Birds think corner Carroll will measure up

MATTHEW HALL / STAFFPHOTOGRAPHER Nolan Carroll, a free agent from Miami, seems to be a good fit for the Eagles' secondary.
MATTHEW HALL / STAFFPHOTOGRAPHER Nolan Carroll, a free agent from Miami, seems to be a good fit for the Eagles' secondary.
Posted: June 20, 2014

THERE WERE more great quarterbacks when he played, Todd Lyght said recently, but fewer big, fast, superstar-level receivers.

The Eagles' assistant secondary coach toiled 12 years as an NFL corner, 1991-2002, and while he had to face Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Warren Moon and Brett Favre, among others, he missed out on having to cover Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones.

The guys Lyght and secondary coach John Lovett are coaching now have to face those challenges, along with the emerging class of wideout-like tight ends, such as Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis.

It's pretty clear that the Eagles are building their defense around answering such challenges.

"Now, the trend is, you have to become bigger and stronger at the defensive-back position just to match up," Lyght said. "When you're out there with a [receiver] who's 6-3, 6-4, and you're playing a cornerback who's 5-10, those 50-50 balls are no longer 50-50 balls, those balls are now 70-30. It's very difficult to match up on the outside . . . At the end of the day it's 11-on-11, but the one-on-one matchups win football games."

This does not qualify as breaking news, there have been many stories written about the corner prototype changing dramatically over the last 5 years or so. The Seattle Seahawks pretty much put a bow on that one when Richard Sherman and company manhandled the Broncos in the most recent Super Bowl.

"They're definitely a blueprint for what the future of the NFL is going to look like, just because you've got these power forwards playing wide receiver," Lyght said.

"We've got a lot of length out there at the corner position," safety Chris Maragos said, when asked if anything about the Eagles' approach reminded him of the Seahawks', for whom he played last season. "It's going to be a good group . . . a big jump this year." He said he is most impressed by the attention to detail, and "how vocal everybody is, the togetherness. Everybody wants to be great, and they want to do that together."

But plenty of people still don't quite grasp the concept. They wonder when the Eagles are going to move their most athletic corner, Brandon Boykin, listed generously at 5-10, outside from the slot. (Spoiler alert: they aren't, as long as Chip Kelly and Bill Davis are here.) They wonder why the Eagles don't pursue this or that prominent, sub-6-foot corner in free agency, since maybe he's made a Pro Bowl and might be more of a playmaker than either of the incumbents, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams.

The Eagles did sign a corner in free agency, 6-1, 205-pound Nolan Carroll. Eagles fans and the rest of the league more or less shrugged at that news, but in organized team activities and now in minicamp, which concludes today, Carroll has shown signs of pressing Fletcher and Williams. At the very least, he seems likely to make it possible for defensive coordinator Davis to play "dime" if he wants, and get middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans off the field here and there.

Carroll wasn't a star for the Dolphins, after arriving in the fifth round from Maryland in 2010. There was no outcry when Miami let him walk in free agency after he started 12 games last season. But as is the case with ex-Raven Williams and ex-Ram Fletcher, the Eagles are more interested in how Carroll fits their defense than what people thought of him in some other scheme.

"We didn't think of him as an under-the-radar signing," Kelly said yesterday. "We had him targeted very early as a guy we wanted to bring into this organization. I think he's got the requisite length that we're looking for at the corner spot, especially as an outside corner. He's an outstanding special-teams player, been one of the top gunners in the league, and obviously improvement in special teams was a big thing for us. Love his competitive makeup. Talked to his coaches at Maryland about what type of player he is and what type of person he is . . . I've been really impressed with Nolan, the short time we've had him here."

Carroll said he played a lot of press coverage for the Dolphins.

"I'm trying to do the same thing I did in Miami," he said. He said that while everybody wants bigger corners to match up with receivers, "it's just been so hard for teams to find that guy that can be big and run. It's hard. Seattle's really the only team that's gotten it right so far. A lot of guys are trying to find that prototype corner."

Carroll said Davis' scheme is similar to what he played early in his Dolphins career, when Mike Nolan, now with Atlanta, was the defensive coordinator. That figures, since Davis was Nolan's defensive coordinator when Nolan was the 49ers' head coach in 2005 and '06. But Carroll's connection here was special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp, who coached Carroll in Miami.

Fipp has Carroll in the kick-return mix, something Carroll did with the Dolphins as a rookie.

Carroll no doubt is happy to hear the coaches feel he's doing well in these short-pants workouts, but he said he doesn't think he can really show his talents until training camp next month, when the players sometimes practice in pads and can play more physically.

"I'm trying to sneak a press in here and there against the receivers, but they get [ticked] off at me, because it's against the rules," he said.

"That's why I'm here. That's what I do, that's what I've been doing," he said. "It's kind of frustrating right now, because you really can't do it. Once training camp comes, that's when it's going to be the most fun."


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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