By Justin Adkins:
The Eagles took a dramatic step towards a new future this offseason, trading franchise legend Donovan McNabb and naming 2007 second-round pick Kevin Kolb the new starter.
Some feel that it was too soon to move on from arguably one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL, while some are excited to start a new era of Eagles football with the talented fourth-year player in Kolb. Either way, the McNabb trade may not be the one that has created the most uncertainty regarding the upcoming 2010 season.
It was the Eagles decision to move on from long time starting cornerback Sheldon Brown that could potentially have the most ramifications, and not necessarily in a positive way.
Prior to the draft, the Eagles traded Brown, along with starting strongside linebacker Chris Gocong, to the Cleveland Browns for 4th and 5th round draft picks, as well as LB/DE Alex Hall. With those picks, the Eagles landed cornerback Trevard Lindley from Kentucky (4th round), and defensive end Ricky Sapp from Clemson (5th round), but neither is expected to have much impact. Lindley had been considered a first round level prospect prior to last season, but injuries and ineffectiveness pushed him down in the draft. Sapp is yet another under-sized college defensive end that is likely more suited to play 3-4 linebacker (at least the Eagles are consistent).
So far, Lindley has done just enough in camp to justify being drafted, but has come nowhere close to flashing skills that would get anyone excited about him ever taking over a starting role. Even for first round picks, playing corner in the NFL is a whole lot more challenging than it is in college and the learning curve is very steep.
The Eagles knew this when they looked ahead in the past, drafting Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in the first and second rounds respectively even though the great Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor were cemented in their roles as effective starting cornerbacks. It was a surprise at the time, but it turned out to be a very smart, forward thinking idea.
Sheppard and Brown were able to sit back and learn from a couple of experienced, quality players, while taking in all the coaching they could in an effort to make the difficult transition from covering guys who will be selling insurance post-college to covering guys like Terrell Owens or Miles Austin.
And like his high draft pick predecessors, Lindley won’t be starting right away. That job will go to Ellis Hobbs. He is a serviceable player who was obtained last year in a draft day trade with the New England Patriots. Hobbs played OK for the Eagles last season, but one has to wonder at the reason a team like New England, without much secondary depth of their own, was willing to unload a player like Hobbs for mid-round draft picks.
Hobbs was actually used primarily as a kick returner, though he did contribute, if sometimes unevenly, in a nickel role. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to a neck injury suffered in November’s game against the Cowboys. Hobbs also struggled with injuries while with the Patriots, so the Eagles shouldn’t be counting on Hobbs to remain healthy, especially considering the tenuous nature of neck injuries. Hobbs, though, is determined to come back strong.
“There’s that dog in me that wants to prove a lot,” Hobbs said. “Just listening to some of the comments, as much as you try to ignore it, I’m an alien in this country. You really haven’t seen what I can do. Last year was not a season you can judge me off of.”
“I refuse to be denied what is rightly mine,” he said. “I have to go out there and prove it every day, but just my love of the game, it’s not about the money, it’s not about anything else, but just to go out there and prove that I can play with anybody in this league.”
“I’m just looking forward to playing with everybody,” he said. “Ten guys who want it just as bad as I do and are going to give the best effort and are going to give it everything, body and all. Whoever that is out there on the field, that’s what we need.”
Sounds good, but all the talk in the world prevent injuries, nor will it make Hobbs a starting caliber cornerback.
The worse part is that Hobbs really is the only option to start opposite ballhawk Asante Samuel. Behind him is Joselio Hanson, who while decent is nothing more than a dime back, nickel at best. Then the Eagles have the rookie Lindley and journeyman Dimitri Patterson. If any of them are pressed into starting roles, things could get ugly.
And it’s not like the saftety play can help make up for the lack of talent at corner. At strong safety, the Eagles have veteran Quintin Mikell, a hard worker and team leader who will never be known as a playmaker. At free safety, the Eagles originally intended to utilize another player coming off a major injury, Marlin Jackson, but he tore his Achilles tendon while working out this past June. Now, they will attempt to fill that spot with rookie secound-round pick Nate Allen. Behind Allen and Mikell are underachievers Macho Harris and Quintin Demps, though it’s likely one of them doesn’t make the team. After that, it’s seventh-round rookie Kurt Coleman.
Even if Hobbs remains healthy and Allen plays over his head as a rookie, things look bleak for the Eagles coverage unit. It’s almost impossible to believe that the team will go into the season with the secondary as it’s currently constructed, so look for a possible trade or more likely they sign a veteran or two from other teams who are cut during camp.