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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