Rarely do training camp flashes carry over so strongly into the regular season.
Nolan Carroll has been one of the exceptions for the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3), who visit the undefeated Carolina Panthers (5-0) tonight (8:30 p.m., NBC).
The sixth-year cornerback is in just his second season with the Eagles, after spending his first four in Miami. But last season, the soft-spoken Carroll couldn't get on the field as a cornerback who actually covered receivers downfield. Instead, he was used as a de facto linebacker who played in the team's dime packages.
He handled the assignment with competence and without complaint. But he also knew that's not how he wanted to spend the rest of his career — or even one more season.
So he mapped out an offseason plan and came out the other end a new player who turned the heads of teammates as well as coaches. He lived in the weight room until he changed his body, lived in the complex until he changed his techniques.
Ate it, slept it, lived it. Until he was it: a starting cornerback again, this time Carroll talked to nobody about it beforehand. Nobody talked to him, either.
"I knew what I had to do," he said. "I didn't like how last year was for me. I felt like I could have done more when I was out there on the field.
"But I had to be patient. If there was one thing I learned last year, it was how to be patient, grasp and learn everything I can, knowing how this system operates here. And then just come in here with the mind set and the attitude that I've got to work hard."
That was rewarded in more ways than one last Monday night.
Not only did Carroll get his first interception as an Eagle, but when he took it back all the way, he also had his first touchdown since high school.
Based on the expert way he jammed Rueben Randle at the line of scrimmage before jumping in front of Dwayne Harris in the flat, it looks like that won't be his last. Carroll played it perfectly, trusting his safeties for help behind him after the Eagles had switched to a straight Cover-2 zone. Before that, they had been giving the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning man-to-man looks the whole time.
Last year, whenever they tried to switch something up like that, they came to expect the worst.
Thanks to three new starters around safety Malcolm Jenkins, the secondary has become a trustworthy unit in which the players have confidence in each other and play more fundamentally sound within the demands of the defense's schemes as a result.
"When we had [defensive backs] Coach Cory [Undlin] come in [this past offseason], I just used the tools that he gave me and took it from there," Carroll said. "It was technique stuff. A lot of it is really just being patient at the line. A lot of us weren't really too patient [last year], kind of opening the gate and letting the receivers get a free release.
"That's what he changed for us this year during [organized team activities] — just being patient, staying square and challenging those guys."
Carroll always knew what he could do for a defense. Ironically it was the team that signed him away from the Miami Dolphins in free agency that didn't.
"We didn't know exactly what he was," Kelly admitted. "We knew he was an outstanding special teams player and we thought he had an opportunity to be a corner for us and we would see how he developed. And the credit really goes to him in terms of how hard he's worked at making himself not only — and he was a great special teams player for us last year, but not just a good special teams player, but then taking that step to becoming a starting corner this year. And he's doing a really great job of it right now.
Because of the versatility he's already displayed and his obvious tackling ability — he ranks fourth on the team with 31 tackles — Carroll can one day envision himself being moved to safety.
"Honestly, I thought coming in that it might have happened before Walt [Thurmond] did it," Carroll said. "That might have been a possibility. I just had to get my mind right for it. But it didn't happen. But who knows? Down the road? Maybe?"
Anything would beat where he was before, playing just 32 percent of the defensive snaps, compared to 99 percent this year
"Linebacker was a different experience for me," Carroll said, shaking his head. "It was different. Just different."
His way of saying he's not going back.
Nick Fierro | mcall.com | October 24, 2015