As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to open training camp on July 25, we examine whether the team is better or worse than last season at each position. We continue with safety.
Say what you want about Malcolm Jenkins. Say that Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward were superior options to Jenkins in free agency. Say that the sixth-year veteran misses too many tackles, or doesn’t make enough impact plays.
At least he’s no Patrick Chung.
Chung wound up being one of the worst Eagles in recent memory, which is saying something considering this team is less than two years removed from a 4-12 season. That’s how large a disaster Chung truly was, as he was constantly out of position and often barreling into his own teammates over 11 starts (including playoffs) in midnight green last year.
Jenkins may not be a Pro Bowler or anything, but he represents a clear upgrade from… that. In fact, the exiled New Orleans Saint was competent enough to start in the NFL’s second-ranked passing defense in 2013, not to mention has a Super Bowl ring to show for his efforts in ’09.
Not only that, but Jenkins’ versatility makes him a perfect fit for the Birds’ scheme. A converted cornerback out of Ohio State, Jenkins is comfortable in man-to-man coverage against wide receivers, while at 6’4”, 204 pounds, he can also play downhill and supply the big hit.
And as Geoff Mosher writes for CSNPhilly.com, Jenkins brings more to the table than what we can see with the naked eye. He’s a student of the game who sets an example with his work ethic off the field. On it, he’ll act as the quarterback of the secondary, communicating responsibilities to the rest of the defensive backs.
It may not have been the big splash fans were hoping for, but Jenkins is a huge step up for the Eagles nonetheless.
We’re marking Wolff in the “better” column based on his competent performance throughout his rookie season and the idea that he should naturally progress in year two.
A 2013 fifth-round pick, Wolff appeared in 11 games last season, starting in six. He didn’t do anything particularly remarkable, recording 45 tackles, five pass breakups and an interception. However, the 24-year-old didn’t make glaring mistakes, either, which is more or less a compliment for a rookie safety.
What you would like to see from Wolff on a consistent basis moving forward is more reading than reacting. It seemed on numerous occasions he was just a step late from possibly breaking up a pass or making a big play instead of merely making a tackle.
Of course, that is to be expected of a rookie, which is why as Wolff gets more comfortable, his play only stands to improve. Regardless of whether he wins a starting job or not, Wolff is likely to see a sizeable amount of action in 2014, and based on what we’ve been able to glean so far, that’s probably not a bad thing.
Have we truly seen the best Nate Allen has to offer? I’m not entirely convinced we have. He came a long, long way in a short amount of time in 2013.
At the beginning of the year, Allen was regularly out of position or plain ineffective—not at all unlike what we were accustomed to. In one memorable early-season letdown, he was beaten repeatedly in a 33-30 Week 2 loss to the San Diego Chargers, including for a pair of touchdowns.
Allen’s performance turned at some point in the aftermath of that horrid outing. The sieve-like coverage became fewer and farther between, to the point where, anecdotally speaking, Allen wasn’t surrendering very many big gains at all. He also became a willing and active tackler, taking better routes to the football and finishing plays.
His stat line didn’t light the world on fire—82 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one interception—but Allen’s overall play was competent bordering on good. At least, he was a far cry from the so-called draft bust we had watched over the past few years.
Allen only has four years in the league and turns 27 in November, so it’s plausible he can continue to improve. Then again, I sincerely doubt he’s going to suddenly transform into the star the Eagles were hoping they got for their second-round pick in 2010. Now that Allen has his confidence back, another step forward isn’t out of the question, but in all likelihood, he’s closing in on his ceiling.
Another year, another fifth-round safety for the Birds. This time, it’s Ed Reynolds out of Stanford, and unlike Wolff last summer, it doesn’t appear he’ll have to worry about competing for a starting gig from the moment he arrives.
Reynolds is an interesting prospect. He has ideal size (6’1”, 207 pounds) and average athleticism, and although he had something of an up-and-down career in college, the ups were outrageous. In 2012, Reynolds racked up a whopping six interceptions in 14 games, three of which he returned for touchdowns.
Whether Reynolds can bring those ball-hawking skills to the NFL is another story—heck, he only came up with one pick the following year. That being said, he seems like a reasonable prospect to stash and develop for a year, provided he doesn’t wind up being thrust into the lineup for whatever reason.
Second starter at safety
There aren’t many legitimate competitions anticipated at the top of the depth chart for the Eagles this summer, but Allen and Wolff are expected to battle it out for the starting job opposite Jenkins at safety. Allen is penciled into the opening for now, but the team made him no promises when he re-signed on a one-year deal a week into free agency.
By all appearances, this competition can only be a positive for the Birds. As we’ve already gone over, Allen was serviceable last season, while Wolff is a player on the rise. Whoever winds up winning, there isn’t much reason to be concerned.
BETTER OR WORSE
Better. Seeing as the Eagles were playing with a double agent in their defensive backfield at least half the time in 2013, there’s little chance the unit could be worse. Jenkins is worlds better than Chung, not to mention a great fit both on and off the field. Whether it’s Allen or Wolff manning the other spot, the safety position seems solid for now.