As the Eagles' 2016 training camp draws near, Dave Zangaro takes a look at five position battles that will be decided this summer. We've already looked at kicker. Today is cornerback.
Throughout the spring, it became pretty clear Leodis McKelvin is the Eagles' top cornerback.
"Leodis has probably been the guy that's really stood out the most to me," head coach Doug Pederson said before the summer. "He's a guy that it seems like he's making plays quite a bit, knocking PBUs (pass breakups) and getting his hands on balls and doing the things that you expect from a veteran corner. He’s a smart guy, very athletic and [we’re] excited for the upcoming season with him."
So, go ahead and pencil in McKelvin at one of the starting cornerback spots. That leaves one starting job and the slot corner spot up for grabs and a few guys who could take them.
We'll start with Ron Brooks, whose familiarity with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's system had him lining up as a starter throughout OTAs. During his four years in Buffalo, though, Brooks was primarily a special teams player, with just three starts to his name. When he signed as a free agent, he said he wanted to push for a starting gig. Brooks also has the ability to play in the slot. During the spring, he was a starter outside and when the team moved into nickel, he moved into the slot.
Next up is Eric Rowe. He had a slow start to his rookie season in 2015, but once Nolan Carroll went down on Thanksgiving, Rowe became a starter and thrived. He had a better end of the year than Byron Maxwell, who is now in Miami. For much of the spring, Rowe was the third corner on the field; when Rowe took an outside spot, Brooks slid inside. Many expected Rowe to be handed a starting gig, but that hasn't happened.
Carroll was playing at a pretty high level last season before breaking his fibula against the Lions. He signed a one-year deal to rejoin the Eagles this offseason and rehabbed to the point where he was finally able to get involved in some team portions of practice toward the end of OTAs.
Then there's rookie Jalen Mills. It might be a little weird to include a seventh-rounder on a list of players who could get playing time this season, but the coaching staff was clearly impressed with his play at OTAs. We'll have to see how he performs at training camp, when the pads come on.
All those guys above will likely be on the roster, but it's unclear how they'll fit into the rotation. Another thing to watch is the battle for the last one or two roster spots among the remaining corners. There's some real depth at the position right now with guys like Denzel Rice, JaCorey Shepherd, Aaron Grymes, Randall Evans and Jaylen Watkins. They can't keep them all.
Coming up Wednesday: Left guard