Eric Rowe's teammates kept reminding him to be ready, and he thought he was until that Thanksgiving afternoon in Detroit when Nolan Carroll left with a broken ankle. Rowe, a rookie cornerback who spent a lot of time playing safety during his college career at Utah, was not just thrown into the pool. He was shoved into the deepest end with anchors on each of his legs.

That is what it must have felt like to Rowe when he lined up across from Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson for his first extended playing time in the NFL.

"That was definitely a lesson," Rowe said after a recent practice at the NovaCare Complex. "All the D backs told me always be ready, be ready, and I thought I was until Nolan Carroll went down, and then I was like, 'Oh, crap.' "

Johnson scored three touchdowns in the Lions' rout of the Eagles, and two of them came with Rowe covering the six-time Pro Bowler, who retired from the NFL during the offseason.

"Oh, yeah, I was thrown in there, so that's really what they meant by be ready," Rowe said. "So I'm coming in this year thinking that even if I don't start I'm going to be ready."

Some, including new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, might argue that Rowe did not come into offseason workouts and training camp ready. The Eagles' 2015 second-round pick out of Utah rebounded from his inauspicious debut against Detroit with a strong game in the Eagles' upset win over New England the following week.

"I knew the next week was the Patriots, and I knew Tom Brady was the smartest quarterback in the league," Rowe said. "He knew that I was a rookie, and he had watched the film from the last game, so I had motivation to come out that next week and really just grind things out. I did not want to go out and perform like that on national television ever again."

That strong showing against the Patriots was followed by a solid finish to the season. Rowe took a rookie resume into the offseason that said he played in all 16 games and started the final five.

"From the Detroit game on I felt like I knew what it took to prepare for a game," Rowe said.

If Chip Kelly had remained as the head coach, Rowe probably would have shown up to this year's training camp as a starting cornerback. Instead, Doug Pederson took over as head coach, and Schwartz became the defensive coordinator. For Rowe, it is like being a rookie all over again. New scheme, new set of eyes examining his work and a new young cornerback (Jalen Mills) to compete against in addition to the veterans ahead of him. Pederson said Monday that Mills is ahead of Rowe on the depth chart.

"It's definitely not easy, especially if they're not the ones who watched you through the college process, and they didn't draft you," Rowe said. "But it's another challenge I have to take on."

Schwartz has not been easy on Rowe, but that hardly makes him the Lone Ranger.

"He's still a young player," Schwartz said earlier in camp. "Everybody wants to make him a seasoned vet. He started for about half a year, and he is changing schemes. But we're also through our OTAs, and we're through mini-camp, and we're through a little bit more than a week of camp. And we've got to start putting those inconsistencies behind us."

Time to step it up was the obvious message, and there were some indications that Rowe started doing that when the pads went on and live hitting sessions took place. At 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, Rowe's strength is as a physical cornerback, so he has enjoyed taking part in a more physical camp under Pederson.

"I guess from playing safety in college I always take on that mentality of being physical," Rowe said. "When we have live periods, I love those, especially when we can take guys to the ground. That's when I really get after them."

The Eagles did not tackle to the ground during Sunday's practice session, but Rowe caught Schwartz's eye with a physical play.

"He came up and made a big hit on a tight end running a flat route," Schwartz said. "That's what you want to see corners do. You don't want to see corners back down from tight ends going to the flat. Eric has flashed some things. He has some very good strengths. He's tall. He's hard to throw over the top of, and he can be physical."

Schwartz, however, ended his rare praise by saying, "There's still a lot of things he's learning."

Rowe swears he has learned to be ready no matter what, and that's a valuable lesson when you look at the resumes of the cornerbacks on the Eagles' current roster. Leodis McKelvin has not played 16 games since the 2011 season and has played in only 19 the last two years. Carroll played in only 11 games last year and started only one the year before. Brooks has three career starts, which is two fewer than Rowe.

"Out there, there's nothing set in stone," Schwartz said. "There are plenty of jobs to be earned. It's going to be about the production of the group."

Eric Rowe remains very much a part of that group.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob