Eagles in the a.m.: Nolan Carroll's role, depth at inside linebacker, Jaylen Watkins' versatility

Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll. (Matthew Hall/Staff file photo)

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1) There is much intrigue about cornerback Nolan Carroll, who signed with the Eagles after starting 26 games during four seasons with the Dolphins. He’s been around the ball this spring and summer, and it’s realistic to wonder whether he can unseat Bradley Fletcher for a starting cornerback job.

Interestingly, the Carroll signing reminded me of the Fletcher signing from one year before. Both had starting experience and good size, but neither was attractive enough around the league to generate definite starter money in the free agent market.

The Eagles were pleased with Fletcher in his first season. He is strong with long arms, and he plays best against bigger receivers. Carroll is the same way. In fact, when speaking to Carroll during the spring, he insisted that his talent will not be seen until the cornerbacks are allowed to play press coverage. (The pads come out today.)

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said the competition is open, which is part coach speak, and part truth. Carroll’s experience and skill set makes him a potential option. The Eagles badly needed depth at cornerback, so he might profile best as a third cornerback on the outside and a core special teams player. But the coaching staff has certainly noticed him.

“He's a very well‑rounded talent,” Davis said. “He's got size, he's got length, he's got speed. He's a real tenacious competitor. I love his attitude out there the way he presses and competes and puts his hands on the people, and he's got a good knack for the ball.

“I think he's a good asset to us, he's a great addition and we look forward to seeing him in camp and how he fits into our system.”

 2) Pay attention to the depth at inside linebacker. I was surprised the Eagles didn’t address that spot at all this offseason, especially in the draft. DeMeco Ryans took more snaps than any defensive player in the NFL, and coach Bill Davis already said he would like to reduce that count. Mychal Kendricks is an emerging player, but there still needs to playable depth. The Eagles seem satisfied with what’s behind them: Najee Goode, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho, and Jason Phillips being the principle names.

“They are in the same system and they are really our quarterbacks out there,” Davis said. ”They set the fronts. They set coverages. They make adjustments and having a bunch of intelligent experience now in our scheme; experience in our scheme, we think the depth is solid.”

Ryans said the meeting rooms have been helped by the lack of a rookie because the conversation is more advanced. There is no need to bring a player along, and each linebacker understands the system.

I’ve heard much optimism about Goode, who was signed after the preseason last year and impressed the staff throughout the season. He opened some eyes with the way he filled in for Mychal Kendricks last season. A full offseason in Philadelphia can be of benefit, and he’s the top reserve in the group.

“I think we have very capable guys,” Ryans said. “You saw Najee, he stepped in last year and we didn’t miss a beat. He’s a very capable backup. Jason [Phillips] has played in the league for awhile. He understands the game, knows how to go about his business, knows how to control the defense. From a backup standpoint, I’m not worried at all from the inside linebacker position.”

Phillips has taken second-team defense snaps. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but was signed mostly for his special teams ability. Knott will miss the first four games of the season because of a suspension, which could hurt his development. He will not count against the active roster during that time.

3) When the Eagles drafted Jaylen Watkins to begin Day 3 of May’s draft, the team touted his versatility. Watkins, who played cornerback and safety at Florida, has stayed only at cornerback throughout the spring and during the first two days of training camp. That will continue throughout the preseason.

Watkins could add some safety to his workload when the roster is trimmed to 53 players and there is less depth. Davis said the versatility that Watkins is showing the coaching staff is the ability to play both the nickel and the outside spots, which the team considers two different positions.

“We want to start him out at corner and see where he is at corner and see the skill set he has and want to look him at nickel,” Davis said. “He's got a very high football IQ and as he digests those two positions, I think we can grow him to where he could play safety if we needed him to and depending how the roster plays out. We love the versatility in his skill set.”


- After the first training camp fight, LeSean McCoy joked the defense needs to accept that they cannot cover him. The defense isn't alone, either.

- Fletcher Cox's third season is a pivotal one, writes Jeff McLane.

- Training camp is not the same at the NovaCare Complex, writes Bob Brookover.

- A look at Marcus Smith's progress, how the Eagles improve tackling, and more in this notebook.