When Joselio Hanson reported to Lehigh University four summers ago for his first training camp with the Eagles, his goal was just to play well enough to make the team.
When the 28-year-old cornerback arrives back there again next month, though, it will be with a much more ambitious goal: He wants to be a starter.
Hanson, a former NFL Europe refugee who was once cut by the San Francisco 49ers, has carved out a very nice living with the Eagles the last few years as one of the league's better nickel corners. The team valued him enough to give him a 5-year, $21 million contract in February 2009, just days before he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
But the early-April trade of Sheldon Brown has left a vacancy at right cornerback, and Hanson believes he's the most qualified man for the job.
"With Sheldon gone, I'm going into training camp with the attitude that the right corner job is open," Hanson said.
"I feel I'm a good player. I'm just trying to take the next step. I want to be a starter in this league. If I get out there [in camp] and get the reps, I hope to prove that I can be solid [as a starter] as well as at nickel."
If you were to ask defensive coordinator Sean McDermott about Hanson's chances of winning the starting right corner job right now, he would tell you that every job is up for grabs and he's going to put the best 11 players on the field when the Eagles open the season against Green Bay on Sept. 12. He would tell you that if Hanson proves he's one of those best 11 players this summer, then, by golly, he will be starting in Week 1.
That said, it appears, right now at least, that the coaching staff is leaning toward replacing Brown with Ellis Hobbs and keeping Hanson at nickel. But that doesn't mean it couldn't change.
Hobbs, acquired in a draft-day, '09 trade with New England, was a 3-year starter with the Patriots, opposite the Eagles' other starting corner, Asante Samuel.
But Hobbs never came close to unseating Brown last season. He spent the first half of '09 as the fourth corner behind Brown, Samuel and Hanson before suffering a season-ending neck injury in a Week 8 loss to Dallas.
Because Hobbs hasn't completely recovered from December surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck, the Eagles have limited his reps during their voluntary workouts, which will conclude today. But when he has been on the field, he's taken most of the first-team reps at right corner, ahead of Hanson.
Hanson isn't letting that deter him, though.
"If I make the plays on the ball in training camp, they're not going to have a choice [but to start me]," Hanson said. "If I'm playing the best at the right corner, I'll [deserve to be the starter]."
And if Hobbs opens the season as the starting right corner, will Hanson be OK with that?
"I wouldn't say I'll be OK with it," he said. "It's a long year. Even if I'm not [starting] the first game, I'm still going to be trying to work my way up and start sooner or later. It's a long season."
Hanson is eager to redeem himself after a roller-coaster '09 season in which the Eagles racked up 25 interceptions, but also gave up 27 touchdown passes. The 25 picks were the most in the Andy Reid era, but so were the 27 TD passes. Only six teams gave up more - the Giants and Titans (31 each), the Packers and Bears (29 each), and the Jaguars and the Bucs (28 each). The Packers were the only one of those six teams to make the playoffs.
"I can guarantee you that this year we're not going to give up 27 touchdowns," Hanson said. "That's just not going to happen."
The Eagles ended up missing free safety Brian Dawkins a lot more than they ever imagined after the future Hall of Famer signed with the Broncos. It left them with a gaping hole in their secondary that they never were able to plug, and it caused a trickle-down effect on the rest of the secondary.
Blown coverages, a rarity in past years under McDermott's predecessor, the late Jim Johnson, seemed to happen with regularity. The same with missed tackles.
Injuries also took their toll. Brown played much of the year with a hamstring injury that would have sidelined most players. Hobbs missed the last eight games.
Hanson had to sit out four games in November and early December after he was suspended for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. He tested positive for a banned diuretic that he took before the 2008 NFC Championship Game.
According to Hanson, he felt bloated after eating Chinese food the night before the Eagles' 32-25 loss to Arizona, and unknowingly ingested a pill that was on the league's banned-substance list. The 5-9 Hanson, who weighs about 183 pounds soaking wet, repeatedly has insisted it was an honest mistake and that he didn't take the pill to gain any type of advantage. But he knows that a lot of people who don't know him have lumped him into the same category with steroid users.
"When you google my name, it automatically comes up," Hanson said. "Suspension. It hurts. But it is what it is. I'm not that guy. But last year's behind me now. It's a new year. I'm out there having fun, anxious for a new season."
Anxious for redemption. Anxious to prove that he can be an every-down player. If it doesn't happen, if Hobbs beats him out, Hanson will be disappointed, but he'll deal with it and try to do the best job possible as the nickel corner.
"It's the hardest thing to do, covering a slot receiver," Johnson once said when asked about Hanson. "Because they got half the field to work with. But Joselio is good at it.
"He just has a good feel for the game. You tell him something once and he'll do it and you don't have to say anything about it again. You can see he's around the ball. He's got a real nose for the football and a feel for the defense. And he's physical. He plays hard and he plays tough."
Even if Hanson wins the starting right corner job, he likely still will slide inside when the Eagles go to their nickel (five defensive backs) package. And that's fine with him.
"Not everybody can play [nickel]," Hanson said. "Not everybody wants to play it. But I'm real comfortable there. There's a lot of thinking that goes on in there. You can't bust a coverage or they're going to see you right now. You've got to know what you're doing. But the more you play it, the more comfortable you get in there. And I've been doing it for a while now. I'm good at it."