Allen, Wolff battle for starting job -- again

usanateallenearlwolff.jpg

Allen, Wolff battle for starting job -- again

The storyline that wouldn’t go away last spring and summer is back again. Nate Allen or Earl Wolff? Earl Wolff or Nate Allen?

The steady vet or the promising upstart?

Right now, just like it was last year at this time, the answer is Nate Allen.

“Nate's the first guy up,” coach Chip Kelly said Thursday. “And Earl is in running with the second group right now. And both have done a great job in the offseason program. We're excited to see those guys play it out.”

Of course, Kelly and his staff have seen this act play out once before.

The veteran Allen and rookie Wolff battled all last year throughout OTAs and training camp for the right to start opposite Patrick Chung. The coaches never really intended to open the season with Wolff, a fifth-round pick from N.C. State, but they split reps between both safeties until finally settling on Allen.

In the end, the odd man out ended up being Chung, whose injuries led to Allen and Wolff manning the safety tandem as the calendar turned from fall to winter. Allen started all 16 games for the first time his career, playing steadily. Wolff enjoyed some very good moments until a knee injury late in the season sidelined him for six of the last seven games, including the team’s first-round playoff loss to New Orleans.

In the offseason, the Eagles cut Chung, signed Malcolm Jenkins to start and re-signed Allen to a one-year deal. When the team reconvened in April for the offseason program, Wolff observed his name below Allen’s on the depth chart.

Upset?

“Not at all,” Wolff said. “I ended up getting hurt. Nate played pretty good, to me, to everybody. So I wasn’t mad the first day we came back and I saw his name above mine. He deserved it. I didn’t end the year the way I wanted to, so I didn’t deserve to be up there as the No. 1 guy.”

So the Eagles are back to Square 1. They’ll let competition decide whether Wolff or Allen should be the guy opposite Jenkins.

“Every day I come out here and give it my all,” Wolff said. “Me and Nate have a good friendship, relationship and basically we both know it’s going to come down to -- we’re not sure -- probably till the preseason or whatever. We’re both going to give our all and may the best man win.”

Kelly also drafted Ed Reynolds out of Stanford in the fifth round but Reynolds, like all NFL prospects from Stanford, will miss the OTAs because of an NCAA rule prohibiting college players from attending NFL camps before graduation.

Jenkins, still new to the club, couldn’t handicap the race but seemed to suggest that Allen’s savvy and expertise could trump Wolff’s athleticism.

“It’s too early to say anything about it,” Jenkins said. “Obviously, they’re both competing for that spot. You got Nate, who’s a veteran who knows what to do. He’s gonna be in the right place at the right time. He knows the defense. I think he’s getting better as far as anticipating what offenses are gonna do.

“Earl, he’s very, very athletic. He’s young. But he’s still inexperienced. I think that’s the biggest thing for him is learning the nuances of the game and how to play different positions, what to look for and how to take what the book says that you should do it and apply it to what the play is developing as. We’ll see how that plays out once we get into training camp and get further along.”

Allen and Wolff were surprisingly efficient last year, helping the Eagles resolve their prolonged streak of disasters at the position going back to their head-slapping decision to let franchise icon Brian Dawkins escape to Denver after the 2009 season and then Quintin Mikell walk out the door after 2010.

Allen, a second-round pick whose career kept arcing the wrong way in 2011 and 2012, managed to play 16 games for the first time in his career and seemed to correct the sloppy tackling problems that had become his calling card during those two dark years.

He set a career high with 94 tackles, ranking third on the defense, and recorded at least one sack and one interception in the same season for the first time since his promising rookie year.

Wolff mixed into the defense early before getting his first start Week 4 against the Broncos to replace an injured Chung. In his second career start, he registered eight tackles. He racked up eight more a week later against the Bucs.

If he hadn’t suffered a knee hyperextension that limited him to just one game over the last seven weeks, maybe he’d enter this year’s camp ahead of Allen on the depth chart.

No matter, Wolff said. It’s just another motivational tool.

Not that he really needed one more.

“Even if my name was ahead of him, you know, I know that doesn’t guarantee anything,” he said. “Because even though I’d still be No. 1 on this team, I still want to be the best in this league.”

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

Some scouts and draftniks were surprised Myke Tavarres' name had not been called after the dust settled and all seven rounds were complete in May's NFL draft. At that point, the Eagles weren't about to let a potential diamond in the rough show up on another club's 90-man roster.

The Eagles reportedly gave Tavarres $95,000 in guaranteed money to sign, one of the highest sums awarded to an undrafted free agent in the NFL in 2016, and it wasn't difficult to understand why. Linebacker is a position of need for one thing, so much so there's an excellent chance a lesser-known prospect out of an FCS program like the University of Incarnate Word has an excellent shot at making the team.

Yet Tavarres is an impressive individual as well, both as an athlete and a person. You can learn a lot about his character based alone on the mantra he has tattooed on his arm.

"In high school I used to wrestle, and my coach before every big match, he would read me this quote, and this quote has gotten me through everything," Tavarres said at training camp this week. "It says, 'If you do not try, then you do not do, and if you do not do, then why are you here?' Pretty self explanatory."

And while Tavarres is serious about playing football, it's clear he has his priorities straight. While he declined to get into why exactly he transferred from Arkansas to Incarnate Word after one season, it certainly wasn't because he worried about being drafted or a career in the NFL at the time. It was what he felt was best for him.

"I actually had a close friend that played corner out there," Tavarres said, "and he said, 'You'd love it out here, the coaches are pretty relaxed. It'll be a good opportunity for you to go out there and just have fun and play the game.' So after that I decided to go there.

"Honestly, I wasn't even worried about the NFL when I got to Incarnate Word. I was more focused on getting my degree, finishing school. Then toward the middle of the season, they were like, 'Hey, you've got a pretty good shot to play in the NFL.' After that, I was like, 'Alright, let's go ahead and go for it.'"

It's also telling of his personality what Tavarres' attitude is toward going undrafted.

"I'm not too upset and I wasn't really that worried," he said. "I knew I was going to get an opportunity somewhere, and that's all I ever asked for was an opportunity."

As impressive as his determination is, you can learn a lot about Tavarres' physical ability just from looking at the numbers, too. As a senior — his only season with the program — he posted 110 tackles, 22½ tackles for loss and 8½ sacks. He was so versatile, he even saw a limited number of touches as a running back and kickoff returner.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Tavarres also mentions he actually came into camp up to 240, not to mention he might be even faster than people think. At least he claims a trick of the stopwatch may have caused a sizable discrepancy in his 40-yard dash time compared to what is on the books from his pro day.

"It was a 4.7, but," Tavarress said, "realistically I found out after I was running, I moved my hand before I started running, and what my trainer and my agent had was a 4.4."

Not that he ascribes too much importance to the actual time anyway.

"People spend so much time worrying about 40-this, 40-that," he said. "If you can play ball, you can play ball."

The challenge now for Tavarres is picking up a defense he's never played in before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also says that's part of what attracted him to the Eagles. While he was used primarily as a pass-rusher in college, Tavarres believes his skillset is better suited for playing linebacker in a 4-3.

So far, Tavarres feels the most comfortable at strongside, where his speed and strength are valuable attributes for covering tight ends.

"It's been a lot harder for me than it would be for most guys because they've all played in a 4-3 scheme," Tavarres said. "I played in a 3-2, which is pretty much just a standard defensive end rushing the passer, so it's all been relatively new to me, but I'm adjusting and acclimating as much as I can.

"For a linebacker like me, I can play side-to-side, so that would be really good for me. That was really the most reason why I decided to come here."

The Eagles' lack of depth at linebacker didn't hurt either. Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham seem set as the starters, but the only backups with NFL experience currently on the roster are Najee Goode and Deonate Skinner. That leaves seventh-round pick Joe Walker, Tavarres and fellow undrafted rookies Quentin Guase and Don Cherry likely competing for at least one, possibly two spots.

All Tavarres wanted was an opportunity, and he has one here. He's also confident he knows what he has to do to take advantage of what's in front of him and make the 53-man roster.

"Hard work. Dedication. Special teams," Tavarres said, with the latter being what he hopes will help set him apart.

"My goal on every single special teams play is to be the first one down there and not just to get down there, but make the play, make the tackle."

Obviously, special teams will be a huge factor in the Eagles' decision, although the organization may have tipped its hand a bit with the nice bonus it paid Tavarres as far as what it thinks of his chances. Undeniably a bit raw, he has the talent and right attitude to play at the next level, which makes for one intriguing prospect to watch this summer.

Eagles trying out unique helmet camera for film practice

Eagles trying out unique helmet camera for film practice

Blake Countess had three eyes on Wednesday.

The first two were under his helmet, scanning the field in anticipation of throws coming from fellow rookie Carson Wentz.

The third was on top of his helmet.

The rookie safety wore a small cylindrical camera, about the width of a silver dollar, on the top left of his helmet — just above the Eagles’ logo — during the third practice of training camp. The footage from the camera will give the team a different vantage point while looking at practice film.

“Technology, you can't stay up fast enough with it,” head coach Doug Pederson said after practice. “Those are great devices to have. In fact, we used them in Kansas City with the quarterbacks. We've had them on their helmets before.

“It gives you an opportunity to kind of see from the players' vantage point where they're looking, where their eyes are. Are they in the right direction? Are they on the right reads? And defensively are [they] in the right spots? And then you can evaluate and help correct the player.”

On Wednesday, Countess was the only player wearing the camera, but the rookie said the team plans on using them more, eventually for receivers and quarterbacks.

How can it help Countess to get better?

“Eye progressions, just seeing where I’m looking at and being more disciplined with my eyes,” the sixth-round pick said. “Throughout the play, if your eyes are bad, you’re probably going to get beat, especially as a defensive back.”

Pederson said sometimes the helmet cams give back some shaky video, so using it on Countess was a test of sorts.

But the Chiefs used them for their quarterbacks and if the feedback from this preliminary camera is good, the Eagles might put them on the helmets of their quarterbacks soon.

“The thing is, too, with technology,” Pederson said, “if it helps you win football games, I'm all for it.”

As for Countess, the team told him about the camera on Tuesday and when he got into the locker room on Wednesday, there it was, attached to his helmet.

Why did they pick him?

“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “I wish I knew.”

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”