The Eagles created a very interesting competition in the secondary. Apparently, the surprise head of class (opposite Byron Maxwell) at Eagles OTAs was Nolan Carroll. Carroll is a player with a lot of upside and he fits the prototype dimensions of a Chip Kelly cornerback at 6'1" - 205 lbs with speed, quickness and agility.
Drafted by the Dolphins in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, Carroll has accumulated 27 starts including one with the Eagles in 2014. He's at the peak stage of his athletic career in terms of age and experience.
The Eagles signed Carroll as an unrestricted free agent in 2014 and there was a slight buzz about Carroll's starting prospects then. But even when Bradley Fletcher fell off the face of the earth in 2014, Carroll still didn't see the field until the bitter end.
Flashback to 2014: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/eagles/Five-Eagles-who-impressed-at-OTAs-and-minicamp.html
Nolan Carroll has looked really good so far. He has repeatedly broken up passes, and even picked off a few. In OTAs and minicamp, there is no contact allowed, which means there's no press coverage from the secondary. That makes it much easier for the receivers to make plays, and is a big reason why you hear about a standout receiver this time of year every offseason. It is much harder for a corner or safety to stand out in non-contact drills, but Carroll has.
What makes Carroll's play so impressive is that he prefers press coverage. "I've been (playing press) for so long, since I came into the league," said Carroll. "It's just what my coaches had me do, the whole time. There had only been certain situations where I have played off. Here, this is the most I've ever played off in an offseason ever. "My biggest thing is being physical and pressing, and we haven't been able to do that at all in OTAs. Receivers are getting free releases, so we're kind of reacting off of what they do."
Carroll is excelling play off coverage, which is outside his comfort zone. That is a very good sign. Yesterday, I asked defensive backs coach John Lovett whether or not Carroll had a legitimate chance to win a starting job. Lovett replied, "Yeah. He sure does. He sure does." Lovett also noted, "I'm thrilled to death we have Nolan Carroll here. Having Nolan Carroll here has added competition, and it has made Cary (Williams) and Bradley (Fletcher) prepare harder, work harder, play better."
Fast forward to 2015 OTAs and Carroll is running with the ones in week 1 (although the rotation is as one might expect--up-tempo). The competition is fairly deep as well, but Carroll trumps the youngsters in experience and heading into his second season with the Eagles, he's one of the longest tenured corners on the roster--which may well be a primary reason he's getting the early reps.
I still expect Carroll to be heavily pressed for reps by players like 2015 second round pick Eric Rowe, 2014 fourth round pick Jaylen Watkins and 2015 sixth round pick Jacorey Shepherd tomgo along with a host of other challengers including Brandon Boykin and Walter Thurmond.
All things considered, Carroll is getting a good look from the coaches and he's on our radar as a serious contender to start.
Carroll has obviously been working hard for this opportunity. He's had an up and down career. Its a critical moment for him. One in which he stands to make a lot of money if he plays well. He conversely faces a slippery slope towards NFL oblivion if he fails to impress with so much on the line at this stage of his career.
The secondary shuffle is in full swing. Its going to be one of the best and most important camp battles. The Eagles desperately need to find quality solutions.
“I’m not putting stock in it at this point, because we’re all getting the same amount of reps,” Carroll said. “Every time I’m out there I’m focusing on my technique no matter where I’m lining up. It’s not about going against the guy across from me, it’s about what I can do every single time and how much I can focus on my technique on every snap."
I think that's a smart approach from Nolan. Chip is showing that he respects the offseason effort. He's getting looks and reportedly making the most of them.
Here's some reports from OTAs:
Nolan Carroll carrying over good performance in OTAs to TC. Nice pass breakup on Momah. - Jimmy Kempski
“If there’s one guy who’s really been killing it from on the field to in the weight room to everything it’s probably been Nolan” Malcolm Jenkins said. “His technique is drastically improved. I think he feels a lot better playing at the corner. A lot more confident. Last year we had him kind of playing at dime linebacker all year and he still has that background, that ability to go in and play the dime, the nickel, but he’s really starting to feel comfortable in making a lot of plays out on the outside too, so that’s been really encouraging to see. The stuff he’s done in the weight room, as far as his technique will transition out to the field.”
My take on Carroll's first team reps and the recent buzz-hype is all good things. Even though I'm not convinced that Carroll is taking first team reps because he's first team talent. It's still a testimony to work ethic in the secondary and the depth of competition at the position.
Nolan Carroll has proven that he can play in the NFL. The remaining question is... at what level?