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Eagles' Nolan Carroll making a name for himself

At one point in Nolan Carroll's career, he would have expected a story about the offseason like the one he just completed to be accompanied by a description next to his name: son of Jennifer Carroll, lieutenant governor of Florida.

Eagles defensive back, #23, Nolan Carroll, runs his defensive route and catches the ball thrown to him during the 4th day of training camp at the Nova Care Center.
Eagles defensive back, #23, Nolan Carroll, runs his defensive route and catches the ball thrown to him during the 4th day of training camp at the Nova Care Center.Read more(Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)

At one point in Nolan Carroll's career, he would have expected a story about the offseason like the one he just completed to be accompanied by a description next to his name: son of Jennifer Carroll, lieutenant governor of Florida.

But Carroll is in Philadelphia, where there is little interest in Florida politics and unending interest in who will start at cornerback for the Eagles. So when defensive coordinator Bill Davis describes Carroll's last few months as "one of the best offseasons I've ever been around" and teammates identify him as a player to watch this season, Carroll does not need a modifier next to his name.

Carroll was drafted by Miami in the fifth round out of Maryland and played for the Dolphins from 2010 to 2013. It was a stretch that covered his mother's two years as lieutenant governor, and he always heard the connection.

"Anything my mom did, I was tied to it," Carroll said. "Anything I did was tied to her."

Carroll's name might be heard often this season. He is a front-runner to start at cornerback after spending last season as a reserve. The Eagles even received a trade offer this summer, but coach Chip Kelly would not consider moving Carroll.

"You watched when he first got here to where he is now, he has made some great strides," Kelly said. "If you ask . . . any of these players, you talk about our competitions in the weight room and all those other things, the guy who won them all was Nolan. . . . We are excited to see where he can take that next step into becoming a full-time starter out there."

Ornery in offseason

Carroll entered the offseason in a bad mood. He signed a two-year deal with the Eagles in March 2014 expecting to compete to be a starting cornerback. But after he suffered a hamstring injury during training camp, the Eagles decided to stick with Bradley Fletcher and designated Carroll as a dime cornerback.

He played only 39 percent of the defensive snaps - a sharp decline from 2013 with the Dolphins, when he started 12 games and played 69 percent of the defensive snaps.

"At the end of the last year, I was mad, frustrated, a little disappointed," Carroll said. "It wasn't what I envisioned."

It didn't help that the Eagles secondary was their weakness. Fletcher was the player who received the brunt of the blame, but Davis kept him as the starter. He said Carroll, who is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, was trained to play the dime and Fletcher was not.

Davis admitted this past week that he "didn't get [Carroll] in there enough."

"I've got this beautiful view of hindsight right now that when you're in the middle of it, you don't quite have it, and as it works out and plays out against what you thought, you kind of say to yourself, 'I might have made a mistake there,' " the defensive coordinator said.

Carroll started the season finale when Fletcher was injured, and it did not solve the team's coverage problems. So there's no saying Carroll would have fared better, but the team was fully behind him throughout offseason.

Carroll returned to Miami in January and went to work. He usually takes up to two months off after the season. This year, he rested about 10 days. He curbed his nightlife. He worked out six mornings each week, then went to yoga to improve his flexibility. On-field work came in the afternoons. By the time he returned to Philadelphia, his strength and fitness numbers peaked.

"We had these competition drills every week, and Nolan was the No. 1 guy," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "No doubt about it, he was the guy who excelled every week in whatever drill we did, whatever we did in the weight room. . . . It's shown in training camp. You see the guy who's stepping up and making plays on the outside, it's Nolan Carroll - by far."

Safety Malcolm Jenkins said Carroll is as strong and explosive a defensive back as the Eagles have. The defense has emphasized press coverage this summer, and Carroll "has been very, very disciplined in that technique." In the film room, Jenkins said, Carroll is a steady participant.

Yet Carroll is not a given to start. He's competing with Eric Rowe, a second-round pick who could become a long-term solution at the position. Carroll is 28, in the last year of his deal, and could not earn a starting job last season. Rowe is an appealing candidate for the spot, yet the optimism about Carroll in the NovaCare Complex is overflowing.

"We expect big things out of him," Jenkins said. "Coming into the year, we knew there was going to be some competition for that other corner spot [opposite Byron Maxwell]. I think he saw his opportunity and he's taken full advantage of it."

Disciplined upbringing

The offseason commitment was not a stretch for Carroll, who grew up in the Jacksonville, Fla., area in a disciplined household as the son of two military members. His father, Nolan, was a senior master sergeant in the Air Force. His mother was a lieutenant commander in the Navy.

Carroll never aspired to enlist, and he was gifted enough athletically to excel in sports. But his parents made sure he fulfilled his other responsibilities first - whether it was cutting the grass, washing dishes, mopping floors, doing laundry, or taking care of the dog.

"From the time Nolan was 2 years old, he had his chores to do," Jennifer Carroll said. "We had a chore board, and they had to complete their chores to our expectation. Otherwise, they had to go back and repeat it."

Carroll also grew up politically engaged. His mother was a state representative, and Carroll and his siblings helped with the campaign. They stamped letters and knocked on doors, handing out fliers from Jacksonville down to Orlando. The television set in the family's home often showed CNN or Fox News.

"I would know what was going on in the world," Carroll said.

But the Republican presidential debate was on television Thursday night, and Carroll had no plans to watch. He grew disenchanted with politics when his mother resigned as lieutenant governor in 2013 after a criminal investigation into an Internet sweepstakes company for which she once served as a consultant. (She was never charged with any wrongdoing; she reached a settlement with the state ethics panel in July to admit she did not disclose money paid to a company she controlled.)

Carroll said the news coverage was false, and he got a lesson in "how dirty of a game" politics could be. A father himself, Carroll remains protective of his mother.

"Naturally, he wouldn't want to hear anything negative of me, or feeling that if he didn't execute well, that I would hear something negative of him," Jennifer Carroll said.

The experience helps him in football. Cornerbacks bear the most criticism on defense. If a mistake is made at the line of scrimmage, it's not as glaring as when it happens in the secondary. Watching his mother taught him "you can't please everybody."

Carroll could take the criticism. He just didn't want the unending link to his mother's career - good or bad. When he signed in Philadelphia, that became a minor detail in the biography.

Carroll has put himself in a position to be discussed often this season. When he is, the only description will likely be: Eagles cornerback.

"It's his game, his career," Jennifer Carroll said. "I just wanted to be Nolan Carroll's mother. Not the lieutenant governor or anything else. Just his mother."