Soon after the Eagles surprised the NFL and signed Nnamdi Asomugha on that Friday evening in July, the question of what his role would be became a widely discussed topic of conversation.
Would Asante Samuel be dealt? Would Asomugha stay on the right side? Would he be moved around? What about Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie?
We are now through three preseason games, and while the real answers won't come until the regular season begins, we at least have some idea of what Juan Castillo wants to do with the three cornerbacks.
I went back and took a look at the three preseason games. Asomugha has played a total of 74 snaps (by my count). Here's the breakdown of where he's lined up:
About 78 percent of Asomugha's preseason snaps have been at right cornerback, where he lined up in Oakland 82 percent of the time in 2010
But Asomugha has been shuffled around a little bit.
When I say "Linebacker" in the above chart, I don't mean it literally. I'm referring to where Asomugha lined up. For example, against the Browns, the Eagles were in dime on one play, and Cleveland motioned Peyton Hillis out wide to the right. Jamar Chaney, the only linebacker on the field, picked him up. Asante Samuel covered the receiver in the slot. And Nnamdi Asomugha lined up behind Jason Babin at left defensive end and picked up the tight end. Meanwhile, Rodgers-Cromartie played the slot on the right side of the field, and Brandon Hughes lined up at right cornerback.
Asomugha did the same thing on another play and picked up the tight end out of the backfield.
There were also multiple plays where he lined up in a safety-type role. On one play, the Ravens lined up just one receiver to the right side of the formation. Samuel was on him, and the Eagles’ two safeties played up alongside the three linebackers, anticipating for the run. Asomugha, meanwhile, lined up back as a safety.
By my count, there were 39 plays when Asomugha, Samuel and Rodgers-Cromartie were all on the field together. Here's where Asomugha lined up on those plays:
As you can see, both Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie moved around. As for Samuel, he almost always assumed his usual spot at left cornerback, although there were three plays where he was actually inside one of the other cornerbacks.
For example, the Browns started with three receivers to the right of the formation on one play. Tight end Ben Watson, who was one of the three, motioned inside to block. Rodgers-Cromartie played the outside receiver and Samuel, who was about 9 yards off the line of scrimmage, picked up the slot receiver.
Getting back to Rodgers-Cromartie, there was one play when the Eagles were in nickel against the Steelers, but Pittsburgh was in a two-receiver set. Samuel and Asomugha played left and right cornerback, respectively. Rodgers-Cromartie lined up with the linebackers and picked up the tight end in coverage.
I only counted one blitz in the preseason by these three cornerbacks. It was on Ben Roethlisberger's first touchdown pass in the Steelers game. Rodgers-Cromartie lined up at the line of scrimmage and went after Roethlisberger, along with Nate Allen. The Eagles blitzed Joselio Hanson from the slot quite a bit last year. I'm sure they're intrigued by using Rodgers-Cromartie's speed in the same way, but he'll have to show he's aggressive enough to be effective in that role.
The other wrinkle the Eagles have added is their dime package, where they use four cornerbacks, two safeties and one linebacker (Chaney). On 15 of the 39 preseason snaps where Samuel, Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie were on the field together, there was also a fourth cornerback (either Hanson or Hughes). Several times against Cleveland, Asomugha played inside and picked up the tight end or running back in this package.
In less than two weeks, the Birds will take the field against the Rams in St. Louis, and we'll get answers to some pressing questions: How often will they play nickel? What about dime? Is Rodgers-Cromartie a better tackler than he showed last year? Will Samuel benefit or suffer from more targets his way? And how will Asomugha be used?
Howie Roseman and Joe Banner did their part in upgrading a pass defense that allowed a franchise-worst 31 touchdown passes last season. Now it's up to Castilo to make use of the new-found talent.