One of the more under-the-radar training camp and preseason battles for the Philadelphia Eagles has been the intense competition for the nickel cornerback position.
Veteran Joselio Hanson has been the nickel cornerback for the Eagles since he joined the team as an undrafted free agent before the 2006 season.
He’s been one of the best in the game too, earning a five-year, $21 million deal before the 2009 season. That’s a contract that pays him as a starting cornerback even though he is just the nickel corner.
Many thought that his job was in jeopardy last season when the Eagles drafted Curtis Marsh in the third round. But Marsh struggled as a rookie and didn’t come close to beating out Hanson as the slot cornerback. Hanson was cut anyway (although he was later re-signed, but as the fourth cornerback), when the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha and moved Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the slot.
This season, Asomgha and Rodgers-Cromartie are the starters, meaning Hanson has a good chance to earn his nickel job back.
But rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin has been giving Hanson a run for his money, according to head coach Andy Reid, even earning reps with the first team during the team’s last preseason game against the New England Patriots.
However, despite the strict competition, the 31-year old Hanson says there’s no way Boykin will beat him out for the nickel cornerback job. That is, if it’s a fair competition.
“I mean, my ability, experience, the things I bring to the table out there, it’s just, you know what you’re getting with me,” Hanson said. “I’m going to be reliable. I’m not going to make mistakes. I’m not going to beat myself.”
“When it comes to someone beating me out, fair and square, that’s not going to happen,” Hanson said. “Now, if it’s given away, there’s nothing I can do about that. But fair and square? Nah, that’s not going to happen.”
I actually really sympathize with Hanson because I think he knows that he’s going to lose his nickel cornerback job to Boykin, and everybody knows that Hanson is the better player.
But Boykin is the future and the Eagles will likely want to give him a season to develop. The best way to learn is to play, which is a big reason why the Eagles moved Boykin to the first team defense in the last preseason game despite Hanson easily outplaying Boykin throughout training camp.
If Boykin wins the nickel cornerback job, and I think he will, Hanson will likely be cut. Last year, he was re-signed when no other team (shockingly) claimed him. I don’t think that will happen this season.
Hanson has been around about as long as one player can stay with one team without ever being a starter (six years). It’s a shame that he may not be around for year seven even though he’s the better candidate for the position.
The Eagles used their nickel corner on 47 percent of plays last season. I think that will increase to around 50 percent this season as teams continue to rely more and more on the pass.
In an all-in year for the Eagles, I’d definitely play my better player. There’s no question about it. Hanson had a down year in 2011, but he has a proven track record and he’s 31, still able to produce at a top level.
If he gets injured, then sure, Boykin is the guy I would go with at nickel corner. But not from the beginning of the season. The Eagles don’t want to be facing Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Tony Romo with a rookie still learning the position.
You have an experienced veteran, so play him.
Boykin can be the team’s fourth (or Marsh is the fourth?) cornerback and the kick returner. But he shouldn’t be the nickel cornerback until he proves that he is clearly better than Hanson. That’s likely not going to happen this year.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.