This is one of the more intriguing battles in training camp this season. It will decide which rookie deserves the most playing time this season, and with the future of All-Pro Bobby Taylor in the balance, it could prove to be about more then just one season. It's no secret that the Eagles have one of, if not the best secondary in the league, and if these two youngsters can develop into the players Andy Reid hopes they will, it will remain that way for years to come.
Last season Sheldon Brown received plenty of playing time on special teams and even as the team's dime cornerback from time to time. Through his play he developed the reputation as a hard hitter, and someone who would fly around the field to make plays anywhere. While Brown showed what he had, Sheppard sat on the bench itching for his opportunity to shine.
A standout cornerback and special teams player in college, Lito Sheppard was the Eagles first round draft choice last season and hopes to have a breakout year in 2003. He has already had a solid camp and is opening the eyes of his coaches, with athletic plays and good speed in coverage. He's even had a day in which he's made two stellar interceptions and is gaining the respect of his teammates along the way.
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has already indicated that Sheppard will be the nickel back, Brown will be the dime back and the team will usually play more dime than nickel defense. That does not bode well for Sheppard, but all of that could change at anytime. If Sheppard continues his good play for the remainder of camp and in the pre-season, look for him to take over the dime role and Brown be relegated to nickel duty.
Brown appears to be struggling in practice. He looks a little slower then Sheppard and is getting beat off the line of scrimmage nearly every play. If he continues to have difficulties, it could open the window for Sheppard to take over. Don't be mistaken though, Sheldon Brown will be a great corner in this league, and if Sheppard is asked to return kickoffs or punts, Brown may have an even greater role in the defense. But as of today, the team would be more secure with Sheppard on the field.
These two second year players have loads of potential, and this coming season is a proving ground for them. If either can have a Pro-Bowl type season, it could mean the end of the Bobby Taylor era, with one of these two set to replace him next season.
Other notes from training camp
*The Eagles are impressed with the play of rookie free agent corner Roderick Hood. It is very possible that the team will carry five cornerbacks, and Hood would be used on special teams.
*· The Duce Staley holdout could be affecting more then just the offense. If Staley fails to report at all this season, then Brian Westbrook would take on an expanded role in the offense, something that was not originally planned for this year. If Westbrook is needed to be more of an offensive weapon, guys like Lito Sheppard, Freddie Milons, James Thrash or Sean Morey could be in the picture as the number one punt return and kick returner. It's very clear that this situation is having a tickle down effect on the entire team.
*· The Eagles will use a three-man rotation at left defensive end in an effort to replace Hugh Douglas. Derrick Burgess, Brandon Whiting and Jerome McDougle will be splitting time at the position. That leaves ND. Kalu and Jamaal Green on the right side of the line. Should defensive coordinator Jim Johnson decide to use such tactics, Kalu will be forced to put up the type of numbers he did coming down the stretch last season in which he recorded seven sacks in the final four regular season games.
*· The weather could not be better at Lehigh University these days. There has only been one day when the temperature rose to 90 degrees, and there has been a slight breeze nearly every day of practice, perfect conditions for NFL training camp.