Philadelphia Eagles: earl wolff

5 to watch: Nate Allen

July, 3, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- With training camp approaching within weeks, let’s continue our weeklong look at the players with the most to prove, and the most to lose, this summer.

Ponder
Allen
It would have been so easy for Nate Allen to move on. A second-round pick in 2010, Allen surely would have gotten the attention of one of the teams that liked him in that draft. But Allen decided to re-up with the Eagles, choosing a rare chance for some stability after four seasons of almost constant change.

When training camp opens, Allen will be one of the starting safeties. The question is whether he'll still hold that title when the season opens in September.

His main competition will come from his former partner, Earl Wolff. A fifth-round pick last season, Wolff was pressed into the starting lineup last year after Patrick Chung was injured. He stayed there after Chung healed. The reason, you couldn’t help thinking, was that Wolff at least played as if he cared.

Allen intercepted a pass from Aaron Rodgers in his very first game as a rookie in 2010. In four seasons, he has managed to intercept just five more. Allen has been hampered throughout his career by instability in the coaching staff -- a different defensive coordinator every year -- and having to play with some less-than-stellar teammates.

He has suffered, too, from comparisons to the beloved Brian Dawkins. Allen simply isn't that kind of player or person. While Dawkins threw his body and his heart around fearlessly, Allen plays the game in a much more reserved fashion. He is not the big hitter that Dawkins was, but then, that seems to be disappearing from the game in general.

Wolff plays a bit more like the throwback Eagles fans seem to want to watch, but he had a lot to learn after his rookie season. Wolff immediately began studying the approach of veteran Malcolm Jenkins, who signed with the Eagles as a free agent.

Jenkins' leadership will benefit whichever safety winds up starting alongside him. Allen is at a point in his career where he should be providing that kind of leadership himself, but he was ill-served by all the change around him.

This year, for the first time, Allen returns to a familiar defensive scheme run by the same coordinator. He doesn't have to be the steadying influence with Jenkins out there. It could be the year Allen really lives up to his potential, or at last runs out of chances to try.
PHILADELPHIA -- We didn't really get many answers from the Philadelphia Eagles' recently concluded organized team activities. Going into next week's mandatory minicamp, though, we know enough to ask somewhat better questions.

Sanchez
Matt Barkley or Mark Sanchez? We know Nick Foles will be the No. 1 quarterback, a major development compared to last year's training camp. But the signing of Sanchez to a one-year deal raised as many questions as it answered.

Sanchez has started 62 NFL games and gone to two AFC title games. He is the most accomplished quarterback in camp, and he's only 27. That makes him unlikely to be content to be the long-term backup for Foles. If Foles fails his acid-test season, Sanchez could be the next man up.

And then there's Barkley, who got into a few games as a rookie. His shoulder is healthy now, and he should get an opportunity to outplay Sanchez for the No. 2 spot. Barkley has the confidence to endure another season as the No. 3 QB, but is that really the ideal situation?

How will the wide receivers line up? At present, Riley Cooper is the only one of last year's top three receivers to be in the mix. If Cooper and Jeremy Maclin wind up on the outside, either rookie Jordan Matthews or veteran Brad Smith could become the slot receiver. Or if Matthews has a great summer, Cooper could move to the slot. He has the size for it.

It will be interesting, too, to see how Chip Kelly uses rookie Josh Huff, the third-round pick from Oregon. The Eagles may not have a receiver with the speed or the Pro Bowl appearances of DeSean Jackson, but they certainly have some talent at the position.

Ertz
How will Kelly use his other offensive weapons? Zach Ertz is going to be on the field. Does that mean Brent Celek, who helped LeSean McCoy lead the NFL in rushing, won't be? Will Kelly use Ertz, rather than a wide receiver, in the slot more often? And what about running back Darren Sproles? What will his role look like?

Earl Wolff or Nate Allen? Malcolm Jenkins will start at one safety spot. Will the Eagles stick with Allen or give Wolff a chance to take a step forward? Allen probably has reached his ceiling. Wolff still has some potential to become a better player. The answer will determine whether the secondary has a chance to be markedly better this season.

What can Marcus Smith do? The first-round pick from Louisville was backing up Connor Barwin in OTAs, but that has more to do with logistics than logic. It is expected Smith will contend for Trent Cole's right outside linebacker job.

The Eagles will be fine with Cole playing a lot this season, as long as Smith develops into a replacement by 2015. But getting some production from Smith in 2014, whether it's from the right or the left side, would be good for everyone.

Alex Henery or Murderleg? Yes, the Eagles signed a rookie free-agent kicker, Carey Spear, with the awesome nickname "Murderleg." No, he's not likely to replace the incumbent.

So let's finish with an answer: Henery. All he needs is a nickname.
PHILADELPHIA -- It is easy to read too much into what you see during organized team activities. On Tuesday, safety Earl Wolff was running with the first team. It turns out that Nate Allen was sick, and Wolff simply moved up a spot.

On Monday, inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was calling out the defensive signals. That could mean the Eagles want Kendricks to replace DeMeco Ryans in that role, or it could simply mean Kendricks might have to fill in if Ryans gets hurt during a game.

In general, the Eagles' draft picks are running with the second or third teams. That is just coach Chip Kelly's way. It is not necessarily a reflection of where each rookie stands in the coaches' evaluation process.

[+] EnlargeEagles coach Chip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt Rourke"There's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September," Chip Kelly said.
"If anybody is trying to make anything of who is playing what or how many reps -- all we are trying to do is see if we can get three reps a minute as fast as we can go, get it on tape and coach off of that," Kelly said Tuesday. "So there's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September. We are just trying to get as many plays as we can possibly get. So I would not read anything into who is where or what."

First-round pick Marcus Smith is working at the left outside linebacker spot. That is Connor Barwin's spot. That doesn't mean Smith is being groomed to replace Barwin. It just means that Brandon Graham is the No. 2 guy on the right side, behind Trent Cole. In time, Smith will learn both spots. For now, six weeks before the start of training camp, the idea is to see how Smith reacts to different situations and coach him as needed.

"It's trying to figure out what those guys can do and what their skill set is and what their strengths and weaknesses are," Kelly said. "And then we'll go from there. But you got to start them somewhere. You can't say, ‘Hey, learn every single position.' Just want to put them at one spot and figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are as we evaluate them."

The big difference between last year and this year is that Nick Foles is the clear No. 1 quarterback. Michael Vick is gone. Mark Sanchez is here, but he has been told he's competing with Matt Barkley for the No. 2 spot.

Kelly said it's a "unique situation for Mark because he's probably ahead of where Nick [Foles] and Michael [Vick] were last year because he has Nick to rely on. So everything was new for everybody in the quarterback room last year. ... And he also has probably a lot more experience than a lot of guys. He's played in this league for a long time and has got 60 plus starts."

Sanchez doesn't have quite the standing that Vick had, maybe because none of those 62 starts were for the Eagles. But his experience must give Kelly some comfort going into a season in which Foles will be under more pressure than he's experienced before.

Sanchez said he is still on a "pitch count" -- a limit to how much work his right shoulder can do. But he has established himself as a good teammate, eager to help Foles develop even as he learns from him.

"Having a year under his belt really helps," Sanchez said. "He's really maturing into what I think is a really good quarterback. He's going to be tough to play against for defenses."

That won't really start, as Kelly said, until September. For now, the Eagles' focus is on learning and evaluation. It is, after all, only June.
PHILADELPHIA -- You learn more about what an NFL team thinks from what it does than from what it says.

The Philadelphia Eagles know they need to improve their defense if they’re going to repeat as NFC East champions and make more noise in the postseason. The Eagles allowed more passing yards per game than any team in the NFL in 2013. That is an obvious area to address.

“I think we can be better than 32 [ranked],” cornerback Cary Williams said. “I think we’re going to be much improved from last season.”

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Cary Williams
AP Photo/Michael PerezCary Williams and the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013 despite allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL.
The Eagles drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith of Louisville in the first round of last month’s draft. But there’s a real chance Smith won’t start ahead of Trent Cole right away. Indeed, the only definite new starter will be former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. During OTA practices the past two weeks, 10 of the 11 starters from the end of last year were still at the top of the depth chart.

And that’s how you know what coach Chip Kelly, GM Howie Roseman and defensive coordinator Bill Davis really think. If they believed the defense was simply devoid of talent, they would have done more in free agency to add some. Instead, they appear convinced that it’s more important for the current players to grow within Davis’ 3-4 defensive scheme than to shuffle personnel.

“Overall, the whole defense has grown because we’re more comfortable with what we’re doing,” inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.

Last year, Ryans was adjusting to the 3-4 after playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He wound up playing more snaps than any inside linebacker in the NFL in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s because Ryans stayed healthy, but also because Davis desperately needed his awareness and knowledge on the field on every down.

Ryans will likely carry just as heavy a burden in 2014. But the addition of Jenkins will help ease the strain a bit. Jenkins replaces Patrick Chung, who was hampered by injury last year, and rookie Earl Wolff, who replaced Chung as a starter.

“Malcolm is going to be the leader in the back end,” Ryans said. “He’s a guy who gets the guys in the right position. He can make the plays you want to make. He’s a great addition to our secondary.”

That should help the entire secondary play as a cohesive unit. So should some more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles began to identify and develop strong players in their front seven last season. That process should continue and bear fruit in 2014.

Defensive end Cedric Thornton will begin this season as a starter rather than as a curiosity. Bennie Logan will be the nose tackle. Cole will be in his second season as a linebacker after spending 2013 making the transition from defensive end. Ryans, Cole, Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks should all be better after playing together for a full season.

Best of all, the defense experienced some success in that first year. The Eagles finished strong, earning the division title with a victory in Dallas in Week 17. Their first-round playoff loss to New Orleans showed them exactly where they need to get better.

“We understand what is expected from us,” Williams said. “We’re going to continue to build off what we did last year. I think we’re on the right path.”

Kelly, Roseman and Davis think the same thing. Their actions this offseason say so.

Kelly excited about Wolff in second year

May, 13, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- While Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly was focusing on the players selected in the 2014 draft, he also took some time to reflect on one of his players taken in last year’s draft.

Wolff
Since the Eagles gathered on April 21 for workouts, safety Earl Wolff has caught Kelly’s attention.

Wolff, a safety who was picked in the fifth round last year from NC State, flourished at times last season before suffering a knee injury Nov. 10 at Green Bay.

“How did I feel about it?,” Kelly said of Wolff’s knee injury. “I was sad because Earl was coming, you know. But I think the statement and more than one person has made to me, it looks like we have the old Earl because he's flying around right now. So I don't know if sometimes the injury is a little more severe than was expected. We didn't think it was going to be as long as it was, and I'll give him a ton of credit, because he worked his tail off to try to get back out there. But it just didn't respond the way we had hoped it would respond. But the guy that's been here since April 21, Earl's been flying around.

“You know, he like a lot of the guys, it's that jump from being a rookie to a second year player is a big deal,” Kelly continued. “You know, there is a renewed sense of confidence, whether it's Earl or (Zach) Ertz or Bennie (Logan) or Matt (Barkley). The guys we brought in last year. Now all of a sudden they're not looking around trying to figure out where to go. They're jumping right to the front of the lines and doing things. But right now we're really excited about Earl.”

Wolff came back to face the Chicago Bears on Dec. 22 but hurt his knee again and remained out in the regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

Kelly was asked whether there was a question if Wolff could play through the injury.

“No, not at all,” Kelly said. “We legitimately just watch him work out. There was a difference between him being able to run full speed. Because when Earl runs full speed and jumps full speed, you can tell. He was definitely injured. So there was no question from us at all.”

Wolff will have plenty of competition this season with the additions of Florida cornerback-safety Jaylen Watkins and Stanford safety Ed Reynolds in the draft to go along with free agents Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos.

Roseman doesn't like 2014 safety class

May, 2, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles signed free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins in March.

Good thing.

Because Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is not enamored with the safeties in the NFL draft looming May 8-10.

"When you talk about the safety class, I don't think it's a good group overall," Roseman said. "I think that you're talking about a drop-off, certainly, when you get into Saturday."

In addition, the Eagles also have returning safeties Earl Wolff and Nate Allen. Wolff was a fifth-round pick a year ago and showed potential before suffering a knee injury in November at Green Bay. Allen recently signed a one-year deal to return to the Eagles.

"Earl and Nate, we're excited about their ability to take a jump," Roseman said. "When we talk about athletic tools and what's in their body, Nate is 6-2, 215, and he's finally in the same system for a second year. You've got to be able to play fast. You've got to be able to not think. It's very hard on a safety going through all those system changes, especially a young player who, he was a quarterback in high school, didn't grow up playing the position.

"And then Earl as a rookie, I thought did a really good job before he got hurt. You talk about a guy who's 215 pounds and runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash). Unbelievable work ethic. Off the charts. We're excited about those guys. That doesn't mean we wouldn't add if it's the best player, but at the same time we expect those guys to take a jump."

Eagles' Wolff eager to learn from Jenkins

April, 28, 2014
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As a rookie, Earl Wolff learned a lot from his teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wolff
He's already learning from one of his newest teammates.

Since the Eagles gathered last week for informal workouts, Wolff has been modeling himself after free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins.

Jenkins signed with the Eagles in the offseason after a successful stint with the New Orleans Saints.

"I didn't know a lot about him, but I knew of him," Wolff told CSNPhilly.com. "It's a great move by the organization. I can learn a lot from him. Actually I kind of sat behind him in the meeting today. He was taking notes, so I was kinda looking at how he was taking notes, and honestly I think I'm going to start sitting beside him. I know he wouldn't mind helping me out. It's great having a veteran player, a team leader. He knows the game like the back of his hand."

Wolff was the 136th overall pick by the Eagles and played quite well as a rookie until he suffered a knee injury Nov. 10 at Green Bay. It caused him to sit out six of the final seven games.

"To get better, to be a whole lot better, to be more comfortable back there," Wolff told CSNPhilly.com of how he plans on improving in 2014. "I'm a hard worker and I have big expectations for myself."

Earl Wolff brought great value in fifth round

April, 19, 2014
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By the 136th overall pick in the NFL Draft, teams are looking at players with potential.

That's exactly what happened when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted N.C. State safety Earl Wolff in the fifth round last year.

Wolff
Patrick Chung struggled and Wolff grabbed the starting job in the early part of the season. He played well while competing in 11 games but hurt his knee against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 10. Wolff was never quite the same after that and saw limited action.

Wolff finished with 45 tackles and one interception. He had six tackles in his first start at Denver on Sept. 29 and tied his career-high with eight tackles at the New York Giants on October 6 and at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 13.

"I felt like I did pretty good, honestly," Wolff told CSNPhilly.com. "I felt like I was getting better and better every game, starting to make more plays, getting comfortable out there, flying around, having fun. That's what it's all about. That's why I've always loved the game of football. I bring energy. I feed off my teammates. I like making plays."

When the Eagles pick in the fifth round of the 2014 draft next month, they would be fortunate to wind up with a player like Wolff.

Nate Allen not looking for handouts

March, 18, 2014
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From the time he arrived, Nate Allen felt the pressure. He's no longer the answer for the Eagles' safety position, but he still hopes to be part of the solution. The Eagles might not be counting on it, but they clearly haven't given up on him either, having re-signed him to a one-year deal.

Ponder
Allen
Allen started every game last season, but he could be challenged this year by second-year Earl Wolff. Or, perhaps, the Eagles could draft a safety though they don't have to do so now. But Allen is used to the pressure, having felt it when he arrived in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Eagles hope that this offseason they've finally started to solve a position that has vexed them ever since Brian Dawkins departed in 2009.

"That pressure, that was there, right when I came in. Everybody was saying, 'You've got big shoes to fill,' [meaning] Brian Dawkins. But like I've said from Day 1, I'm not B-Dawk. He's a future Hall of Famer," Allen told Philadelphia reporters during a break from working out at NovaCare. "I'm going to be Nate and play my game and not put any more added pressure on myself, and just go out and play football."

Allen said he wasn't worried about the free-agent process and compared it to draft day. He said he had expressed his feelings about wanting to return and then he let the market develop. There wasn't a strong demand for him elsewhere, so he opted for the one-year deal with the Eagles, for whom he has started 54 of 59 games he's played since joining the team.

"I'm just going to try to get better this year and improve, whatever I can do to help the team win,” Allen said. “I wouldn't want anything just handed to me. I'm a pretty simple dude, so any amount of money I get is good for me. A lot of times, it's not even about money. I'm just happy to be back here, in a system I'm comfortable in. I've been in Philly for four years. It's all a blessing.

“I just kind of stepped back and let everything fall into place. Knew that at the end of the day, if it was meant for me to be here, I'd be back."

Eagles building nest at safety

March, 17, 2014
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Is it safe to say the Philadelphia Eagles will not be targeting a safety early in the May draft?

Nate Allen re-signed with the team on Monday with a one-year, $2 million deal that can max out at $3 million. Last week, the Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year, $15.5 million deal that pays him $8.5 million guaranteed, and Chris Maragos to a three-year, $4 million deal.

The Eagles now have Allen, Jenkins, Maragos, Earl Wolff and Keelan Johnson at safety.

Philadelphia has struggled to replace Brian Dawkins the way the Dallas Cowboys have struggled to replace Darren Woodson.

Sean Jones, Kurt Coleman and Patrick Chung had nothing more than moments. Allen has been better the past few years as a strong safety.

The Cowboys have been searching for Woodson's replacement since 2004 when a bad back forced him to retire early. Dawkins left the Eagles after the 2008 season and is one of the franchise's all-time greats.

With Jenkins, the Eagles finally hope they have something close to Dawkins to keep the back line in place. Keeping Allen allows them to have some continuity with a player who looked like he found a home in 2013. Allen had a career-high 94 tackles in starting every game in his career to go along with one interception.

Free-agent dossier: Kurt Coleman

February, 27, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- We'll continue our look at the Eagles' soon-to-be free agents with safety Kurt Coleman for two reasons.

Coleman is an interesting case, a guy who both exceeded and then didn't meet expectations. Just as important, there's no sense in looking at Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin if the two never get to free agency. The Eagles could have both locked up with new deals well before March 8.

Coleman
Coleman, 25, was the 244th player selected in the 2010 NFL draft. Just for context, the Eagles took Coleman 158 spots after they took defensive lineman Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. So it is a credit to Coleman's tenacity that he started 29 games at safety in his first three seasons.

The Eagles kept bringing in veteran stopgaps, and Coleman was the guy who played when they proved less than adept. Of course, that also put Coleman in the position of being a guy the front office and coaches were perennially trying to replace.

The Eagles did that in 2013, signing Patrick Chung and drafting Earl Wolff in the fifth round. Chung was the starter opposite Nate Allen coming out of camp. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis eased Wolff into the lineup and he took over the starting job when Chung injured his shoulder.

After Wolff injured his knee -- an injury that turned out to be virtually season-ending -- Chung returned to the starting lineup. By the Dec. 15 game at Minnesota, though, Coleman had risen up the depth chart (or Chung had slipped down again). Davis replaced Chung with Coleman for 26 defensive snaps.

Coleman pulled a hamstring, however. He missed the next week's game and was back to full-time special-teams work for the season finale at Dallas and the playoff game against New Orleans. Overall, Coleman played just 73 defensive snaps, or 6 percent.

The Eagles' self-described frustration at the safety position suggests that Coleman will move on. If he hopes to be a starter, or even a regular contributor on defense, it seems as if he'll have to leave to do that.

But if Coleman doesn't find that kind of opportunity, and if the Eagles decide he has value as a special-teamer, solid locker room guy and capable depth player, there is a chance Coleman could return. Building continuity on special teams has some merit, as well.

Reassessing Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans

February, 19, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- You can trust your eyes or you can trust your eyes.

Trust them when Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans is on the field and you see a veteran who was playing, according to his defensive coordinator, at a Pro Bowl level late in the 2013 season.

Or trust them when you see the orange box in the Pro Football Focus graphic and the image of Ryans in the NFL.com photo display of veterans likely to be released by their teams for salary reasons.

[+] EnlargeDeMeco Ryans
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliInside linebacker DeMeco Ryans had 4 sacks and 2 interceptions in his second season with the Eagles.
Reading through last week’s positional analysis of the Eagles’ inside linebackers, I certainly didn’t portray Ryans as a huge issue. Bearing in mind that the Eagles moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, and that Ryans was in charge of getting everyone lined up correctly and maintaining order, the 29-year-old had a solid season. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis backed that up.

"DeMeco is the leader of our defense, and he's having an outstanding Pro Bowl year,” Davis said in November. “We couldn't be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us."

In its look at the Eagles’ projected 2014 lineup, PFF classified Ryans as a “below-average starter/adequate role player” -- one of four orange boxes on the site’s graphic representation of the Eagles' defense. Cornerback Cary Williams and safeties Patrick Chung and Earl Wolff were the others (free agents, including Nate Allen, were not included).

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal included Ryans on his list of veteran players whose 2014 salaries make them candidates to be released.

“His reputation and salary far exceed his play on the field (especially on passing downs),” Rosenthal writes. “Do the Eagles want to pay $6.9 million for leadership?”

Two quick reactions: Ryans provided more than leadership, especially as the defensive line improved in front of the linebackers. Logic suggests he can be even more effective as the rest of the defensive players improve within Davis’ scheme.

But Rosenthal and the guys at PFF aren’t making this stuff up. They know their stuff and viewed Ryans’ play with dispassionate eyes. So it might make more sense that the Eagles spent a fair amount of time talking to inside linebackers during Senior Bowl week. Jimmy Kempski of philly.com noted Eagles personnel talking to LSU’s Lamin Barrow, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Illinois’ Jonathan Brown, and Florida State’s Christian Jones.

Ultimately, I think Ryans is still starting for the Eagles in September even if the Eagles draft his long-term replacement. Davis is not going to want his defense to take a step back while a rookie learns the system and how to diagnose offensive formations. Free agency doesn’t seem like a viable option -- if the Eagles are going to pay top dollar for a veteran, they’re better off with Ryans.
PHILADELPHIA -- The secondary was already the Philadelphia Eagles' most obvious need area. After watching the NFL postseason, especially the Super Bowl, that need looked even more glaring.

Put another way: The Eagles got by with their secondary in 2013. Elite defenses do better than get by. Their safeties and cornerbacks are impact players.

Let’s look at the more dire safety situation first. We’ll address the cornerback position in a separate post.

Good safeties have been as elusive as unicorns for the Eagles since Brian Dawkins' unfortunate departure five years ago. (Say that out loud: Dawk's been gone for five years.) They have tried nearly everything to fill that void: second-round draft picks, second-day draft picks, midlevel free agents.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Ward
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesIt might be time for the Eagles to pursue a starting safety in free agency, like Cleveland's T.J. Ward.
As it happens, three of the safeties on the Eagles’ roster are to become unrestricted free agents next month: starter Nate Allen, former starter Kurt Coleman, and special-teamer Colt Anderson.

That should be viewed as an opportunity more than a problem. By doing nothing, the Eagles can start the process of turning over this part of their roster. They can really turn the page if they release Patrick Chung, who lost his starting job twice during the season.

That would leave Earl Wolff, last year’s fifth-round draft pick and the guy who took Chung’s job before getting hurt, and Keelan Johnson as the only two safeties on the roster.

When we said the Eagles have tried nearly everything, it’s because the one thing they haven’t done is sign a top-level free agent. For years, the Eagles rated the safety position fairly low on their list of priorities. Dawkins was a homegrown superstar who transcended the position, but their emphasis was always on edge pass-rushers and cornerbacks.

General manager Howie Roseman has said the team will avoid splurging on big-ticket signings, and that is a reasonable position. But one reason the team has struggled to resolve the safety problem is its insistence on mediocre, small-ticket free agents. Chung and Kenny Phillips were last year’s additions to a list that includes Sean Jones, Jarrad Page, Marlin Jackson and O.J. Atogwe.

Maybe Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd or Cleveland’s T.J. Ward will demand too much money to be options, but this might be the year the Eagles have to pay full-market price at this most challenging of positions. Miami’s Chris Clemons might be a better value signing.

You could make a case for retaining Allen, who had his best season. Maybe spending more time in Bill Davis’ defense will help Allen continue to grow. But the feeling here is that Allen personifies the concept of just getting by at the safety spot. The Eagles are not going to be a tough, hard-hitting, intimidating defense like Seattle or San Francisco by just getting by.

Sign one starter (Ward, preferably) and at least one veteran who can compete for playing time. Hope Wolff can lock down one starting position with a full offseason and some experience under his belt. Give Johnson a chance to earn a roster spot with special-teams play.

The timing is treacherous. If the Eagles allow Allen, Coleman and Anderson to walk, they will have to move quickly in free agency to fill at least a couple of those spots. They can hang on to Chung as security until they do. But the worst-case scenario is going into the draft in May with a desperate need for safety help.

The Eagles have done that before, and it has not ended well. But then, nothing they’ve done at safety has gone much better.
PHILADELPHIA -- It is as inevitable as the sun rising. In the days after the Super Bowl, there are thousands of words written about how the other 31 teams in the NFL can emulate the success of the new champions.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesChip Kelly has shown that his way can work in Philadelphia.
So how should the Philadelphia Eagles copy the Seattle Seahawks' recipe for success?

Answer: They shouldn't. The Eagles should do exactly what they're doing: Let Chip Kelly build his team his way.

There is no sure-fire formula for winning a championship. There is no one right way to do it. For proof, look no further than the teams that have won the Super Bowl in recent years.

Surely, the Green Bay Packers had the Green Bay Packers' secret formula after winning the Super Bowl three years ago. The Giants had it all figured out two years ago and, last year, the Baltimore Ravens were the model for everyone else.

None of these teams returned to the Super Bowl, of course. More to the point, the Packers didn't win by suddenly emulating the 2009 New Orleans Saints, the Giants didn't copy the Packers, the Ravens didn't copy the Giants and Pete Carroll most certainly didn't copy John Harbaugh's Ravens.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the Seahawks' rout of the Broncos, it is to follow your own blueprint.

Much has been made of Seattle's success finding talent, especially on defense, in the later rounds of the draft. And yes, that certainly can't hurt. But it's not as if Eagles general manager Howie Roseman hasn't thought of doing that. If the Eagles are in the Super Bowl in a year or two or three, maybe one of the big stories will be how they found Pro Bowl safety Earl Wolff in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Who knows?

One of the underrated keys to success in the draft is coaching. It may be that all of those late-round Seattle picks would have become stars anywhere they wound up. But it is certain they have benefited greatly from a sound scheme, continuity and coaches who maximize their strengths and cover up their weaknesses.

That is one of Kelly's key attributes. He coaches the players he has, not the players he wishes he had. And he demands that from his staff. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis demonstrated that he can build a sound foundation and then adjust his scheme as his players learned it and, just as important, as he learned his players.

The progress made in less than a calendar year was promising. When you add players who better fit what Kelly and Davis want to do, that progress should accelerate each year. That is how you get from 4-12 to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks certainly look like a team that will be a factor for the next few years. They are young, they have a quarterback that is just coming into his own and their defense is capable of taking over games.

Most of that applied to the Packers three years ago and the Ravens last year. They were the teams with the secret formula for winning. And you know what? The Seattle Seahawks didn't try to copy their formulas. They wrote their own, and that's what the Eagles are trying to do.
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles running back Chris Polk had surgery on his shoulder this week, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Caplan.

That is worth noting, but bears further exploring because of what it says about the way the Eagles handle injuries in the Chip Kelly era.

Andy Reid famously began every press availability with the same word -- injuries -- followed by an alphabetical recitation of every nick, ding, tear, pull and break on the athletic trainers’ report. For serious injuries, especially when star players were involved, Reid brought head trainer Rick Burkholder in to explain the nature of the injury and the course of treatment.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsInformation about injured players has been hard to come by since Chip Kelly became head coach in Philadelphia.
With Kelly?

“Polk has got a shoulder,” he said Oct. 14, the day after Polk was injured in Tampa. “We hope he’s back this week, but I don’t think he’ll be full [go in practice] tomorrow.”

That was all the information Kelly was giving out, which was typical. An injured player has a (fill in body part here). Period. Kelly says he doesn’t want or need in-depth information. The training staff tells him who is available and who isn’t and he proceeds from there.

Polk was inactive for the following week's game against Dallas. Not that big of a deal, except for the roster consequences that followed. The day before the Dallas game, the Eagles added practice squad running back Matthew Tucker to their active roster. To make room, they released cornerback Jordan Poyer, a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft.

The Cleveland Browns claimed Poyer and he finished the season with them.

Polk was back the following week and active for the rest of the Eagles’ games. He played extensively on special teams. His snap count on offense increased in the final four weeks.

And it turned out he needed surgery on the shoulder.

If that’s the case with Polk, it raises questions about other players. Safety Patrick Chung became the player fans loved to hate for his missed tackles and perceived blown coverages. But Chung “had a shoulder” after the Week 3 loss to Kansas City. He missed two games and then tried to come back too soon, leaving the Tampa Bay game after just 12 defensive snaps.

Chung was inactive the next two weeks before returning for the Oakland game. When rookie Earl Wolff was injured (Wolff “had a knee”) in Green Bay, Chung became the starter again.

Was Chung a free-agent bust who lost his job to a fifth-round pick? Or was Chung a veteran gutting out and playing hurt because the team was desperately thin at safety?

Injury deception affects perception.

Wolff is another example. Reporters managed to ascertain that he hyperextended his knee, but there was never any further explanation. Was anything torn? Sprained? Strained? Was there cartilage damage? A bone bruise?

Wolff also tried to return too soon from his injury. He lasted four snaps in the game against Chicago in Week 16, then didn’t play again. Every day before the playoff game against New Orleans, Wolff would give an awkward update on how he felt and what he was doing to try to be ready. He was inactive on game day.

Was Wolff merely a rookie not sure of the difference between discomfort and injury? Or was he feeling pressure to get back on the field despite a moderately serious knee injury? (Not pressure from head athletic trainer Chris Peduzzi and his staff, mind you. They're very good. But secrecy about the nature of the injury led to constant inquiries from reporters and even some teasing about Wolff getting back on the field.)

Kelly is a long way from being the first coach to keep injury information as limited as possible. Maybe it provides some competitive advantage. But that secrecy can also be a disservice to the players themselves.

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