Paul Domowitch
phillynews.com

AARON GRYMES understood his situation all too well last year.

He wasn't a high-round draft pick or a veteran free agent with a seven-figure signing bonus.

He was a street free agent out of the Canadian Football League whose path to an Eagles roster spot was blocked by more traffic than the Schuylkill at rush hour.

When you're a face in the crowd as Grymes was last year, you have to get people's attention, and you have only a minimal amount of practice reps to do it.

You have to make plays in the spring minicamps and in the training-camp practices and in the preseason games, and Grymes did that.

The 26-year-old cornerback was well on his way to beating the odds and making the season-opening roster when he injured a shoulder making a spectacular diving interception in the end zone in a preseason game against the Steelers.

He ended up getting released. When the shoulder finally healed 21/2 months later, the Eagles signed him to their practice squad.

Grymes eventually did get an opportunity to spend a couple weeks on the team's 53-man roster, and played nine special-teams snaps in the Eagles' Week 10 win over Atlanta, before returning to the practice squad for the remainder of the season.

"Before I hurt my shoulder, I felt it was my job to have," Grymes said. "But because of the injury, I didn't get to have it. I'm just trying to get back into that position this year."

When the Eagles open training camp next month, there will be a number of interesting position battles. None is more wide-open than cornerback, where it's anybody's guess who will be the team's three starting corners when the Eagles take the field Sept. 10 for the season opener against the Redskins.

The Eagles blew up the corner position after the season, releasing one starter, Leodis McKelvin, and not re-signing the other, Nolan Carroll.

They signed veteran Patrick Robinson in free agency, selected two in the draft - Sidney Jones in the second round and Rasul Douglas in the third - and added another corner from Canada, Mitchell White.

They have 11 cornerbacks on their roster, including Jones, who probably will be sidelined until at least midseason as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles' tendon. At least eight of the remaining 10 have a legitimate chance to earn one of the likely five corner spots on the Eagles' season-opening roster.

"It's definitely going to be competitive," said Grymes, an all-conference corner at the University of Idaho who went undrafted in 2013 and wasn't even signed as a free agent.

"I think it's going to make all of us look better and play better because everybody is going to give everything they have. Nobody can afford to take a play off with the way things are at cornerback.

"There's going to be a lot of big plays made; a lot of highlight-reel plays."

This spring, Grymes has picked up where he left off before he hurt his shoulder last summer. Playing mostly in the slot, he has looked impressive in the padless workouts, breaking up deep balls, sabotaging intermediate routes and just playing with an overall confidence that has impressed both defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, as well as his teammates.

"Aaron would have made the team last year if he hadn't gotten hurt," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "He's really pushing to crack that starting lineup, especially at the nickel position.

"He's bringing us a lot of quality reps in there. He knows what he's doing. He's a veteran. Athletic, fast. He's done nothing but make plays this spring."

Said Grymes: "Things have been going really well. I'm making plays. I'm just trying to be consistent every day. Eliminate mistakes. Never be satisfied with what happened yesterday or because I got a shout-out from somebody."

Grymes spent three years in the CFL, where the game is more wide-open and the field is bigger. As Grymes found out last year and White is discovering this year, there is an adjustment period transitioning back to the smaller American football field.

"It helps and hurts (playing up there)," said Grymes, who went undrafted coming out of the University of Idaho. "Because of the bigger field, you have more time to recover if you make a mistake. You don't have that here.

"This being my second year back, I feel I'm back into the American game from the Canadian game. I feel a lot smarter than I did a year ago. I feel I know what's coming. I know what they expect of us. I just feel more confident."

It's been noticeable to everyone, particularly Jenkins.

"He's a lot more comfortable out there," Jenkins said. "Last year, he was trying to make that transition from the CFL and was just trying to learn the ins and outs of everything.

"At this point, he's up to speed. You can tell the game has slowed down for him. He knows the scheme. He knows offensive concepts. He's playing like a veteran."

Grymes' practice reps have come primarily in the slot this spring. Jalen Mills, Patrick Peterson and rookie Rasul Douglas have usually been the three corners in Schwartz's No. 1 nickel package this spring, with C.J. Smith, Dwayne Gratz and Grymes in the second nickel group.

Ron Brooks, who was the team's nickel corner last year before suffering a season-ending quadriceps injury in Week 7, has not practiced this spring.

"(Playing inside) is fine with me," said Grymes. "That's the position they were kind of looking at me for when they signed me. I'll hopefully get some reps on the outside during training camp and show them I can do more than one thing.

"But right now, I'm just trying to take advantage of the reps I get. When I get in there, try to make a play."


Underlying the off-season high profile additions is the bulking up of the roster depth.