Byron Maxwell embracing expanded role in Philadelphia

Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA -- During one of the Philadelphia Eagles' practice periods on Monday, Byron Maxwell squatted into a yoga pose. Feet apart. Elbows pressed against his inner knees. Palms together.

For more than a minute, Maxwell held the pose -- known as Garland pose -- while watching a defensive drill the coaches were teaching.

"My senior year in college, I was a stiff guy," Maxwell said when asked how he got into yoga. "So I wasn't very flexible, and I knew that was one my weaknesses. You know, you self-assess, and you're like, 'Man, I need to bend.' And I couldn't. So that was one of the things I started working on my senior year. As I started doing it, I developed a love for it."

Chip Kelly's own assessment of his football team following last season was that his secondary was dreadful and had to go. Philadelphia was second-to-last in 2014 in pass defense, giving up 264.9 passing yards per game. So Kelly waived cornerback Cary Williams and allowed cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen to walk in free agency. The only starter Kelly retained was safety Malcolm Jenkins.

Among a dizzying array of offseason moves, one of the biggest was Kelly's decision to give Maxwell a six-year, $63 million deal even though Maxwell, a sixth-round pick out of Clemson in 2011, started only 17 games in Seattle.

Maxwell's length and size -- he's 6-foot-1, 207 pounds -- fits Kelly's prototype for cornerbacks, and there's no doubt Maxwell was a key contributor on the Seahawks' famed Legion of Boom secondary that helped Seattle lead the league in passing defense last season.

But Eagles fans have long memories. The last big-ticket, free-agent cornerback to join the club was Nnamdi Asomugha, who was a colossal bust.

"Maxwell's been as good as suspected," said Philadelphia linebacker Connor Barwin. "You can tell he was on a Super Bowl team and played with a very, very good group over there."

That Maxwell did, but he did not have to be the leader of that group. He was the quiet one behind Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.

Now, Maxwell is in a situation in which he must be the leader, and he's embracing that role. Following the Eagles' trading nickel corner Brandon Boykin to Pittsburgh on the eve of training camp, Maxwell likely will have to help break in rookie JaCorey Shepherd, who could start at nickel, while also mentoring rookie Eric Rowe, whom the Eagles have said will play on the outside.

A player who had a hard time getting on the field last season, Nolan Carroll, probably will be the Eagles' other starting corner opposite Maxwell, while Walter Thurmond is transitioning to safety for the first time in his career while also coming back from a torn pectoral muscle suffered in Week 2 last year as a member of the New York Giants.

Maxwell didn't duck from the additional attention a big free-agency payday brings. He comes to Philadelphia with six career interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, but last year he also was one of the most penalized defensive backs in the league. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Maxwell was called for holding or defensive pass interference seven times, which was tied for the fifth-most in the NFL among defensive backs. Only Cleveland's Joe Haden and Buster Skrine were called for more defensive holding penalties (six) than Maxwell (five).

"I don't worry about that," Maxwell said. "To be honest with you, that's one of those things, if they call it they call it. I've got to play my game while I'm out there. I can't be thinking about if I'm holding or if I'm getting a PI. If they call it, move on to the next play. But if they don't catch me. I'm playing ball."

Maxwell isn't allergic to bold talk. Asked if one reason he came to Philadelphia was because defensive coordinator Billy Davis prefers to play press coverage, Maxwell said: "I came here for a lot of reasons. Press. Obviously, the money. Not many people say that, but it's true. I've got to feed my family."

As for living up to his contract, Maxwell said that no one will put more expectations on him than he will.

"Whatever ya'll are talking about, yeah that's fine, but this is me," Maxwell said. "This is what drives me, and it has nothing to do with everybody else. This is what I feel like I want to do. It's me. So yeah, it's pressure, but what I put on myself is nothing. What are ya'll, what's everyone else thinking? I'm like, 'Whatever. I have to do it.'"

Maxwell also has to keep doing yoga. He found a Bikram yoga studio in his Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia and is planning to try out another studio with Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez on Wednesday.

During the season, Maxwell said he tries to make two hot yoga classes per week. He also does yoga at home each night before he goes to bed.

"It keeps me flexible," Maxwell said. "It really helps me out during the season."

Given what's at stake for a player making big money this season, Maxwell will need all the help he can get.