Eric Rowe showed enough at the end of his rookie season to be considered one of the presumptive starters at cornerback for the Eagles in 2016. Yet even he must admit it's not something to be taken for granted.
Last year is last year, and while Rowe experienced some success against NFL receivers, that doesn't mean anything is being handed to the former second-round draft pick out of Utah.
"That's all in the past," Rowe said of his rookie campaign. "I can't sit there and say, 'Yeah, I can cover that guy,' because I don't know if I can do it again this year. Everybody is steadily getting better, so that's what I've got to focus on."
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If Rowe isn't a starter, it won't be for lack of confidence anymore. His journey from draft pick to reserve to regular contributor is one he feels has benefited his development immensely.
After playing only sparingly the first half of last season, Rowe was thrust into action against the Lions and All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving Day. Not surprisingly, the corner took his share of lumps.
The following week, however, Rowe made his first start against Tom Brady and the Patriots and held up remarkably well. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted 12 times in coverage, allowing only four catches for 42 yards with two pass breakups.
Rowe admits that performance was a huge boost to his self esteem.
"I was pretty happy with that result, just bouncing back off the Lions the previous week, showing my self-improvement," Rowe said. "I can take my mistakes from the previous game, just focus on it all week and have a better game the next game."
Rowe started the final five games for the Eagles in 2015, limiting opposing quarterbacks to 196 yards passing with a 45.7 completion percentage and no touchdowns. Yet prior to his appearance against the Lions, he had not played meaningful snaps for the Eagles since Week 4.
Rowe acknowledges that time on the bench likely helped him later in the year.
"The first couple games, I was really surprised by how fast the game speed actually was," Rowe said. "I knew it was gonna be fast, but I didn't know it was going to be that kind of jump from college to here.
"It kind of was a good thing in the long run, because when I actually got in, I already knew how the game speed was and what to expect."
Rowe's whole mentality as a defender evolved over the course of the season. Initially, he was just trying to do the little things to gain his footing as a pro. By the end, he was focusing on becoming a complete player.
"At first I was like, 'Just don't get beat deep.' You don't want to be the corner that comes in and they just throw over your head for a touchdown," Rowe said. "But then once the season kept going, I gained more confidence. I knew I could run with them deep, now I've gotta defend the other routes."
The Eagles have some stiff competition at the cornerback spot this summer. Rowe will be competing against Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin for one of two starting jobs. Both are experienced veterans with solid track records in the NFL. Ron Brooks, JaCorey Shepherd and Jalen Mills, among others, could push for playing time as well.
If the decision was based solely on his final five games, Rowe would probably be a shoe-in for the job. That being said, he's not resting on whatever he may have accomplished last season.
"Last year was good, but that's in the past now," Rowe said. "No one really cares about what happened in the past. Now it's about this season coming up, so I just want to get better."