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Eagles Need Eric Rowe to Step up in Starter Competition

As training camp continues, one of the major questions surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles defense is which two cornerbacks will open the regular season as the team's starters.

Veterans Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll, along with last year's second-round pick Eric Rowe, are all in competition with one another for the two spots.

While the competition is open, the ideal scenario for the Eagles would be to see Rowe step up and lock down one of the starting positions.

Rowe was very raw in his rookie year, and wasn't quite ready for the opportunity. His first NFL campaign was notoriously highlighted by the game against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, where former defensive coordinator Billy Davis left Rowe on an island to fend for himself against Calvin Johnson, resulting in Megatron torching the young corner for three touchdowns.

Rowe did show some bright moments as well, but ultimately they weren't enough to make the team feel comfortable penciling him in as one of their starters.

Entering his second season, it's important that Rowe begin to show that the team was right to invest such a high draft pick in him. For this defense to have its best chance at evolving into a top unit, Rowe needs to be able to start on the outside.

McKelvin was one of the team's most significant free agent signings, and has experience with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's scheme from their time together in Buffalo. However, the former first-round pick was not guaranteed a starting position when he signed with the team.

McKelvin's skill set is ideal for the slot. He's smaller and quicker than Rowe or Carroll, and better suited to battle with opposing slot receivers. If Rowe locks down a starting position on the outside, it will allow McKelvin to shift to his best position.

However, if Rowe struggles, it creates all kinds of problems for the defensive backfield.

If the team can't count on Rowe to take the field without being a liability, it will force McKelvin outside, and leave the team to find a makeshift solution for the nickel role. Rowe himself isn't suited for the slot, and would be relegated to backing up Carroll and McKelvin at the corners.

JaCorey Shepherd was the favorite to win the job last season, but he's coming off of a major injury, and is unproven. It's not a lock that he even makes the team.

Another option would be to have safety Malcolm Jenkins play the slot as he often did a season ago. Jenkins, who originally entered the league as a corner, handled the role very well a year ago. The problem is that with Jenkins coming forward to match up against a wide receiver, it forced the defense to bring Chris Maragos off of the bench and onto the field. Maragos, who is on the roster primarily for special teams purposes, is a defensive liability.

The preseason games will serve as our first look at just how far Rowe has come, and what his odds of winning a starting job may be. The Eagles open the preseason with a tough challenge for Rowe in wide receiver Mike Evans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Denny Basens is a staff writer for Sports Talk Philly. Follow him on Twitter @DennyBasens


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