This was obviously what DRC had in mind last July, what the Eagles had in mind, when they shipped quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Rodgers-Cromartie and the second-round draft pick they eventually used last month for Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry. Most people have forgotten that Eagles coach Andy Reid named Rodgers-Cromartie his starting right corner the minute the team completed the Kolb trade.That lineup lasted a day, until the Birds surprised everyone, including themselves, by signing Asomugha. By the time Rodgers-Cromartie got to Lehigh, his introductory news conference was all about how he would fit into a cornerbacking triad.
The answer, it turned out, was "not smoothly." Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo couldn’t see why a 6-2 corner with elite quickness would have any trouble playing the slot. That was just one of many areas where Castillo, new to NFL defense a year ago, proved naïve. Rodgers-Cromartie, with 3 years in the NFL, had little notion of the complicated leverage/angles issues slot corners face, deprived of the sideline to help them hem in a receiver. His best games came at the end of the season, when Asante Samuel was sidelined with a hamstring problem, and Rodgers-Cromartie moved outside opposite Asomugha.
Now, Samuel is in Atlanta, and the Eagles have the setup they wanted, two tall corners who like to play man coverage behind a defensive line that notched 50 sacks last season, tied for first in the league
"It’s never a relief to see somebody like that go, somebody that’s been on the defense a while, everybody loved, that is basically like a team captain," Rodgers-Cromartie said, when asked whether he was relieved to see the Samuel situation settled. "I got nothing to prove to nobody. I’m just going out there to compete, best of my ability. That’s all I can do."
Certainly Reid didn’t seem to think Rodgers-Cromartie, a Pro Bowler in 2009, has a lot to prove as an Eagles starter. Asked what he needs to see from DRC, Reid said: "Really, just kind of picking up from where he let off last year, which he’s doing. He’s getting a good feel for it, and it’s a little different because we’re not asking him to play the inside slot position right now."
Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha clearly are glad to see new secondary coach Todd Bowles, who replaced Johnnie Lynn. Hard to know what was Lynn’s fault and what was Castillo’s, but the Birds tried a lot of intricate, Rube Goldberg coverages last season, trying to maximize talents and meld disparate styles.
"He brought a lot of clarity," Rodgers-Cromartie said of Bowles, fresh from a stint as the Dolphins’ interim head coach. "He really zoned in on the man thing, that we’re really going to do. I think there’s going to be a lot of pressing, not too many zones."
This is definitely what DRC wants, knowing when he lines up "that’s your guy … way simpler."
Asomugha said he isn’t sure the corners will play strictly man, but he does think that if they play zone, it will be a type of zone most players are familiar with.
"There were more unique types of coverages that we were doing last year," Asomugha said, struggling to put it diplomatically.Remember, he is the guy who told us toward the end of last season that one of the struggles the Eagles went through was Castillo learning what could actually work in the NFL. Now, Asomugha said, "even if you came from college or from a different team, there are similarities with the stuff we’re doing now that you might have done there, whereas last year, there weren’t many."
Another change is that Castillo and Lynn were hamstrung by Samuel’s insistence on playing only the left side. Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie don’t care, so they can be moved around to get different matchups, or just to give the offense something new to think about.
"There’s going to be more left- and right-side type of stuff than we’ve done," Asomugha said.
Asomugha, reserved and erudite, ready to turn 31 in July, wouldn’t seem to have a lot in common with Rodgers-Cromartie, 26, who once showed up for practice in Arizona with painted toenails. Asomugha spent offseason time in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. Rodgers-Cromartie said he was mostly "back home in Florida, just enjoying the time with my family and friends and just hangin’ out."
"He’s crazy," Asomugha said Thursday, laughing. "I wonder what he does when he leaves the building? He’s the most amped-up guy we’ve got out here. He’s always dancing or singing or doing something. It seems like everything’s great. I wonder how he is when he leaves the building, if he’s doing that stuff at home."
Can Asomugha relate at all?
"Some of who Dominique is, I can have. The majority of it, I just chill out. I’m a little more calm," Asomugha said. "But I think it’s great. And it’s been like that most of my career with the guy that’s on the other side, he’s usually been like a fiery type of guy."
Rodgers-Cromartie calls Asomugha "the old head," which Asomugha doesn’t mind.
"He’s always teaching," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Route recognition – when I watch him in one-on-ones, it seems like whenever they run an ‘in’ cut, he’s always sitting right there to get the ball. He said by the way the receiver lines up on the line, you can tell if he’s going to run an ‘in’ or an ‘out’ route … It’s a blessing to be able to play with somebody that’s older than you, more experienced, and still has time to teach you the game." n
Contact Les Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. Read the Daily News’ Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.Eagletarian.com.