July 10, 2024   5 MIN READ

Competition Corner

Rookies Vs. Vets To Decide CB Starters At Camp

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Contrary to the offensive side of the ball, where most of the starting lineup is etched in stone, the Eagles figure to host multiple competitions on defense at training camp later this month.

At linebacker, free-agent addition Zack Baun saw most of the first-team work opposite Devin White this spring. Was that a byproduct of Nakobe Dean, a third-year pro, seemingly at a crossroads, working his way back from surgery? Likely.

Still, though, Baun was brought in for a reason and seemingly did little to detract from their enticement in him. Fascinated to monitor that development throughout the summer.

But the marquee showdown will be at cornerback, a position that not only carries a starting vacancy but also questions in terms of the team’s thought process as it pertains to filling out the depth chart.

Let’s take a closer look:

Quinyon Mitchell

GETTY IMAGES: Eagles first-round pick Quinyon Mitchell will try to win the starting CB job over some veterans.

Cornerback

Few could have forecasted the swift and sudden downfall of an Eagles cornerback room last season headlined by Darius Slay and James Bradberry, the latter returning on the heels of an All-pro campaign.

It was supposed to be one of the top cornerback tandems in football.

The group also had veteran Avonte Maddox, among the league’s best at nickelback, healthy and primed for a bounce back after appearing in only nine games in 2022.

But a toxic blend of communication lapses, inexperience and regression last season acted as a recurring nosebleed, vulnerable to explosive plays.

Headlining the position once again will be Slay, a puzzlingly undervalued mainstay who projects to still yield consistent production.

He’ll also benefit for what, at least on paper, appears to be a considerably more talented and versatile supporting cast.

Bradberry, whose drastic regression last season was sudden and unforeseen, appears in the fold for now, perhaps though as a safety.

The Eagles this offseason emphasized upgrading the room and identifying building blocks, selecting cornerbacks Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean in the first and second rounds, respectively.

Mitchell, a frontrunner to start opposite Slay, will be afforded every opportunity to earn the job. For what it’s worth, the Toledo standout showed well during spring practices, swarming to the football and hardly lacking for confidence.

Still, the occasionally steep learning curve at his position should be taken into account. Also, the suddenly crowded room has a pair of worthy challengers expected to push Mitchell. More on that later.

DeJean, predominantly a second-team nickelback with some sporadic first-team reps during the spring, would appear to have a clearer path to playing time.

His primary competition will be oft-injured veteran Maddox, who also cross-trained at safety during the spring.

avonte maddox

GETTY IMAGES: Veteran CB Avonte Maddox’s injury history makes his battle for NB one to watch at camp.

Athletic, sudden, and showcasing exceptional instincts when breaking on the football, DeJean got his hands on several passes and appeared fluid in transition.

The Eagles could opt to get the start-up cost out of the way early with DeJean, banking on youth and upside in the nickel role. If he maintains his spring momentum, DeJean could seize a starting spot.

Then there’s Isaiah Rodgers, returning from a year-long suspension after violating the NFL’s gambling policy, and Kelee Ringo, a second-year player positioned to initiate a sophomore leap.

While Rodgers and Ringo offer differing body types, both demonstrated confidence, trust in technique and eye discipline.

There were several instances in which Ringo flawlessly executed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s match-carry-deliver principles, while Rodgers secured an interception and was generally sticky in coverage.

Also working in their favor is experience, so perhaps one of these spring standouts will stave off challengers long enough to claim a starting role.

Let’s not forget holdovers Eli Ricks and Josh Jobe, whom in 2023 combined for three starts and more than 500 defensive snaps.

While Ricks, who displayed versatility and football intellect in cross-training at nickel as a rookie, is valued for his coverage acumen, it’s worth mentioning that Jobe is the Eagles’ top special teams contributor, an incredibly valuable footnote when whittling down the roster.

Fourth-year pro Zech McPhearson should be categorized similar to Jobe due to special teams impact, though McPhearson offers inside-outside versatility.

The 26-year-old is returning from an Achilles injury that deprived him of his third year of service but says he’s 100 percent healthy and shouldn’t be counted out.

If you’re seeking a dark horse to potentially emerge from this crowded house and grab an elusive roster spot, look no further than Tyler Hall.

Hall, 25, exclusively manned the nickel position during OTAs and minicamp, but on multiple occasion flashed due to his plaster-like intermediary coverage and range.

Interestingly, I’ve been told that Hall perhaps has the quickest feet of all candidates. Hall will be a name to file away.

The X-factor in maximizing the potential of the group will be newly appointed defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator Christian Parker, who at 32 years old offers relatability and will also hone in on communication, tailoring to strengths and explaining the why behind each call.

How many corners make the 53, and how the various puzzle pieces bind together, remains to be seen. But the Eagles have indisputably assembled their deepest cornerback room in two decades.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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