May 22, 2013, 2:05 PM EDT
Much of the media focus during spring OTAs has been geared toward trying to pick out which passer has the advantage in Chip Kelly’s quarterback derby, although if Monday’s practice was any indication it’s really a two-horse race. With the anticipated battle between Michael Vick and Nick Foles taking shape, perhaps no competition at the NovaCare Complex is more wide open than the one at safety.
The Eagles currently have seven safeties on their 90-man roster, not one of which fits the mold of the typical anonymous camp body. Six of them combined to start 46 NFL games in 2012 alone – 146 over respective their careers – the lone exception to that fraternity naturally rookie Earl Wolff.
Some have far better odds of making the final cut than others to be sure… but it is close, and there are a lot of commonalities within the group. Experience obviously is one. Youth is another – the oldest player being 27. Five were drafted, three of them relatively high. Two have even started in the Super Bowl.
All of those qualities are true of Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips, a pair of free-agent signings that could lend some competence and respectability to the Birds’ defensive backfield.
Patrick Chung – Even
Chung it seems is the deeper entrenched of the two, his contract essentially guaranteeing a place on the roster in 2013. A second-round pick in ’09, Chung had trouble staying healthy for New England, and a poor 2012 seemed to seal his fate with the organization. He’s performed beyond capably in the past however – especially inside the box and on special teams – starting 27 games plus four in the postseason for the Patriots over the last three years.
Chip should be familiar on some level with Chung from the safety’s days at Oregon, not to mention he undoubtedly arrives in Philly under the Bill Belichick Stamp of Approval. A change of scenery could even help rejuvenate his career.
Kenny Phillips – 7/2
And yet Phillips may very well be a better addition still. At 6-2, 217, not only did the ex-New York Giant immediately become the most physically imposing safety of the bunch, but he is the most adept in coverage as well. Phillips started 31 of 32 regular season games in addition to each of the club’s four playoff games between ’10 and ’11, one year removed from a potentially debilitating knee surgery.
Knee injuries struck again last season, and the former first rounder appeared in only seven games. Such serious health concerns explain why the front office only had to offer an $850K base salary plus incentives to land Phillips. He could be a huge upgrade for the secondary, or he could be on the street come September if he’s lost a step.
Earl Wolff – 3/2
Should Phillips return to full strength, his presence does create a numbers crunch for what might be just two roster spots remaining. If everything goes according to plan, Wolff fills a third.
There is generally the expectation a high fifth-round pick make the team in his rookie season, particularly a prospect with Wolff’s athleticism and measureables (4.4 40, 39-inch vert). Beyond that, nobody knows what’s in store for this North Carolina State product, but he is still one of the franchise’s shiny, new toys at the moment.
Nate Allen – 2/1
That leaves the four incumbents to fight it out for possibly a single opening. Depending how Nate Allen conducts himself the position should be his. In fact, Allen along with Chung currently form the starting safety combination at OTAs for now. While we do have to be careful not to read too much into these early practices when Kelly’s program is only in its infancy, it’s not necessarily meaningless, either.
The Eagles probably wouldn’t mind it if Allen did earn the job. He’s experienced his share of ups and downs in the NFL already, but the front office saw something enough to invest the 37th overall pick on him in ’09. Perhaps he can finally pull it together in a new scheme and with some stability surrounding him in the secondary.
Kurt Coleman – 10/1
Then again, you could easily argue Allen is getting that look by default. The team would do right to be cautious about counting on Phillips, Wolff is raw, and the rest of the challengers are rather lackluster. That Kurt Coleman’s name is even in the mix four years and 29 starts later since he was selected in the seventh round serves is a testament to how much work is left to be done on the back end.
With three new members and the organization’s apparent preference for Allen though, Coleman’s days should be numbered. Given his experience, he could catch on somewhere as a backup, but with his smaller stature (5-11, 195), lack of athleticism, and the amount of competition the Eagles brought in, it’s hard to envision that happening here.
David Sims – 15/1
Chalk up David Sims as a long shot while we’re at it. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Cleveland shipped him to the Birds in a cut-down day trade last August. Sims got the call to start once last season, which isn’t saying much considering how awful Philly’s secondary was. He lacks ideal size (5-10, 210) in concert with an understated pedigree, so where does he fit in?
Colt Anderson – 5/1
If any holdover other than Allen has an opportunity to sneak on to the roster, the guess here is Colt Anderson. Prior to last season Colt was viewed strictly as a special teamer, but he wound up starting four games and actually held his own. It’s doubtful that he’ll get much thought for a full-time role, though he demonstrated he can be trusted in a pinch.
What gives him an edge over Coleman and Sims is his outstanding work on special teams. Assuming Phillips doesn’t make the squad, neither of the two have proven so superior to Anderson in the defensive backfield that their presence would be more vital than his. Heck, even if Phillips were to make the team, Colt’s ability in the third phase potentially opens up an extra roster spot.
What remains to be seen is whether this pack of castoffs, Andy Reid misfits, and one rookie contains within its ranks a decent safety combo. There are plenty of options to choose from though, so you would anticipate there being some improvement at the position. It’s only a matter of who survives the cut.
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