
"Any time I can get Tony to talk to anybody I have then we will take advantage of that," Kelly said. "His son who played for me (at Oregon) is up visiting. So he came down to see Eric and then (Eric is) obviously really close with Josh (Huff) and Kenjon (Barner) and a couple other guys we have here. So just a chance for us to catch up and see him and he’s always got a unique perspective that I think he shared with my team when I was at Oregon and I’m excited for him to share with our guys this afternoon."
-Kelly also didn't seemed too worried about HeadsetGate, the Steelers' issues with frequency coordination last night.
"I've heard a lot of things in my headsets," Kelly claimed. "There are frequency issues in some places. I've heard air traffic control. A lot of different things. It happens."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen