Eagles Training Camp Preview: Safeties

Each 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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