Eagles Notebook: DRC defends Castillo, Bowles takes over defense

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie prides himself on being a playmaker. The cornerback possesses road-runner speed and desires to turn every interception into six points. Naturally DRC grew up admiring Deion Sanders, the first man to bring glamour to the cornerback position. But as his career evolved, he turned his affection to another playmaker, a guy he wound up competing with for a starting job last season.

“I always used to say that I’m like Asante Samuel,” Rodgers-Cromartie said Thursday. “Got to get that ball in my hand and I’m going to score. You know, I never told him [Samuel] that, I never will tell him that. I ain’t going to tell him that, but I used to look up to him.”

In his first three seasons in the NFL, Rodgers-Cromartie was the prototypical off-corner. He would take calculated risks, sitting back and jumping routes. More often than not, he was successful. Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted 13 passes in Arizona and returned four of those for touchdowns.

Upon landing in the Eagles’ nest, his role was transformed. The defense was changing under new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. They wanted Rodgers-Cromartie to become a press corner and jam people at the line, instead of gambling like a poker player.

“If you look at it, that tends to play kind of into my abilities,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Being fast and can read people down, but it does take away a lot from your ability to jump on the ball. From a press corner, you’re only going to get one or two routes: a fade or a slant or a quick stop or something. When you’re off, you’re going to get everything and see the ball better.”

And one day after some players were criticizing Castillo, he actually went out of his way to heap praise on his old coach, saying that Castillo made him a better football player.

“No question [he did],” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He changed my game. He brought me to a press corner. He is one of them guys that takes the time with you, finds the weakness in your game and keeps you after practice, and makes you work on it. This is the NFL, you’re accountable for yourself, not too many people is going to say, ‘Hey, you need to do this and you’re going to do it.’ The team will let you do it on your own.”

Earlier this week, Brandon Graham had specifically called out Castillo’s game plans for being too vanilla. Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t see it that way. He doesn’t blame the offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator for anything.

“Of course that’s what you’re going to say when things seem to go bad, you’re going to pin-point something,” DRC said. “I don’t feel that way. You look at statistics, we’re still in the top of the running, so that’s the decision that was made and I can’t do nothing about it. I ain’t see no problems.”

No shutdown corners in NFL

Deion Sanders has often been labeled a shutdown corner, meaning no one would even throw his way. In today’s NFL, that moniker gets slapped on Darrelle Revis. But Rodgers-Cromartie dismissed the term entirely, saying that every corner gets thrown at.

“Where they at? Who are they?,” DRC asked.

When a reply of Revis came back, DRC said: “You don’t watch film then. Everybody gets thrown at. Some more than others, but everybody going to get their chance. I’m the that guy that wants that ball in my hand, you can pick on me all day.”

Speaking of Asante …

Former Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel gave the Philly media the silent treatment, turning down a conference call request earlier in the week. On Thursday, Samuel broke that ban.

“They better cheer for me,” Samuel told Atlanta reporters. “They’re going to cheer for me or we’re going to have a problem right there in Lincoln Financial [Field]. All you all fans, all I did for you all, you all better cheer for me. Deuce here. Got nothing but love for you all.”

When asked about the problems the Eagles were having, Samuel joked, “It’s kind of hard when 22 ain’t there.” (No. 22 is Samuel’s jersey number, in case anyone forgot).

Bowles: ‘Not too high, not too low’

Todd Bowles will make his debut Sunday as Eagles defensive coordinator, a position he hasn’t held at any level since 1999 when he was at Grambling State. Bowles, who hasn’t decided whether to coach from the sideline or up in the box, said his first week on the job has been rather normal.

“It’s been a normal game plan week, with the addition of doing a little more,” Bowles said. “But we watched film as a staff together; tried to break them down just the same. As a coach, you try not to get too high or too low.”

Bowles served as the interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins at the end of last season, so it would take a lot to rattle him. The biggest challenge seems to be getting guys to buy in — and figuring out a way to end all those fourth-quarter collapses.

“Any coach, position coach or otherwise, you’re going to second-guess yourself if it doesn’t work,” Bowles said. “We just have to have a better understanding and a better urgency to finish games and we’ve got to make sure we have, coaching-wise, that ability to make the calls to win the game. Then, they have to go out and execute it.”

Watch Vick run, watch Vick run more

Whether by design or pure luck, the Eagles are winning more games when Mike Vick rushes. The numbers are slight — and don’t factor in situational rushes — but they are tangible.

Vick has 23 rushes for 115 yards in the Eagles’ three wins this season against 18 for 90 yards in the three losses. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg seemed to indicate Thursday that Vick’s touches may increase.

“Yes, I want to see him moving and grooving when he’s forced to,” Mornhinweg said. “Some games, he’ll be running more and moving and throwing than other games. It does depend on scheme just a little bit. Are they spying him or are they mush rushing him? Does he have lanes to move in? You’ll see some games are different than other games there.”

Johnson back on punts?

The last we saw the Eagles (two weeks ago vs. Detroit) Mardy Gilyard had supplanted Damaris Johnson on punt returns. The struggling unit has failed to break a big return. So much so that Andy Reid personally inserted DeSean Jackson into the mix on one return in the Detroit game.

“He [Reid] thought maybe he could hit a home run,” special teams coach Bobby April said of the Jackson play.

Jackson didn’t. So who is going back there this week?

“We haven’t discussed that at this point,” April said.

April proceeded to give a ringing endorsement for Johnson. The rookie hasn’t busted one open, but he did fumble one in Arizona. That looks to be a game-time decision. On the other side, rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin will retain kickoff return duties.

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