There's still a battle at safety

Nate Allen will start Saturday, but he hasn't locked up the second safety spot, next to Patrick Chung. Several other players are in the mix.
Nate Allen will start Saturday, but he hasn't locked up the second safety spot, next to Patrick Chung. Several other players are in the mix. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2013

Now that the Eagles named their starting quarterback, the most contested starting position is the second safety, next to Patrick Chung. The Eagles' annual quest to find stability at the position since Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell departed remains ongoing, and the candidates for this year's group have not yet locked down the position.

Nate Allen is the front-runner and will start in Saturday's third preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fifth-round pick Earl Wolff also is vying for the job. Kenny Phillips, an offseason acquisition from the Giants, might have the most natural talent in the group, but his injury history has continued through training camp.

There are also holdovers Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, and David Sims, each of whom likely would need to make the roster based on their special-teams play more than defense.

"There is still a good competition going on there," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "We'll try to get everybody some plays. Probably roll some of the other safeties in the first half. So it's not [set] in stone. We really want to get a good look at all the guys and see where we are at the end of the three preseason games that we play."

Davis hopes the starting lineup materializes after Saturday's game, so it will likely be the last chance for the safeties to make a bid to start before the Sept. 9 opener. The fourth preseason game will help finalize the roster but not the lineup.

Allen, a 2010 second-round pick, is entering his fourth season as a starter yet has never solidified his spot in the lineup. Part of that has been because of injuries, but he also has underperformed. The coaching staff still sees flashes from Allen, and Davis said he has improved from the first preseason game to the second.

Davis also described Allen as a "phenomenal athlete" and praised his work ethic. But that isn't new. Allen needs to show he has the proper football instincts.

Since the spring, Allen has described this defensive scheme as more conducive to his skill set than past schemes. He can play the deep safety role and not worry as much about his run responsibilities.

"It puts us in position to make plays," Allen said. "We're pass-first guys, secondary run guys. We're still involved in the run game, but it gives us an opportunity to make plays on the ball in the pass game."

Phillips is the biggest question mark in this group. He is a former first-round pick who won a Super Bowl with the Giants, but his knee injuries prompted the Giants to let him leave.

The Eagles offered only a one-year contract, and Phillips has not been able to stay healthy. A quadriceps injury kept him out of last week's game, and he continued missing time this week. Phillips returned to practice on Thursday and hoped to play on Saturday. If he doesn't - or if he still shows signs of the injury - it's unlikely he'll make the team.

"He's an experienced vet, which helps, but not experienced in this system," Davis said.

It's ambitious for a fifth-round pick to set his sights on starting, but that's how Wolff has approached the preseason. The coaches have given him snaps with the first-team defense, so it's not inconceivable that he wins the job or takes it at some point this season.

"I really feel like I can help the team on defense, this year," Wolff said. "That's the goal."

Wolff said the weakness of his game is his eyes because he can get caught looking in the backfield in anticipation of making a hit. His philosophy is "see ball, get ball."

The Eagles could play three safeties at times because the team has discussed using Chung as a nickel cornerback in certain packages.

Coleman's three years in Philadelphia have shown that he always finds his way into the lineup. But it might be more difficult this season. It's a new coaching staff, and there are new players involved.

What's clear is that the search continues. Only Chung has earned a starting spot. Allen might have a lead, but he needs to hold off the other safeties if he's going to start for the fourth consecutive season.

"Just have a great game. No mental errors," Allen said. "At the end of the day, that's what it's about. How many plays are you going to make?"

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Contact Zach Berman at Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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