Eagles cornerback Marsh is a step away from starting

Corner Curtis Marsh needs to be flexible enough to fill in for either Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should they miss time.
Corner Curtis Marsh needs to be flexible enough to fill in for either Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should they miss time. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 06, 2012

There was more to trading Asante Samuel than just Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

His name is Curtis Marsh. You might have forgotten about Marsh after the Eagles drafted him in the third round in April 2011. He didn't get on the field until November. Now he's one injury away from starting.

To unload Samuel, the Eagles had to feel comfortable sliding Rodgers-Cromartie into his place at left cornerback. But they also had to be confident that Marsh, as their third option, could be flexible enough to fill in for either Nnamdi Asomugha or Rodgers-Cromartie should they miss time.

Even before the Eagles dealt Samuel to Atlanta just before this year's draft, Marsh said that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was whispering in his ear that his time was coming.

"All offseason he'll call me, text me . . . come up to me in the lunch room and be like, 'Look, we're going to need you this year. When we're in this package, you're in, and you're one play away,' " Marsh said. "And it was before Asante got traded. After, it just became more evident."

On Monday, for instance, Marsh was needed because Rodgers-Cromartie missed practice. Weather conditions delayed Rodgers-Cromartie's early morning flight, so Marsh racked up repetitions with both the first and second teams.

"It's good because I need them," Marsh said.

The 24-year old has looked fast and physical during organized team activities. But it's difficult to say how effective he will be. For most of the OTAs, the corners have been playing off the receivers because of restrictions on contact.

The Eagles will play more man-to-man press coverage with their cornerbacks this season, and that's how Marsh has thrived in the position.

"I feel like that's my specialty," he said. "I feel like I can run with anybody. I feel like I'm just as big as most receivers, just as strong."

The spring before his junior year at Utah State, Marsh was moved from running back to corner. The coaches thought his size (he's listed at 6-foot-1, 197 pounds) and skill set were better suited to the position. Marsh's position coach, Cory Raymond, convinced him it was his best path to the pros.

"He put a lot of that confidence in me," Marsh said of Raymond, who is now at LSU. "I had a feeling I could do it, but he told me, 'You could be really good at this. You could make some money.' "

Marsh said Raymond had him up at 6 a.m. many days the summer before his junior season, working on technique. The coach pushed him to sign up for boxing classes at the Rulon Gardner gym in Logan, Utah, to improve his footwork and hand-eye coordination.

"When you're bump-and-run pressing, all you're doing is moving your feet and then you shoot your hands," said Marsh, who has continued boxing locally. "So boxing is perfect for that. It helps with your reflexes and that quick-twitch muscle."

Marsh developed into a second-team all-Western Athletic Conference corner, but he was viewed by some draft analysts as a project. The Eagles saw him as such, but took him in the third round.

When Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie were acquired last summer, Marsh drifted into the background. He made some impressive plays during training camp, but the Eagles were stocked at corner and he needed seasoning.

"I'm really close to [Rodgers-Cromartie], and he had to help me out because I take it personal sometimes," Marsh said. "That was hard for me."

Marsh was inactive for the first nine games, but he dressed for the final seven and played mostly on special teams. He will spend most of his time on special teams this season, barring injury. But Marsh also is expected to play as the sixth defensive back in the Eagles' dime package.

The team likes him on the outside, though. Marsh has very good straight-on speed. He ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. He has long, strong arms, an attribute the Eagles value a little more than they did a few years ago when scouting corners.

Marsh's father, Curtis Sr., played briefly in the NFL as a receiver for Jacksonville and Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s. Because he didn't receive a college scholarship offer out of Simi Valley, Calif., Curtis Jr. enrolled at the Naval Academy.

He was sent to the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., but hated it almost immediately. Marsh left after three months and eventually received a scholarship offer from Utah State.

Several years later, he is one injury away from starting in the NFL, and possibly one season away from starting full time if the Eagles don't bring back Rodgers-Cromartie.

"I have to know [the scheme] the first time. I can't get it the second time, third time, scout team, three-four reps down the road," Marsh said of his new role. "I've got to get it the first time because I'm one play away."

Eagles at Lehigh

The Eagles are flipping their training-camp schedule.

In recent years, the morning workout was the more strenuous session, with players in full gear and hitting. The afternoon session was more of a walk-through.

This year, coach Andy Reid has reversed the order.

Training camp opens July 22, when rookies report to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

- Jeff McLane

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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