Eagles' secondary focus

RON CORTES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cornerback Nolan Carroll , who has been impressive in camp, is surrounded by teammates after interception against the Steelers in Thursday's exhibition game.
RON CORTES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cornerback Nolan Carroll , who has been impressive in camp, is surrounded by teammates after interception against the Steelers in Thursday's exhibition game.
Posted: August 26, 2014

NATE ALLEN'S touted competition with Earl Wolff for a starting safety position hasn't been much of a fight. Allen has been solid, smooth and capable in his second training camp under defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Wolff hasn't been bad, but he took some time to get his legs under him, coming off a knee injury, and still has things to learn about the position.

As the Eagles work toward their preseason finale Thursday, the closer call in the secondary seems to be between Bradley Fletcher and Nolan Carroll at corner.

Davis has given us no real reason to think he will start Carroll ahead of Fletcher in the Sept. 7 season opener against Jacksonville, but everyone has been impressed with Carroll's camp, how he has learned the defense since signing as a free agent from Miami in the offseason.

A groin injury kept him out of the first two preseason games. When he finally played last week against the Steelers, Carroll made an amazing, diving interception of Ben Roethlisberger. Fletcher is in the final year of his contract. His camp has been OK, like his play in 2013 - steady, nothing beyond that.

Davis seemed to make a point yesterday of emphasizing how good Carroll looked in the Eagles' dime package against the Steelers.

"We wanted to take a look at that and see how that played out, and we were happy with it," Davis said. "Nolan had a nice grasp of the defense."

Fletcher, asked if he feels Carroll is pressing him, said: "We're all competing to start. That's a daily deal . . . Every year it's competition. Nothing's ever just given to you."

Carroll, who started 12 games for the Dolphins last season, said he came here to compete for a starting job: "That's what Chip [Kelly] told me when I met with him when I first got here."

Miami did not seem to lament the loss of Carroll.

"I wasn't consistent enough," particularly in practice, Carroll said. "That was the problem my first couple years, really; I started getting better my last year there. This year, that's what I've harped on, just trying to be consistent, every single day."

It seems quite possible Carroll, 27, will be a starter for the Eagles at some point this season, either through injury to Fletcher or Cary Williams, or because he played himself into the role. Wolff might have a tougher path, with Allen and Malcolm Jenkins ahead of him, although when management brought Allen back under a 1-year deal this offseason, the hope clearly was that Wolff would be the future there.

"I feel like I'm getting more comfortable every day," Wolff said. "Honestly, my first preseason game, when I went out there, I was still trying to get in a groove. I hadn't played since last November, really," when he suffered a knee injury against the Packers. "I feel like I'm doing better and better every preseason game."

Wolff agreed that Allen "has been doing really well."

A year ago, fans saw Allen, the Eagles' 2010 second-round pick, as a bitter disappointment. He'd looked lost in Juan Castillo's defense, which because of the wide-9 front dictated by defensive-line coach Jim Washburn, required safeties to be primary run-stoppers, and also responsible for a wide swath of the field in pass coverage. It's unclear if any safety, anywhere, could have succeeded in that particular role. Allen and Kurt Coleman certainly did not.

But Allen kept plugging away, with a smile. Booed by the fans? Ripped by reporters, for being a wasted pick? He kept a positive outlook, which at times came off as oblivious, and maybe even infuriating, as the defense dissolved into chaos.

"Sometimes that breaks people," said Jenkins, who knows a little about the subject, having been drafted 14th overall by the Saints in 2009, then switched from corner to safety a few seasons in. "It's tough to have expectations on you and not necessarily live up to them. But he's doing a good job. It's encouraging to see him kind of continue to fight and continue to work, and not let that affect him."

Jenkins, who arrived this offseason from New Orleans, said yesterday that while he's aware of the gist of the Eagles' wide-9 struggles, he hasn't heard from Allen on that subject.

"That's the one thing about Nate - he's never blamed anybody for anything . . . He's kind of just owned it and moved on," Jenkins said.

"That was the situation. Regardless if I did say anything, it wasn't going to make a difference. I had to play with the scheme I was in, make the best of it," Allen said. "It was a tough thing. Again, that was the situation I was in. I'm not going to bash the wide-9, because some people have success at it [though maybe not with the back-end setup the Eagles used]. It was one of those things."

Does he feel vindication?

Allen seemed puzzled by the question.

"I'm not anywhere close to where I want to be," he said. "The moment you start thinking you're at the top and you're back to where you want to be, that's when everything will fall apart."

Davis cautioned yesterday that the Allen-Wolff competition is not over, but Allen is not expected to play Thursday against the Jets, and it would be nothing short of amazing if Wolff were tapped ahead of him, at this point. Kelly classified Allen's camp as "outstanding" following the Steelers game.

Davis reiterated yesterday how Allen (and linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who might have had the best camp and preseason of any Eagles defender) are "big concept learners" who have benefited from a little scheme continuity.

"With some people, when you learn the concept, and understand the concept, now the details become easier," said Davis, who said Allen is "seeing more because he understands his landmarks. He understands where his eyes need to be placed. He understands the 2-gap system of not having a safety be a primary run defender. All those things are growing, and you see Nate play better and better."

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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