Nolan Carroll, JaCorey Shepherd eager to enter Eagles' CB competition after last year's injuries


The Eagles' wide-open competition at cornerback is about to heat up now that two more combatants are set to enter the fray. During this week's minicamp, Nolan Carroll and JaCorey Shepherd are taking part in team drills for the first time this offseason, albeit on a limited basis as they continue their recovery from injuries.

Furthermore, despite being eased back slowly, both Carroll and Shepherd expect to be full participants by the time training camp rolls around in July.

"This week, with the limited number of reps, we'll be able to get them back out there just to see where they are physically," said Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. "Training camp, once we get into camp and get these guys 100 percent, we’ll really be able to see more of where they fit in their role on defense."

At OTAs in May, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz made it very clear there are currently no set starters at any of the cornerback spots. That means Carroll and Shepherd haven't missed much yet.

"We don't have a depth chart now," Schwartz stressed. "We're just trying to work different groups. You work different combinations. You want to see guys against different competition.

"So this time of year, you're mixing and matching an awful lot. You're trying to put guys in a lot of different situations and trying to sort of see what you have. They're honestly really not even competing right now. They're competing against themselves to try to improve their technique. To try to improve their understanding of the scheme, but the competition will start once we get to training camp."

The introduction of Carroll and Shepherd into the competition is no small thing. Based on their roles last season, both players have an excellent shot to contribute under a new regime.

Carroll started 11 games for the Eagles in 2015 before suffering a broken ankle on Thanksgiving Day, and, up to that point, was having a solid season. The seventh-year veteran finished with a career-high 57 tackles to go along with 10 pass breakups and two interceptions, including a pick-six. Carroll tested free agency, but wound up returning on a one-year deal.

Shepherd was thought to be the frontrunner to win the nickel cornerback as a rookie last season. Unfortunately, the sixth-round draft pick out of Kansas sustained a torn ACL early in training camp and wound up missing the whole season.

Both players are itching to show the coaching staff what they can do coming off of their respective injuries, but also realize there's no need to rush things.

"I feel good. I feel ready," said Carroll. "It's one of those things where it's kind of precautionary. [Schwartz] has been easing me back into stuff, he's been doing it since OTAs, but I feel good.

"When I'm doing individual drills, I feel great. On special teams, I've been feeling great. I've been trying to sneak in on some team stuff, but they have me limited at OTAs. It's a progression thing. Take my time with it is all I've been trying to do, so I feel fine, I feel good, but I've gotta do what they tell me to do right now."

"I'm feeling good, but what's three extra days," Shepherd said. "I've been here rehabbing and getting myself right both mentally and physically for months now, so we're just taking precaution. It's not that I don't believe I could go out there and do more or they don't, but like I said, three more days.

"I'll work my way back in, and once we get back for training camp, it's full go."

In addition to retaining Carroll and Shepherd, the Eagles also brought in competition at the cornerback spot during the offseason.

Veterans Leodis McKelvan and Ron Brooks - a pair of Schwartz disciples - were signed as free agents, while a seventh-round pick was spent on Jalen Mills out of LSU. Second-year defensive back Eric Rowe figures to play prominently in the competition as well, while Jaylen Watkins, Denzel Rice and Randall Evans all also return from last season.

Despite losing his position to injury, Carroll isn't approaching the competition as if a starting job is his to lose.

"I don't feel like that at all," said Carroll. "I just come out and compete. That's always been my mindset since I've been in the league, just never be complacent, never get relaxed, always come out feeling like somebody's trying to take your job. No matter where it is on the depth chart, that's always been my mindset. That's what I'm gonna continue to do now."

Shepherd wasn't sure whether he's in line for a shot at the nickel job again or if he's competing on the outside. It doesn't sound as though he's too worried about where he plays, just as long as he has the opportunity.

"I'm approaching it in a manner that I'm competing for a starting spot," said Shepherd. "Where the starting spot is, I don't know, but if it's at nickel or if it's on the outside, I'm attacking both like I'm competing for a starting spot.

"Frankly, I'm a competitor. I feel like to be in this profession, you can't be too worried about competition."

How far along Carroll and Shepherd are concerning their respective injuries could go a long way in determining which roles they can carve out in the season ahead. For what it's worth though, the head coach sounded high on their prospects.

"You have to look at last year and where they were and both of them were big impacts on defense," said Pederson. "Both of them are good players that really mix well into not only the defensive back room, but what Jim is presenting on defense.

"They are a big part of Jim's process and his structure on defense."

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