How Jaylen Watkins Has Made Schwartz ‘Very Proud’

The transition that has given Watkins a chance to contribute this season.

Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins, and Nolan Carroll. (Jeff Fusco)

Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins, and Nolan Carroll. (Jeff Fusco)

Jaylen Watkins was spending the afternoon on his birthday last year with his girlfriend watching football. He was on the practice squad in Buffalo — where he played with his brother, Sammy — at the time, and he was getting ready to go to Sammy’s house for their Thanksgiving meal.

But before he left, he watched as the Lions dominated the Eagles, and he witnessed Nolan Carroll’s season-ending injury in the second quarter. When Carroll went down, Watkins and his girlfriend wondered aloud whether the Eagles would bring him back. Just a couple of months earlier, the Eagles cut Watkins, whom they drafted in the fourth round in the previous year, leaving the cornerback not wanting to talk to anyone nor wanting to return home.

But the Eagles did bring Watkins back that day, and almost a year later, he has switched to safety and he has a much better chance of making the 53-man roster in a couple of weeks.

“Being released last year was a pretty big eye-opener for me,” Watkins said. “It helped my understanding of the league — it’s a production league. I knew I had to take more control of my weaknesses and get better.”

Watkins’ biggest weakness, both then and now, is tackling. But he’s made significant strides in that area, which is why he may be the best safety the Eagles have behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. To improve, Watkins watches film of cornerbacks who made the transition from corner to safety, such as Earl Thomas — who played nickel corner in college — and Devin McCourty.

He also finishes his reps in practice almost as if they’re live periods by carrying out the technique necessary to bring a ball-carrier to the ground, doing everything except the actual hitting.

“He’s worked very hard and the coaches worked very hard with him to address that. And you’re seeing the results of that,” Jim Schwartz said. “I’m very proud of him. He’s done a really good job. It’s easy to work on your strengths. He’s really shown that he’s willing to work on his weaknesses and it’s shown on the field.”

Watkins also attributes much of his success during training camp and the preseason to Jenkins, who knows what it’s like to be switched from corner to safety. But Watkins also thinks he fits much better as a safety this year in Schwartz’s scheme than he would’ve last year in Billy Davis’ system. According to Watkins, safeties are in coverage more under Schwartz — which is one of Watkins’ strengths — and the pass rush is much better in this new “attack” scheme.

Although Watkins still finds himself looking over at the cornerbacks while he plays safety from time to time, the transition seems to be going very well for him.

“It was a better opportunity to get on the field. We have two starters, obviously, but nobody set behind them, and the third safety for any defense is important. I saw it as an opportunity,” Watkins said. “But I still got a lot more to prove.”