Defensive backs center stage at Eagles rookie camp

Posted: May 17, 2014

Even though they allowed more yards in the air than any other defense in 2013, the Eagles did very little to change the core of their secondary this offseason.

Free-agent safety Malcolm Jenkins was signed, in essence, to replace Patrick Chung, but the other starters or those near the top of the depth chart entering spring practices will return.

A few second-tier free agents were added for competition and special teams, and the Eagles waited until the fourth and fifth rounds before selecting cornerback-safety Jaylen Watkins and safety Ed Reynolds.

The Eagles will get their first on-field look at Watkins and Reynolds, along with the rest of the Class of 2014, when rookie camp begins Friday and ends Sunday at the NovaCare Complex. Full-squad organized team activities will begin May 27.

So it will be a few weeks before Watkins and Reynolds get an opportunity to stack up against the competition.

Watkins will start off at cornerback, even though he played some safety at Florida and is projected to play that position in the NFL.

"I think for a young player starting a career, it's hard to go back between two positions," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said last week. "We wanted to have a plan with him, and the plan early on was to go in, play the corner position. He's very comfortable there, and then we'll see."

Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher return as the starting outside cornerbacks. Brandon Boykin is called on to handle the slot. Nolan Carroll, formerly of the Dolphins, could push Williams and Fletcher, but he was brought in primarily to add depth.

Aside from Boykin, who should be in line for a multiyear contract extension next offseason, Williams, Fletcher, and Carroll are not guaranteed spots with the Eagles beyond this season.

A larger role for Watkins, 21, is there for the taking. Of the 64 primary starting cornerbacks in the NFL last season, 24 were drafted after the third round or were undrafted.

John Fulton, an undrafted cornerback out of Alabama, will also be at camp this weekend. The rookies will face roster competition from returnees Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh.

Roseman said Watkins slipped to the fourth round partly because of an ankle injury that slowed him during the predraft period. He still ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at the combine, but Watkins said he could have sprinted under 4.3, which would have been the best among cornerbacks.

His quickness should offset what he lacks in height (5-foot-11). Watkins isn't as rangy as coach Chip Kelly likes his outside corners to be. Carroll, also 5-11, doesn't exactly fit the mold, either.

But Watkins is versatile. He also played in the slot in college and hardly missed a beat moving to safety for his final six games at Florida.

Kelly spoke about projecting Watkins as an NFL safety immediately after his selection, but that was before Reynolds was chosen a round later.

"We're going to play this coverage vs. this look, this coverage vs. this look, and it's up to the safety to make that decision," Kelly said. "So you have to have a high football intelligence, and that's where Jaylen fits in."

But so does Reynolds, the Eagles say. He quarterbacked a pro-style, multiple-front defense at Stanford. And while he may not have Watkins' athleticism, he has prototype size (6-1, 207 pounds) for an NFL safety.

The Eagles lost three safeties to free agency - Chung, Kurt Coleman, and Colt Anderson - but Nate Allen and Earl Wolff will likely battle for the spot opposite Jenkins.

Keelan Johnson, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, is also back. Undrafted safety Daytawion Lowe of Oklahoma State will also be at rookie camp.

Reynolds will head back to Stanford after this weekend to finish the school year, though, and won't be able to participate in OTAs. He dropped to the fifth round even though some analysts pegged him to go higher after a standout sophomore season in 2012.

His interceptions decreased from six to one last season, but his number of tackles nearly doubled, from 57 to 86. Reynolds said quarterbacks threw at him less as a junior.

Extra points

Nose tackle Beau Allen, a seventh-round pick from Wisconsin, signed a four-year contract on Thursday. . . . The Eagles have seven tryout players participating in rookie camp: linebacker Blaze Caponegro (Temple), tight end Jamie Childers (New York Giants), linebacker Ryan Donohue (Connecticut), linebacker Anthony Larry (Eastern Washington), center Mackey MacPherson (Syracuse), defensive back Davon Morgan (Virginia Tech), and tackle Baker Steinkuhler (Nebraska). . . . After agreeing to terms with the Eagles, Nebraska quarterback Victor Martinez failed a physical and was not signed to an undrafted rookie contract, according to the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star. . . . Running back LeSean McCoy was named winner of the Wanamaker Award, which "recognizes the athlete, team or organization that has done the most to reflect credit upon Philadelphia," according to a news release.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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