Slot Gets Murkier with Shepherd Injury
PHILADELPHIA - JaCorey Shepherd's rookie campaign is over before it really began.
An MRI Monday confirmed the Eagles worst fears, that the Kansas product tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, stemming from a sideline collision with Darren Sproles in Sunday's open practice at Lincoln Financial Field.
Shepherd, a sixth-round draft choice, was in the mix to replace the recently traded Brandon Boykin in the slot as Philadelphia's nickel cornerback. He started camp running with the No. 1s before others started to get their chances in Chip Kelly's rep heavy practice philosophy.
(Listen to CSNPhilly.com Eagles Insider Geoff Mosher discuss the Eagles slot position)
Shepherd generally played on the outside while with the Jayhawks but defensive coordinator Bill Davis was enamored with his short-area quickness and change-of-direction skills, attributes that project well on the inside of NFL defenses.
In fact Shepherd's ceiling as a player is one of the reasons the Eagles felt comfortable sending Boykin to Pittsburgh on the eve of training camp for a conditional fifth-round pick.
Without Shepherd in the mix, a cast of thousands will be looked at in order to find the answer at nickel back. Jaylen Watkins, a fourth-round pick in 2014, was running with the first-team on Sunday, and Davis has mentioned veteran E.J. Biggers along with rookies Randall Evans, and Denzel Rice as possible options.
"We're kind of going on a two-day basis as far as who is in group one, group two, group three," Davis said last week when discussing the competition at nickel back. "It's not the first team, second team and third team. It's just groups that we practice in and we're going to mix and match and move everybody around, and it's neat to have the ability from both the skill-set from the players in the secondary and a football intelligence set. We've got multiple positions that can move around both from a talent (standpoint) – where you know a guy can play corner, safety and nickel, or corner and nickel, or safety and corner, and we'll move them around until we find the best fit."
If no one seizes control in the preseason, it's conceivable projected starters Byron Maxwell or Nolan Carroll could move inside during obvious passing situations with second-round pick Eric Rowe being inserted on the outside. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins or Walter Thurmond, meanwhile, have also worked in the slot at the NFL level and Thurmond made his bones in the league playing that position with the "Legion of Boom" in Seattle.
"You’ve got E.J. Biggers in there, you have Malcolm and Thurmond that can both do it," Davis said. "You have Watkins. You’ve got the young guys, Rice and Evans we’ve worked. Everybody's going to get in there and get a look at it."
Article by John McMullen who cover the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com follow him at @JFMcMullen