Eagles Wake-Up Call: Assessing the Safety Situation

Earl WolffHowie Roseman stood on the field at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. and was perfectly honest about the difficulties he’d had in finding players at one specific position.

“To me, that’s the hardest position to evaluate in college football is safeties,” Roseman said back in January at the Senior Bowl. “The guys that used to be the most explosive athletes and were playing in the back end, they’re going to play corner because they feel like maybe at corner, they can play 10 years. You look at the franchise tag numbers, the corner position is higher than the safety position. That is going to be the constant struggle. When you talk to people around the league, it’s hard to find safeties.”

Roseman wasn’t lying. And Sunday’s release of Kenny Phillips served as just another reminder of how this franchise has struggled to address the safety position since it lost Brian Dawkins back in 2009.

That year, Quintin Mikell, Macho Harris, Sean Jones and Quintin Demps all saw snaps. Mikell was easily the best of the group.

In 2010, it was Mikell, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson and Jamar Adams.

2011? Coleman, Allen, Jarrad Page and Jaiquawn Jarrett.

And last year, Coleman, Allen, Anderson and David Sims.

Eleven guys in four seasons. None good enough to be penciled in to the starting lineup in 2013.

The position has changed, as teams expect versatility from their safeties. The athleticism and cover skills to match up with slot receivers. The size to take on tight ends, play the run and be an enforcer over the middle. The speed to play center field and serve as the last line of defense.

Teams around the league are having trouble finding suitable options, so it’s unlikely the Eagles find legitimate help when cuts are made in the next week. There’s been a little buzz about Bills safety Jairus Byrd, but it still seems unlikely that he gets dealt. Byrd is reportedly looking to become the highest-paid safety in the league.

On the current roster, it looks like Patrick Chung will start at one spot. Nate Allen is the favorite to run with Chung, but he’s entrenched firmly in “believe it when we see it” territory. Allen has shown little this summer to suggest he’s suddenly ready to make the leap.

Rookie Earl Wolff rotated in with Allen on Saturday, but might not be ready. If the coaches feel the competition is close, Wolff could get the nod. Or he could get a shot later in the season.

Chip Kelly has placed an emphasis on special teams, and Colt Anderson is the team’s best special-teams player. That should be enough to earn him a roster spot. Kurt Coleman isn’t a bad backup option, but he’s on the bubble. And David Sims is likely a longshot.

Another year where fans will likely watch on Sundays and hope for an offseason upgrade. There’s a good possibility that next January in Mobile, Roseman will be answering the same question once again.

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles cut Phillips and Jamar Chaney yesterday.

The Birds also let 10 other players go.

The No-22 breakdown of what we saw from the offense vs. Jacksonville.

Good stuff from T-Mac on why the offense looked different.

Kelly said the Eagles were their own worst enemy Saturday.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Things do not look good for former Eagle Kevin Kolb:

 

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com offers some day-after thoughts on Michael Vick’s performance:

One of the areas where Vick made things worse is his desire for bigger chunks of yards. I re-watched the 1st quarter last night and there were several chances for him to check the ball down. Vick instead threw the ball to intermediate targets. There is no question that Vick was holding onto the ball longer last night. Maybe Vick wanted to put on a show after being named the starter. I don’t know. He needs to back to the previous games and play within himself and within the offense. Keep the ball moving and the chunk plays will come.

COMING UP

We’ll hear from Kelly and check out practice at the Linc.

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Eagles Release Kenny Phillips, Jamar Chaney

Kenny PhillipsAdd two more names to the list of roster cuts: Kenny Phillips and Jamar Chaney.

Pro Football Talk and Adam Caplan were first with the reports, respectively.

The 26-year-old Phillips just hasn’t been able to get healthy. He had major surgery on his left knee back in 2009 and hasn’t been the same player since. Phillips also dealt with a right knee injury that sidelined him for nine games last year, and he’s been dealing with a quad issue in recent weeks.

He played in the first preseason game against New England, but has sat out the last two.

The Eagles did not include any guaranteed money in Phillips’ contract when they signed him back in the spring. They knew this move was a possibility, but were hoping he could get healthy and help solidify what has been a problem position over the last several years.

Now, they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Patrick Chung appears to have one of the starting spots locked up, but the other one is still up for grabs. Nate Allen is the favorite, but rookie Earl Wolff rotated in with him on the first team vs. Jacksonville.

The Eagles also have Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson and David Sims on the roster. Anderson seems like a good bet to make the roster. Coleman is on the bubble, and Sims is likely a longshot.

***

Chaney, a seventh-round pick in 2010, started 23 games in three seasons, including five in 2012. In his first career start, he notched 16 tackles against the Giants as a rookie, but was not able to sustain that success.

Tweeted Chaney:

The Eagles have some spots open at inside linebacker. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are the starters. Undrafted free agent Jake Knott has a good chance to make the squad. Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho are on the bubble.

This is another position the Eagles could address once other teams make cuts.

The roster currently stands at 76. The Eagles need to make one more cut by Tuesday at 4 p.m.

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Kelly On Offense: We Were Our Own Worst Enemy

Chip KellyChip Kelly was not happy with the turnovers and penalties Saturday night against the Jaguars, but overall, he didn’t seem too concerned with the performance of the Eagles’ offense.

“We were again our own worst enemy on the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “We turned it over three times. One was on a punt return by Damaris [Johnson] and the one [Bryce Brown fumble] that goes through the end zone. And besides that, the two big penalties where we had huge first downs where we get them called back because we got penalties, whether it was on the 4th-and-1 or on the third down early in the first half. So those are the things that kill drives – the penalties and the turnovers. We need to continue to work on that.”

Other than the fumbles by Johnson and Brown, Michael Vick threw a first-half interception. Kelly said Vick was trying to throw the ball away on the play.

“I thought he did a real good job of keeping plays alive at times, but some other times where you’ve got to cut your losses and get us back to the line of scrimmage and get the next snap,” Kelly said.

Asked if he felt Vick held on to the ball too long, Kelly said: “No, I thought Mike, a couple times, they did a good job in coverage, put a man underneath and ran with receivers. The one thing I don’t think he did, besides the one he tried to throw away, he didn’t force the football. And I think he did a good job of keeping them honest and picking up some real good yardage running after they kind of did a good job early in coverage. And if you do that, then the quarterback can hurt you with his feet. …That’s an encouraging thing that when you have a guy back there that when they do have good coverage on you that you can then beat them on our feet, and that’s what he did.”

Vick went 15-for-23 for 184 yards, a touchdown and an interception, playing into the third quarter. He also ran seven times for 53 yards.

The starting offensive line played together for the first time. Kelly said he thought Jason Peters was “a little bit rusty” but he felt the protection held up for the most part.

“We were OK,” Kelly said. “There were times where we picked it up well, and there were other times we didn’t, so that’s what this deal’s all about. We need to get back and make the corrections we need to do. A couple twists early got to us, and guys gotta be ready early, I think. That’s part of the deal.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles rotated Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff at safety with the first team. Kelly said that was Billy Davis’ plan going into the game.

Veteran Kenny Phillips has been dealing with a quad injury. He tried to give it a go during warm-ups, but wasn’t ready and didn’t play.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: 5 Players To Focus On

0V3J7988The third and most important preseason game is almost upon us. Saturday’s game in Jacksonville will be the final tune-up for the starting units before the season opener against the Redskins. It also represents some players’ last chance to impress the coaches before the roster gets trimmed to 75 on Tuesday. (The number goes all the way down to 53 by Aug. 31.)

Here are five Eagles that we’ll be paying close attention to:

Kenny Phillips

Phillips took part in the team walkthrough on Thursday and said he “likes his chances” of playing Saturday in Jacksonville. The veteran safety has been slowed by a quad strain recently. The bigger issue for him is his history of knee issues.

“At the end of the day they kind of leave it in my hands,” said Phillips. “As much as I want to go out there and play I have to be smart. We still have one more preseason game left (beyond Saturday) so if I don’t have a chance to play this week I definitely have next week.

“The biggest thing is they want me to be healthy so when I am out there I can put some good things on tape. I’m definitely pressing the issue because I definitely want to get out there and show them exactly what I [can] do.”

Given the state of the safety position, the Eagles would love Phillips to show them something. But it has to happen soon.

Trent Cole/Brandon Graham

The Eagles are lacking experience at the outside linebacker position in a pretty big way. Connor Barwin has played the position but the two other key contributors — Cole and Graham — are green. The other potential option at OLB — Chris McCoy — has not played a regular-season snap at this level.

Can they get by with what they have, or do they need to go onto the open market?

“You know, they’re learning,” said Chip Kelly. “I think Connor Barwin has great experience at that position because he’s played here before and I’ve been really impressed with Trent and Brandon as they come along, but you always want more depth no matter what position you’re at.  You’d like to have another guy or two there that you can count on.  But there’s want‑to‑haves and need‑to‑haves, and again, it depends on what’s available.”

Danny Watkins

Watkins has returned to action following a concussion and is expected to play against the Jaguars. In the preseason opener versus the Patriots, he played right guard with the second team.

Todd Herremans missed some time this week with knee inflammation. Allen Barbre apparently worked with the first unit in his absence instead of Watkins, and could get the start against the Jags if Herremans can’t go.

Is Watkins in the team’s plans? The guess here is that he makes it, but I don’t know that it’s a sure thing. Curious to see how he looks Saturday.

Russell Shepard

Shepard enjoyed a strong camp (particularly early) but only has one grab for four yards (on six targets) in preseason play. He might be right on the bubble. Do the Eagles carry both Greg Salas and Shepard? Just one? If so, can Shepard win the job?

Perhaps Saturday’s game will help influence management’s decision.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Kelly says time of possession “is how much time can the other team waste.”

Vick ranked No. 1 in the team’s offseason program.

Another great play breakdown by Sheil, this one on the Eagles’ latest triple option. 

Vick says he “will be a threat” to run in the Eagles’ offense.

Jason Peters is bullish on this offense.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com has DeSean Jackson ranked as the 16th best player in the NFC East.

When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field. The issue with Jackson the past few years has been an inability to consistently get open, and it’s fair to assume the inconsistent quarterback play the Eagles have had in recent seasons has factored in as well. Jackson hasn’t had a 60-catch season since 2009 or a 1,000-yard season since 2010, and he’s only scored six touchdowns, total, the past two years. But the ability is clearly there to do big things. And if Kelly can find a way to get Jackson the ball, there’s still a chance to see that potential translate into a big-numbers wide receiver year the likes of which we’ve been anticipating from Jackson since he arrived in the league.

Les Bowen notes that Lane Johnson hasn’t looked very “raw” despite having that label coming out of college.

“If he was, he’s not anymore,” left guard Evan Mathis said yesterday…

Johnson heard all the “raw” talk, and was acutely aware that he lacked an extensive offensive-line background.

“You’re going into a new environment, there’s going to be new tests, but once you get into the fire, it’s not as bad as what it seems,” he said.

COMING UP

Travel day for the Eagles. We’ll be checking in live from Jacksonville.

Checking In On the Secondary

Less than three weeks from the opener, and still so many questions about the secondary. Let’s try to answer some of them with the help of Billy Davis and several of the players:

Who are the starters?

If the season started today, Nate Allen and Patrick Chung would be your starting safeties. Bradley Fletcher would be at left cornerback, Cary Williams at right  and Brandon Boykin would be in the slot.

If he is playing so well, why not have Boykin start on the outside?

Davis wants Boykin in the slot. He feels like the Georgia product has the best skill set for the position, and that the unit will be strongest overall if he works inside. While starting Boykin on the outside and moving him in during nickel situations is possible in theory, Davis suggested that is a lot to ask of a player — especially one with limited NFL experience.

Boykin is going to go along with whatever plan his defensive coordinator comes up with, but he clearly wants one of the starting posts.

“If I’m the best guy in the slot, then I need to play in the slot,” said Boykin. “I fully understand whatever decision they may make. But my ultimate goal is to one day be a starting corner. I’ve got the ability.

“Just being full-time player every down. Nickels maybe play 50 percent of the game depending on the game plan. I feel like I have the ability to be on the field each and every day, and that’s what I want to be ultimately.”

Last season, Boykin was on the field for 526 of a possible 1,077 snaps (49 percent), according to Pro Football Focus. He’s hoping that number goes up.

Why start Nate Allen?

This is what Davis had to say about Allen on Wednesday:

“Nate is a phenomenal athlete and a good football player. I don’t think anybody works at it harder than Nate. In the first [preseason] game he struggled a little bit, second game played well.”

A lot of it comes down to options. As in Davis has very few beyond Allen, who is probably the best center-fielder of the bunch. You can argue that the strength of  Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson and Earl Wolff  is in-the-box play, which also happens to be Chung’s apparent strength. Kenny Phillips can’t stay on the field and David Sims doesn’t appear to be a legitimate contender. That probably leaves Allen as the best cover safety of the bunch, like it or not. Wolff could certainly prove to be the better option over time, but I’m not sure the staff is ready to commit to him quite yet.

Allen and Chung will start against the Jaguars Saturday.

Will Phillips make the team?

He made a brief return to practice Tuesday but left early and was back on the sidelines Wednesday because of a quad strain.

Phillips has a shot of making it simply because the overallgroup is questionable , so maybe they cross their fingers and hope he can get healthy. But can they afford to hand a roster spot to a player with an injury history that can’t stay on the field?

“It’s [difficult to evaluate] anybody that goes through the injury process that doesn’t get into the games or even into practices,” said Davis. “But Kenny’s got a lot of film and a lot of tape out there of him playing. So we’ll have a good feel for Kenny, and hopefully he can play in this preseason game.”

Time is running out for Phillips to make his case.

Got anything on Fletcher?

He really just blends in, which isn’t an altogether bad thing for a corner. Davis used terms like “consistent”, “a real pro” and “not flashy” to describe the 6-0, 196-pounder.

“That’s what it’s been,” said Fletcher. “I’m going to give you the same — I’m always  going to compete, I’m always going to tackle for you, and I’m going to run to the ball. That’s coming from me every day.”

The five-year pro has five career interceptions (four of them coming in 2010) so don’t expect a lot of the big plays from him. But he only missed a pair of tackles in 374 snaps last season, per PFF, while holding quarterbacks to a 55.8 rating, so he could be solid.

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Davis Updates Starter Battles On Defense

Billy Davis indicated today that he’ll make his final evaluations on starters after Saturday night’s preseason game against the Jaguars.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a position-by-position look at which spots are up for grabs, along with comments from Davis.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The starters up front have been Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle, Cedric Thornton at LDE and Fletcher Cox at RDE. Cox is a mainstay, but the other two are being pushed.

Bennie Logan has played very well through two games and has the versatility to line up at the nose or defensive end.

“Bennie has had two good games,” Davis said. “Like all of them, they’re pushing and we’ll see with this game. …This is a real big determining factor, this will help see where Bennie is. He’s taken each step, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and has played very solid in the two preseason games he’s played.”

Undrafted free agent Damion Square has also shown flashes. And 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry has been perhaps the Eagles’ best defensive player in the preseason.

Asked if Curry’s still in the mix to start, Davis said: “Absolutely. Nothing has been determined yet in terms of starters, and we are continuing to evaluate all of them, and Vinny’s absolutely in the mix.”

Both Davis and Chip Kelly have indicated that the Eagles will likely rotate six defensive linemen in the regular season. That de-emphasizes the importance of starters, but in the past, the first-team guys have still played the most snaps.

The other thing to note here is that the Eagles will be in their sub packages probably 50 percent of the time. That means, in most cases, two defensive linemen on the field, playing as interior pass-rushers.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

We can pencil Connor Barwin in at one starting spot, and by all accounts, Trent Cole will man the right side.

That means Brandon Graham starting the season as a rotational player.

Asked about the progress Cole and Graham have made with their position switches from the first game to the second game, Davis said: “They’ve done a nice job. We keep putting them in drop situations. Again, we’re evaluating what the package can do and who can do it and we’ve tried to put them in as many drop scenarios as we can. And they’re really working hard at it, they look good. They’re much more comfortable moving backwards.”

“You can see that they’re really getting the feel for the little nuances of how to play the ‘I’m dropping, no I’m rushing’ game with quarterbacks. And it’s really coming along well.”

The truth is, we won’t really know what Davis thinks of Graham and Cole until Week 1 of the regular season when the games count.

* Note: Nothing to add on inside linebackers. It’ll be DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks starting.

CORNERBACKS

Davis went in a couple different directions when asked about Brandon Boykin. The sense I got, though, is that he prefers to have Boykin focus on playing inside, with Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams on the outside.

Davis said Boykin is “pushing the other two” but when asked about the possibility of starting the second-year player on the outside and then moving him inside when the Eagles are in nickel, he sounded a bit hesitant.

“I do think that’s challenging… especially in the same series,” Davis said. “When you start the season, to start at corner and to start at nickel, it becomes more challenging. It is something usually the older veterans can pull off, guys that have played a lot of nickel or played a lot of outside corner. Early on, it’s a little more challenging.

“If you can make it easier without deteriorating from the best 11 on the field, then you can have a guy do one, not both. If there’s clear separation, then you try to get a guy to do both.”

SAFETIES

Patrick Chung seems to have nailed down one starting spot. Nate Allen will get the nod at the other spot on Saturday night. But Davis said he’ll likely rotate other guys in during the first half.

The one player Davis has gotten a lot of questions about is Kenny Phillips. Phillips has had trouble staying healthy and is currently dealing with a quad injury. It’s unclear whether he’ll be on the field Saturday night.

“Anybody that goes through the injury process, doesn’t get into the games or even into the practices, it does make it harder to evaluate when you get less looks at a guy,” Davis said. “I think that just goes without saying.”

Davis added that the Eagles have tape on Phillips, but obviously that was in a different scheme.

If Allen is a disaster against the Jaguars, Davis could shake up the starting lineup before Week 1. But if Allen at least looks competent, he’ll likely get the nod to start the season.

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Eagles Sign DE Eddie McClam

The Eagles have signed 6-6, 280-pound defensive end Eddie McClam on Saturday, the team announced.

McClam was in camp with the Lions last season. He played college ball at Old Dominion. The 24-year-old worked out with the Eagles earlier in the day before landing the job  and participated in Saturday’s practice at Lincoln Financial Field.

Players who were unable to suit up for the session include Curtis Marsh (broken hand), Felix Jones (oblique), Danny Watkins (concusion), Emil Igwenagu (concussion), Dennis Kelly (back) ,  Kenny Phillips (quad) and Casey Matthews (knee).

Jason Peters, who has been sidelined with a hamstring strain, took part in team drills. Jon Dorenbos (concussion) returned to practice.

 

Eagles-Patriots Game Review: The Defense

Here’s what we saw from the Eagles’ defense during Friday night’s preseason game against the Patriots. We’ll go position-by-position, identifying performances that stood out one way or another.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* The biggest surprise of the night was the play of Vinny Curry. He’d been quiet all summer long, but showed up in a big way against New England. Curry showed some versatility, playing defensive end in three-man fronts and lining up both inside and outside in four-man fronts. In the second quarter, he set up at left defensive tackle (nickel) and shot right past the offensive lineman, getting a hit on Ryan Mallett. Later, he showed an impressive inside move, getting past the right tackle and combining for a sack with Jake Knott on Tim Tebow. Curry’s effort showed up throughout. On the last play of the first half, the Patriots ran a screen, and he was blocked on the ground near the 38-yard-line.

Vinny CurryBut Curry got up, hustled to the ball and ended up making the tackle 15 yards downfield.

Vinny Curry

We’ll see this week if Curry gets bumped up the depth chart.

* On the flip side of Curry was Fletcher Cox. Don’t want to put too much stock into one preseason game, but offensive tackle Nate Solder threw Cox to the ground on the 62-yard run in the first quarter. Don’t remember seeing a lineman do that to him at all last year. Cox was blocked on the next play too, an 8-yard scamper. And the Patriots blew him off the line of scrimmage with a double-team on a 3rd-and-1 carry during that drive. Cox bounced back on the next possession, hitting Tom Brady and forcing his only incompletion. No need to overreact yet, but he did not play well.

* Undrafted free agent Damion Square had some nice moments. He rotated between nose tackle and defensive end with Bennie Logan on the second team. Square did a good job on Shane Vereen’s 3-yard run in the first and showed some pass-rushing chops too. Square and Emmanuel Acho combined to hit Mallett in the second. He lined up at RDT and looped outside on the play. Later, he was one of three defenders to land a hit on Tim Tebow. Square looks like he has a good shot to make the team.

* Logan flashed as well. He stopped Vereen after a 3-yard run in the second and showed great hustle to chase Vereen down from behind on a screen later in the game. Logan was really good on one possession in the third. He got some penetration, dropping LeGarrette Blount after a 2-yard run. On the next play, he tackled Blount again after a gain of 2. And finally, he and Chris McCoy combined for a sack. Nice debut for the third-round pick.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Trent Cole did not look comfortable. He was caught upfield and blocked easily by rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld on the two runs to start the game. Derek Sarley of Iggles Blog has a good breakdown up of the first two plays. According to Pro Football Focus, Cole played 16 snaps. Eight were run plays, eight were pass plays. On the eight pass plays, he dropped back in coverage only once. A sign perhaps of how the Eagles plan to use him?

* Credit Brandon Graham for making a good special-teams tackle to start the game off. He came in for Connor Barwin at left outside linebacker and also lined up at left defensive end in nickel looks. Graham twisted inside behind Curry and hit Mallett to force an incompletion in the second. He looked bad, as many of you saw, on Blount’s 51-yard touchdown run where he reversed field. Graham was on the field for 21 pass plays, per PFF. He rushed 17 times and dropped four times.

* Connor Barwin did a nice job early on against the run. He lined up both standing up and in a three-point stance on nickel downs.

* Chris McCoy has quietly had a nice summer. He did a nice job with his pass rush from the RDE spot in the second and funneled Blount back inside on the 51-yard run. McCoy pressured Tebow near the end of the first half and combined with Logan for a sack in the third. If roster cuts were today, I think I’d have him on the team.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* DeMeco Ryans did not look good. He got caught out of his gap on the 62-yard run to open the game and couldn’t get off the block of the pulling guard on the next play, an 8-yard run. Ryans was outstanding, specifically against the run, last season. So no need to panic yet.

Mychal Kendricks had issues against the run too. He got handled by the tight end on Blount’s 8-yard carry. Later, on third down, Kendricks met Blount head-on but couldn’t make the play. His coverage on the Vereen touchdown was good. Tom Brady just made a perfect throw.

* Jamar Chaney (shoulder) and Casey Matthews (knee) left the game with injuries. Chaney did not look good, missing a tackle on Sudfeld’s 22-yard catch and run. Matthews had some nice moments. Both are squarely on the roster bubble.

* Another undrafted free agent who showed up was Jake Knott. He batted down a Mallett pass at the line of scrimmage in the second and did a nice job as a blitzer. Knott combined with Curry for a sack in the second and tackled Tebow behind the line of scrimmage in the third. He has been quiet at camp, but played well during the game. Knott has a chance to earn a backup spot.

CORNERBACKS

* If you’re a glass half-full kind of person, at least Bradley Fletcher hustled downfield and brought Ridley down on the 62-yard run. That might have been a touchdown with last year’s corners. Fletcher made a tackle in run support on the next play too. He gave up a few completions, most notably a 6-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 and later a 23-yarder. But to be fair, it’s not like Fletcher was caught out of position or got beaten badly on either play. Let’s see how he does the rest of the preseason.

* Brandon Hughes got the surprise start at left corner. Chip Kelly said after the game that was Billy Davis’ decision. Hughes gave up a 7-yard slant and a 12-yard back-shoulder completion, but was OK.

* Boykin played nickel with the first team and then moved outside. He looked good, shadowing Aaron Dobson on a fade in the back of the end zone to force an incompletion.

* If you were looking for improvement from Nate Allen, you probably were disappointed. The 62-yard run would have been a 15-yard run had he been able to bring Ridley down in the open field. Allen later missed another tackle on Sudfeld’s 22-yard catch and run. Put Allen in the “believe it when I see it” camp for now.

* The good news on Patrick Chung is he looks like a sure tackler. The bad news is I’m not sure he can cover. Chung started at safety and then moved to nickel corner so the coaches could get a look at Boykin on the outside. He did a nice job blowing up a screen on third down in the second, but couldn’t keep up with Julian Edelman on a 22-yard completion near the end of the first half. Chung is still in line to be one of the team’s two starting safeties.

* Kenny Phillips made a nice play at the line of scrimmage, stopping Ridley after a 1-yard gain. He did not look good though on Blount’s 51-yard TD. Tough to evaluate him in coverage without the All-22.

* Earl Wolff was up and down. He missed a tackle on Tebow’s 12-yard run in the third, but played up in the box and had a tackle-for-loss in the third. Again, tough to evaluate in coverage. Overall, I’d say Chung is in line to be a starter, but the other job is up for grabs.

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Eagles Training Camp Preview: Safeties

Nate AllenEach day this week, we’ll take a look at a different position group as we count down to training camp.

What’s changed?

Let’s go ahead and allow Kurt Coleman to explain it.

“Not to say that the safeties aren’t going to be called on to make plays against the run, but we’re not going to be the first guys onto the scene,” he said this spring. “It’s going to be a big change for us, which is kind of good. It allows us to sit back and read the QB a little more, be more patient.”

During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Eagles safeties had big-time run responsibilities. That not only led to struggles against opposing tailbacks, but disastrous results against play-action.

“Any time you ask the secondary to be primary B or A gap run defenders, you’re just asking for trouble on play-action and deep balls,” said Billy Davis. “I hate to talk too much about last season not being here, but just all the transition and all the different communications that happened, I don’t know how you fight through that and play good. I really don’t.”

From a personnel standpoint, the Eagles made additions, but just like with the cornerbacks, there’s no guarantee that the new guys will provide a significant upgrade.

The Birds signed Patrick Chung, who was benched by the Patriots last season. They also took a flier on Kenny Phillips, a talented player who has struggled through knee injuries. And they drafted Earl Wolff out of N.C. State in the fifth round.

Meanwhile, Coleman and Nate Allen return with hopes that they can produce better results in a different scheme. The Eagles also brought back special-teams ace Colt Anderson.

The pressing question: What are fair expectations for Phillips?

If the Eagles were getting a healthy Phillips, there would be legitimate reason for excitement. But the signs so far have not been promising. For starters, he signed for no guaranteed money. That means, in all likelihood, he didn’t receive a better offer elsewhere.

In the spring, he missed portions of OTAs because of his left knee, the one he had microfracture surgery on back in 2009.

The hope – for the Eagles, for Phillips and for the fans – is that he can get healthy enough to be a productive player, especially since he is only 26-years-old. But hope and expectations are two different things. And with the opener about seven weeks away, there’s no guarantee he’ll even be on the 53-man roster.

Don’t be surprised if…

Wolff competes for playing time as a rookie. Many seem to be writing off the N.C. State product as a backup in Year 1, but it’s not like the Eagles have Pro Bowlers ahead of him.

Wolff (5-11, 209) has the physical tools Chip Kelly covets, having run a 4.44 at the Combine. And he was a three-year starter in college. He will need to impress during training camp, but nothing is off the table. During the team’s final mini-camp, position coaches told him “everything’s open” when it comes to the safety position.

It’s possible that Wolff spends his first season as a backup/special-teams player. But there’s also a chance the other Eagles’ safeties falter and he gets a shot to contribute right away.

Roster battles to watch

This is probably the most wide-open position on the team. During the spring, Allen and Chung got the bulk of first-team reps, but others mixed in quite a bit.

As things stand now, barring injury, Chung seems like the safest bet to make the roster. Wolff should be on the final 53 too. And given the importance Kelly seems to place on special teams, I’d be surprised if Anderson didn’t make the cut.

That leaves one or two spots for Allen, Coleman and Phillips. Of that group, Allen is the most likely to stick. And the Coleman/Phillips decision, if there is one, could come down to Phillips’ health.

Like I said, there’s a lot still to be determined at safety in the coming weeks.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Understanding Kenny Phillips

It is difficult for Kenny Phillips to relay what is happening with him physically because he is going so much off of feel.

It’s been almost four years since he had microfracture surgery. He was told at the time that he would have to manage his left knee for the rest of his career, and so far that has proven to be true. His knee never swells up and his body never shuts down, he says, so there are no obvious signs to tell him when he needs to back off. But through trial and error, he’s learned that setbacks are lurking around the corner if he’s not careful, and has a sense for when he is getting close to the edge.

The red line is not defined, so the team must take their cues from the  player.

“They don’t quite understand it yet,” said Phillips following minicamp practice Tuesday. “It’s kind of building that trust. They are trying to take my word for it, and thus far it’s been working out. But I know it’s been hard on them, just as it’s been hard on me, to get through this process.”

Phillips missed a portion of the OTAs as a precaution. He was on the field Tuesday for the start of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp.

The 26-year-old safety has been able to manage the injury for the most part, and appeared in 31 of a possible 32 games the two seasons following surgery. Last year he was limited to seven games because of injuries to the opposite knee. He says he has no lingering problems with the right knee; the left knee is the ongoing issue.

Because of the health concerns, the Eagles were able to sign the former Giant to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money this offseason. This is a prove-it year for Phillips, which makes it all the more difficult to remain patient.

“I’ve been going home at nights like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I sit around and talk to Chip [Kelly] like, ‘I want to be out there.’ Sometimes I feel like I was in a lose-lose: What if I go out there and run myself in the ground or look bad?” said Phillips. ”It’s been tough, but they have been patient with me and when I have had the chance I was out there making the right calls and being in position, not perfect but the coaches know I have a great understanding of the defense and the scheme, so I think I’m OK.

“I could come out here and take every rep and feel great but I don’t know, I don’t want to venture out into that unknown — this is a big season not only for the team but for myself.”

So team and player will proceed cautiously in hopes that Phillips will be able to function at a high level during the season.

“To go out there and try to be a hero right now, it wouldn’t benefit me or the team,” said Phillips. “I do need to put something on film, the coaches do need to see me, so I’m just trying to be smart when to go out there and when not to. Right now they are trusting me with my own reps, telling me to get the reps that I can get and just be smart, and right now it’s working.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles announced their training camp schedule.

Kelly talks about teaming up with the Patriots for practice, and the notion that he taught Michael Vick how to hold the football.

Cary Williams was blunt and unapologetic when discussing his recent absences.

Sheil has his running diary of practice observations.

After an early demotion, DeSean Jackson says he and Kelly are on the same page.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

We brought you the story of Jackson and Drew Rosenhaus parting ways over money. Yahoo! has dug up some more details.

NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus has filed a grievance against Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson, alleging the former client owes him more than $400,000 in unpaid loans.

Rosenhaus is alleging that Jackson took multiple loans from him, beginning when Jackson hired Rosenhaus to represent him in November 2009 and continuing through March 2012, a source told Yahoo! Sports.

Rosenhaus has filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association over the loans, multiple sources confirmed.

Dan Graziano was in town and talked to Jeremy Maclin about his contract situation.

The team’s 2009 first-round draft pick has only this one year left on his contract and admits to not knowing what the future holds. But he’s trying very hard not to get caught up in that.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Maclin said. “No good can come of thinking about that. I’ve seen a lot of people go down the wrong road thinking about that.”

COMING UP

Mini-camp rolls on. Practice starts at 12:40.

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