Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Safety

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Safety

We pick up our training camp preview at safety, where it appears the Eagles have an even more wide-open competition than at quarterback. It's anybody's guess who will be starting come Week 1.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | Offensive Line
Defensive Line | Linebacker | Cornerback ]

Is Nate Allen a draft bust?

He’s got one last chance to prove otherwise, but it's looking that way so far. We can be a little quick to judge athletes in this town, however nobody would blame you for being down on Allen. He was enjoying a promising rookie season in 2010 until it was interrupted by a ruptured patellar tendon, and he never quite looked the same the following year, remaining inconsistent up to present day. At best, Allen was essentially invisible in 15 games last season, defending just four passes while creating zero turnovers.

Then again, who didn’t look inconsistent amid the Eagles’ dysfunction in the waning days under Andy Reid, particularly on one of the league’s worst defenses? The secondary especially was a joke, as opposing quarterbacks posted a 99.6 passer rating against Philly – second-highest in the NFL. Sure, that would seem to reflect poorly on Allen, but the cornerbacks were frequently leaving the safeties to fend for themselves, and the safeties were often scratching their heads and looking confused after the fact. It was chaos.

The Birds’ defense probably won’t be an elite unit in their first year under Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis, but that should be because they’re a little short on talent, not for a lack of understanding the scheme. Whatever was going on with Juan Castillo/Todd Bowles/Jim Washburn on the coaching staff over the last two seasons, the secondary appeared to be hung out to dry as a result.

In other words, maybe Allen’s struggles are not all his own fault. Maybe in a less-complex scheme (with a true defensive coordinator), where the other guys in the huddle are in it for more than themselves, he’ll improve. Or maybe the one dubbed “the McNabb Pick” is a bust, and he’ll be exposed no matter where he is or who’s around him. The clock is ticking.

What should we expect from Patrick Chung?

A flawed-but-starting-material player. Chung burst on to the scene during his second season for the Patriots in 2010, but he’s been unable to stay healthy ever since. Then last year not only was he hurt, but his play really dropped off. He took bad angles to the ball, and generally was not as dangerous or effective. The ‘09 second-round pick lost his starting job before the year was out, and New England let him walk in the offseason.

The Eagles scooped him up for three years, $10 million, and penciled him in at one of the safety spots. It’s not simply a case where Chip Kelly is familiar with Chung from their Oregon days, either. The club is hoping they got a genuine inside-the-box presence, somebody who can help out against the run and blitz, plus make the occasional big play in coverage as well.

Chung probably isn’t going to become Brian Dawkins all of a sudden, but safety has been a huge mess for the Eagles ever since Weapon X left. Admittedly this addition looks more like another band-aid than a permanent solution, but having a player who was good enough to start in the Super Bowl a couple years ago means the Birds can finally move on from the likes of Kurt Coleman this summer. That can’t be a bad thing.

Is Kenny Phillips healthy?

That of course is the catch-22 with Phillips. He has a long injury of knee histories, missing almost all of the ’09 campaign after having microfracture surgery on the left, and appearing in just seven games due to a sprained MCL in the left last season. After signing with the Eagles as a free agent in the offseason, already this spring Phillips was held out of practice due to his knee issues.

If the former first-round pick were healthy, the Birds would be getting one of the best cover safeties in the NFL. In 2011, his last full season, he hauled down four interceptions, defended 11 passes, and forced a fumble. There’s a reason the New York Giants let him walk though, the same reason why Philadelphia was able to sign him for one year at just north of the league minimum – those knees.

If Phillips can survive training camp, he has a great chance to be one of the two starters. At this point that might seem like a big “if,” but who can predict these things?

Does Earl Wolff have a chance to start in his rookie season?

Absolutely. I mean, I don’t see anybody definitely holding him back, do you? A fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State, Wolff’s athleticism stands out. He’s not particularly huge at 5-11, 209, but he is strong, and people tend to take notice of players with 4.44 speed and a 39-inch vertical. Watch him jump on to a shelf that’s nearly as tall as he is.

Raw athletic talent won’t win a job alone for Wolff, but with so many question marks above him on the depth chart, he’s got a legit chance at earning playing time. Reporters noted the rookie did get some first-team reps at practices this spring, and while Chip says we can’t read into that stuff too much, this one seems fairly telling given the circumstances.

Allen, Chung, and Phillips are all injury prone and/or are not necessarily going to cut it. Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, and David Sims don’t look like threats at the moment. Wolff’s path to the field is fairly clear.

Who will ultimately start at safety for the Eagles?

Chung almost certainly, then either Allen or Phillips in the second spot.

Based on the contract he signed, it appears Chung was brought in to start for at least this upcoming season, although obviously plans can change. On the opposite side Allen has the inside track, but if Phillips can go, he is probably the best – not to mention most-experienced – safety on the roster.

As was mentioned above, don’t sleep on Earl Wolff, either. Either way, just be glad Kurt Coleman could be out of the picture finally.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."