BETHLEHEM - One of the main things reporters want to keep an eye on at Eagles training camp is how the "big three" corners are being used. We'd like to be able to tell you exactly what the roles are, and how Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are settling into those roles.
We'd like to, but ah, see, . . . "it just changes every day," as Asomugha said yesterday. "It's always something new that goes in, and we learn it, and then we go to work the next day, so we really don't even know how it's going to be."
Yesterday, it seemed Asomugha and Samuel were the corners in the base defense. Rodgers-Cromartie and Joselio Hanson alternated in the nickel role. But in one exotic variation, Asomugha was playing a sort of centerfield spot, and safety Kurt Coleman was in press coverage against a wideout.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo suggested yesterday that he isn't going to just put his corners in static roles and leave them there, that he is trying different alignments based on what he expects to see from opponents during the season.
"The NFL is a matchup game," Castillo said. "We want to . . . just to be able to, 'OK, what's the best package against what they're going to do?' So right now, we're just going back and forth with different packages that we may have to use throughout the year.
"That's the best thing to do . . . maybe one of our guys has had some success against this guy, so why can't he follow him, why can't he be in the slot? It's a matchup game, and that's what we're going to try to do. But in practice, you have to work all those different situations, all those different groups, so that our guys can be prepared for that. You may not see it in the preseason games, but we'll continue to work different groupings with those guys and get prepared for the season."
Rodgers-Cromartie's work with the starters has mostly come inside. When he plays outside, it's with the second unit; that was the situation yesterday when DRC blazed in on a corner blitz and caught Vince Young flat-footed - no small feat - before Young could commence evasive maneuvers.
"I never did it [previously]. That is something I'm looking forward to, coming off that end," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
"I guess on defense, I don't think I've played with a faster guy than Cromartie, and quicker," Asomugha said, when asked about DRC (who, by the way, doesn't like 'DRC.' But it saves trees). "Some of the stuff that he's able to do athletically is pretty eye-opening."
Asomugha also was appreciative of the way Rodgers-Cromartie has been OK with Asomugha and Samuel taking the corner spots in base.
"He's just a humble guy, just wants to play football, and I think we love that about him," Asomugha said.
Rodgers-Cromartie said playing inside is different than just manning a corner. "You have to worry about the run inside," he said. "It's a lot more complicated."
Rodgers-Cromartie said he figures a lot of the moving around is because "a lot of us have got very different playing styles. I think we're going to do a lot to favor each of us . . . They've got me going everywhere."
Asomugha agreed that there might be an element of "getting a feel for who does what best - what plays we can put this person inside, and what plays we put the other guy [inside]. I like it this way because it doesn't give any offense a bead on what we're doing. If we're in the same spot every time, they'll know how to attack you, but if you change it up, they won't know what to do."
Castillo deserves credit for being able to install so much amid so much chaos. He didn't have any spring work with his group because of the lockout, and by the Daily News' highly unofficial count, there were 10 defensive players on the roster yesterday who weren't there when the Birds reported to Lehigh 3 weeks ago Wednesday.
The defensive line has been especially chaotic, with Victor Abiamiri (Achilles'), Brodrick Bunkley (trade) and Ricky Sapp (knee) out of the picture for good, and Mike Patterson (brain AVM), Trevor Laws (hip flexor), Juqua Parker (calf) and Antonio Dixon (back spasms) all missing time. Even one of the guys brought in late to fill in, Brandon Collier, suffered a season-ending leg injury and was waived. Five of the 10 current defenders who weren't here at the start of camp are d-linemen.
Marlon Favorite, a defensive tackle cut by the Patriots early last week, found himself playing for the Eagles against the Ravens Thursday night.
"You know, I think just the d-line has really been the one that's kind of [chaotic], and it's tough," Castillo said. "We ran a blitz [against the Ravens], and there was a problem - we had that one installed early in camp, but some of those guys weren't here."
Rodgers-Cromartie was asked if the Eagles' defense is developing any sort of identity.
"Athletic guys that really get after it and get to the ball," he said.
Asomugha's take: "Right now, we're an attacking defense. That doesn't necessarily mean that you're blitzing, but the speed and the intelligence that we have makes it look like we might be blitzing on every play, or makes it look like everyone's around the ball. Definitely an attack-first sort of defense."
Castillo allowed that given everything that's new, it was exciting to allow Baltimore only a pair of field goals in the preseason opener.
"We're not where we want to be yet, but you can see that the guys are playing fast; they played physical," Castillo said.
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