Philadelphia Eagles: Kurt Coleman
Key free agents: QB Michael Vick, WR Jason Avant, S Nate Allen, P Donnie Jones, S Kurt Coleman.
Where they stand: By keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off the market, the Eagles assured their starting offense would look very much as it did in 2013. There are no obvious positions of need on that side of the ball that would likely be addressed in free agency. The defensive side is another matter. That unit made fine progress in its first year with coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the Eagles need playmakers there, especially in the secondary. Having $20-25 million in salary-cap space gives them the flexibility to do whatever they choose.
What to expect: GM Howie Roseman has repeatedly said he does not want to overpay in free agency, but the Eagles might have to go that route with a safety like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Chris Clemons. Going for bargains at that position just has not worked, and Roseman has acknowledged he doesn’t want to get to the draft in dire need of a safety. There isn’t a lot of depth at outside linebacker -- teams do their best to hold on to effective pass-rushers -- but Roseman could look for a second-tier guy there. It would not be surprising if the Eagles re-signed Jones and added a kicker in free agency to compete with, or flat-out replace, Alex Henery. Keep an eye on a return man, perhaps Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.
That is the impression you get when looking through Bill Polian’s Free Agent Tracker on ESPN Insider. The longtime NFL executive, along with NFL Insider analysts Gary Horton, Matt Williamson and Field Yates, graded the players headed for the open market. The soon-to-be former Eagles didn’t exactly make the dean’s list.
Quarterback Michael Vick rates only a C-plus and this comment: “The offseason market for Vick will require a perfect system fit. He brings with him age and injury concerns, but if you're a team like Jacksonville or a team with a rookie QB coming out of the 2014 draft, he's a free agent who could buy time as a starter. He could also be a fit as a backup for a team like San Francisco or Seattle, where he could replicate some of the athletic traits possessed by Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.”
Funny to see Vick described as someone who can “replicate” the athleticism and mobility that he helped pioneer in the league. The lackluster evaluation makes you wonder if Vick will get that starting opportunity he covets.
Safety Nate Allen received a grade of C: “Allen is a free safety who is best suited for the box. He shows good instincts and awareness, and he is tough against the run and in underneath coverage. He lacks range over the top, however.”
Allen is rated as “neutral” for all four categories rated -- speed, production, injury and character.
Defensive end Clifton Geathers was rated as “neutral” for all four as well. Geathers also got a C from Polian: “Geathers possesses a long body and good first-step quickness. His length allows him to be a good pass-rusher, but he doesn't have the explosive quickness of the top pass-rushers, nor the explosive run leverage of a power player. He's kind of a tweener but can be a good, solid backup.”
Sounds right, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles bring Geathers back once the market settles a bit.
Polian slapped D grades on safeties Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, as well as punter Donnie Jones. The grade on Jones is understandable if it is based on his entire career. Jones punted very well for the Eagles last year and could be signed to a new contract as soon as the new league year starts on Monday.
The highest-graded Eagles? Wide receivers Riley Cooper (B) and Jeremy Maclin (B-minus), who signed new contracts with the team last week. Maclin’s grade was clearly lower because he’s coming off a serious knee injury.
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.
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.
He still can't. But as other teams clear roster spots (and cap space) and with the window open for using franchise and transition tags now open, there is more clarity every day.
Two of the elite safeties due for free agency, Cleveland's T.J. Ward and Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, could be tagged. That would not only take them off the market, it would have a domino effect on the players who do hit free agency. A guy like Miami's Chris Clemons might command more money than he would if Ward and Byrd were in the market.
And then there's San Francisco's Donte Whitner. The 49ers want him back, but it might be tougher to negotiate a new deal without using a tag on him if he is by far the best safety available.
Judging by Roseman's comments, he isn't likely to get in a mad bidding war for the hot commodity. The Eagles' recent approach has been to look for value among players in the second tier, after the market settles a little bit.
In that sense, the picture has improved for the Eagles in recent days. New Orleans released Roman Harper and Detroit parted ways with Louis Delmas late last week. Whether they are good fits in Philadelphia or not, they add to the pool of available talent and create more options.
Delmas is an interesting possibility. He is only 27, same as Ward and Byrd. He is a relatively physical player who has had some knee trouble. That could actually help keep his asking price down, which might make him that much more appealing to the Eagles.
Delmas was taken one pick ahead of Patrick Chung in the 2009 draft. But then, the Eagles took Nate Allen one pick ahead of Ward in the 2010 draft.
Allen and Chung finished the season as the Eagles' starting safeties. Rookie Earl Wolff had taken Chung's starting job before injuring his knee in Green Bay in October.
Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, as will safeties/special-teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson. With the Eagles lukewarm on Chung, there could be as many as four roster spots open for safeties.
Roseman said recently that he doesn't want to go into the draft with a gaping hole on his roster. That, he said, leads to mistakes as teams reach for a position of need. So it is likely the Eagles will look to add safeties in free agency. The market is shaping up.
It means they have most of their most important players under negotiated contracts and don’t have to anger anyone by using the tag to keep him from free agency. Using the tag has created bad feelings and problems for the Eagles in the past, most dramatically when they removed the tag from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter after weeks of bitter back-and-forth.
The negative aspect, of course, is that the players most likely to be tagged -- such as Jimmy Graham of the Saints and T.J. Ward of the Browns -- are from the 2010 draft class. The Eagles don’t have star players from that class they are fighting to keep.
Monday is the first day teams can apply franchise and transition tags to players. For an explanation of tags and their ramifications, click here.
Safety Nate Allen and wide receiver Riley Cooper were starters in 2013. The Eagles wouldn’t mind having both back. But they are not likely to want to pay them franchise-tag salaries -- likely to be more than $8 million for one season for safeties and $10 million-plus for wide receivers.
The Eagles took Allen one pick before Cleveland selected Ward. Four years later, the Eagles remain in dire need of safety help. They are apt to be affected more by Ward’s status than Allen’s. If Ward is on the market, the Eagles could be very interested in him. At the very least, he would expand the pool of free-agent safeties.
The Eagles’ first-round pick from 2010, Brandon Graham, still has another year on his rookie contract. Nine of the 10 other 2010 draftees on shorter deals are long gone. The 10th, safety and special-teams guy Kurt Coleman, is certainly not going to be tagged.
The Eagles’ most intriguing decision among their free-agents-to-be concerns wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The 2009 first-round pick missed the entire 2013 season after tearing his ACL in training camp.
Could the Eagles use the tag to hang on to Maclin and try to work out a more reasonable deal? It’s possible, but not likely.
That’s how general manager Howie Roseman deployed the tag in 2012, the last time the Eagles used it. Roseman tagged wide receiver DeSean Jackson. By mid-March, Roseman had signed Jackson to a new five-year contract.
The difference here is that Maclin is coming off his second ACL surgery. The Eagles or another team might want him on a one-year, prove-it deal, but not at a guaranteed $10-11 million.
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.
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.
General manager Howie Roseman has repeatedly said the team will continue to avoid huge free-agent deals in favor of making a number of smaller, less risky investments on the open market. That approach brought Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Donnie Jones last offseason. It also brought Patrick Chung, James Casey and Kenny Phillips, moves that didn’t hamstring the franchise when performance didn’t equal compensation.
Before getting to March 11, though, the first order of business is deciding how to handle the current Eagles with expiring contracts. That group includes Michael Vick, who wants to explore opportunities to start, wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, and safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson.
The Eagles could have extended any of those contracts before now, so they’re clearly willing to risk losing any or all of those players once the market opens. The best guess here is the team will wait and see if the market convinces Cooper, Maclin and Allen that their best option is to remain in Philadelphia on reasonable contracts. If not, then adios.
There are a handful of veteran players whose contracts could dictate some action. Will the Eagles hang on to players like Williams, Casey, Trent Cole, Brent Celek and Jason Avant?
Once those decisions are made, the Eagles can move on to the next Next Big Thing, signing free agents and preparing for the May (May!) draft.
Here's how the roster shapes up:
Unrestricted free agents: Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin; safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson; quarterback Michael Vick; defensive end Clifton Geathers, punter Donnie Jones.
The Eagles could lose all of those players without taking a major hit. That doesn't mean those players aren't valuable, merely that they're not irreplaceable. It's not as if LeSean McCoy or Mychal Kendricks or Jason Kelce were free to leave.
My guess is general manager Howie Roseman will make solid market offers to Cooper, Maclin, Allen, Geathers and Jones. He will not overpay for any of them. If some other team does, the Eagles will move on without the player in question.
Players due for contract extensions: Defensive end Cedric Thornton (exclusive rights free agent) and center Jason Kelce.
Let's project to the year 2022. The 35-year-old Kelce announces he is playing his final season after 13 years with the Eagles. That's how things should go with this guy. He's smart, physical, athletic and exactly the kind of player teams should commit to. So yes, extend Kelce.
Thornton was one of the delightful surprises of 2013. An undrafted rookie from Southern Arkansas, he hung around for a couple years without anyone paying much mind. But he's living proof of Chip Kelly's no-expectations approach. Kelly judges based on what a player does, and Thornton was very good this year.
Players who could be gone: Vick, Anderson, Coleman, wide receiver Damaris Johnson, kicker Alex Henery, linebacker Brandon Graham, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Phillip Hunt (restricted free agent on IR), wide receiver Arrelious Benn, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.
Mostly self-explanatory. Vick wants to find a place where he can start. Even if he doesn't, the Eagles really like Matt Barkley and may well prefer a younger (read: cheaper) No. 2 behind Nick Foles.
Henery will have competition for the kicking job next summer. Not sure he'll answer that bell. Graham belongs at end in a 4-3 defense and may get a chance to return to one. The Eagles tried to replace Chung over and over but injuries kept him in the lineup.
Johnson lost his return job and never played on offense. Anderson has been a solid special teams guy, but Kelly likes versatility and may prefer a replacement who can fill in on defense, too.
Veterans on the salary-cap bubble: Tight end Brent Celek, linebacker Trent Cole, guard Todd Herremans, wide receiver Jason Avant. They are all good enough players to stay. That, not their cap numbers, should be the deciding factor.
Youth movement: The Eagles signed their practice squad and one other player to futures contracts. They are linebackers Emmanuel Acho, Josh Kaddu and Travis Long; offensive tackle Michael Bamiro; defensive end Brandon Bair; wide receivers Will Murphy, B.J. Cunningham and Ifeanyi Momah, and tight end Emil Igwenagu.
The takeaway here: The Eagles staff spent a lot of time coaching these guys and one or three of them just might become contributors.
Veterans Patrick Chung and Kurt Coleman took first-team practice reps this week. So defensive coordinator Bill Davis is likely to use a rotation opposite safety Nate Allen in an attempt to find a solid combination. Colt Anderson, who is coming back from a knee injury, is also active.
The Eagles have five safeties active for this first-round playoff game. Davis only has to find two who can execute his defensive game plan.
Wide receiver/punt returner Damaris Johnson is inactive. That means DeSean Jackson will handle punt returns. It also means the Eagles will be without a speedy backup if Jackson is injured. Johnson has been active the last five games.
Backup center Julian Vandervelde is out because of a back injury. Left guard Evan Mathis, who was named to the AP All-Pro team this week, has practiced with the second team at center. He would fill in should starting center Jason Kelce be injured.
Normally that would be a good sign that Wolff will be ready to play. But here’s the asterisk: Because the Eagles are playing the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night, the Thursday practice was more like a light Friday session. Wolff didn’t exactly have to push himself. After the practice, he went through some extra drills to test the knee.
“It was football activity, what I would go through in a game,” Wolff said. “It didn’t bother me. I felt better than I did last week and the week before. I feel like it also depends on how I feel tomorrow, if I’m real sore.”
As for playing Saturday night, Wolff said it would be up to the coaches and training staff.
“It’s not my call anymore,” he said. “It’s their call.”
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis is faced with several less-than-ideal choices. Veteran Patrick Chung lost his job to Wolff earlier in the season. He has not exactly been Troy Polamalu since returning to the starting lineup.
Kurt Coleman had been splitting time with Chung before pulling a hamstring in Minnesota. Coleman played in Dallas, but was limited to special teams duty. He has practiced with the first team this week, but has been on the field for just 6 percent of the Eagles’ defensive plays all season.
If Wolff is physically ready, there’s still the issue of getting back up to game speed. When he tried to return against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, the plan was for Chung to start and Wolff to ease back in. But he aggravated the knee on his first series and hasn’t played since.
“Earl has to practice if he's going to play” head coach Chip Kelly said. “If that’s your question, yeah, he's got to get out there at some point in time.”
It is unclear whether Thursday’s light workout counted in Kelly’s mind.
What is clear is that Saints quarterback Drew Brees is going to test the Eagles' safeties -- whether Wolff, Coleman or Chung is out there alongside Nate Allen -- until they prove they aren’t the weak link in the defense.
Case in point: At his Monday news conference, Kelly was asked about the trend that has lower-seeded teams more likely to win the Super Bowl than teams that earn a playoff bye week.
“I never really looked at it when I was in college,” Kelly said. “We watched the games when we had time if we having recruiting meetings, things like that, but I never really studied it.”
Sometimes Kelly slips up, though, and reveals just how closely he pays attention to everything. When someone asked about the New Orleans Saints’ 3-5 record on the road this year, Kelly shrugged in a different way.
“Tampa Bay couldn’t win a game in cold weather until they came in here,” Kelly said. “So we’re not going to get caught up in that one, I can tell you that.”
That was a reference to the NFC championship game between the Buccaneers and Eagles 11 seasons ago. Kelly knew all about that, but he doesn’t know the last three Super Bowl winners had to play first-round games because they weren’t No. 1 or 2 seeds?
It’s possible. But it’s much more likely Kelly decides which messages he wants his players to hear from him. That Bucs-in-cold-weather factoid is an object lesson about paying too much attention to an opponent’s prior history. The fact the Eagles, at 10-6, have as good a chance to go to the Super Bowl as the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks could get his players looking beyond the task at hand.
A few other highlights from Kelly’s meeting with reporters:
- The coach doesn’t seem any more enthusiastic about safety Eugene Chung than Eagles fans are.
“I think Pat’s done some good things,” Kelly said. “There’s some plays he probably wants to do a little bit better, but I think Pat’s done some really good things for us.”
Rookie safety Earl Wolff missed another game after aggravating his right knee injury against Chicago. Even if he’s ready to play against the Saints, he’s likely to be limited because of the time he’s missed. Veteran Kurt Coleman had earned some of Chung’s playing time before injuring his hamstring.
In other words, Chung is playing because there aren’t any alternatives.
- Kelly’s unusual practice schedule revolves around recovery, intense training and then tapering as the next game approaches. It is why the Eagles practice on Tuesday, unlike other teams, and do lighter work on Fridays and Saturdays.
With a short week, that carefully planned schedule has to change.
“Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Wednesday, Wednesday’s Thursday, Thursday’s Friday, Friday’s Saturday,” Kelly said. “You just subtract a day. We got off the field and they told us we’re playing Saturday. We can’t call a timeout and say we need an extra day. But the team you’re playing is in exactly the same situation. No one gets an advantage.”
- As for the challenge of playing the Saints, Kelly kept it simple.
“The challenge is Drew Brees,” he said, calling Brees a “Hall of Fame quarterback” and comparing him to Peyton Manning. As a college coach, Kelly said, he was familiar with Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, which produced both Brees and Nick Foles.
“I was at New Hampshire when Brees came out,” Kelly said. “I don’t think New Hampshire was on his wish list.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly became the Eagles' head coach in January. He might have become Philadelphia's head coach Sunday night.
At about 4 p.m. ET, the Dallas Cowboys beat Washington with a late comeback, robbing the Eagles of a chance to clinch the division against the Chicago Bears. By about 9 p.m., the Eagles had a 21-0 lead on their way to a dominating 54-11 victory over a team that had its own division title on the line.
All that speculation about resting starters for the must-win game in Dallas next Sunday? Forget about it.
"Very simply, we're from Philadelphia and we fight," Kelly said. "If there's a game on, we're playing. End of story. And all this stuff about backing in, not worrying, all these other things, I have no idea.
"So many scenarios. What if there's a tie when we go play Dallas next week and we gave a game away last week? If we're going to line up and kick off, tell us what time to show up and we'll be there."
If there aren't “We're from Philadelphia and we fight” T-shirts rolling off a silk-screen machine somewhere, someone is missing a golden opportunity.
Kelly's demeanor might have been different if one of his key players had been injured. But that didn't happen. Even better, the players who might have been candidates for the injury-avoidance program were the ones who delivered the biggest momentum-building performances of the game.
LeSean McCoy ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns to retain his place atop the NFL rushing leaders list and position himself to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for yards in a season next week. McCoy needs just 37 yards to break the mark of 1,512 yards.
Quarterback Nick Foles was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 25 passes (84 percent) for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Coming off an inconsistent performance against the Vikings, Foles now goes to Dallas with a hot hand.
“I'm just excited to play another game,” Foles said. “I know what's on the line. Everybody knows what's on the line. I'm excited for the opportunity.”
Trent Cole, the oldest player on the Eagles' defense, sacked Jay Cutler on the Bears' third play from scrimmage, setting a tone and forcing the Bears to punt. Cole had three sacks, his most in a game in three years.
“I was very excited for this game,” Cole said. “This is just the start. Coming off a loss like that, it's good for confidence in the team. This does build momentum for us going into Dallas. That's the start of our playoffs right there.”
Kelly convinced his team to treat this as a big game. The way his players responded has to be considered a good sign as they prepare for the franchise's biggest game since a playoff loss to Green Bay here after the 2011 season.
“It's going to be the biggest show on earth,” Cole said. “It's going to be a circus down there, like always.”
“This is what we want,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who sacked Cutler twice and forced a fumble. “We're on the biggest stage. We're in Dallas' stadium, which is a great place to play. We're excited.”
Not only did the Eagles not want to sit this one out, veterans were volunteering for hazardous duty. With key special teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson sidelined by injuries, starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were covering kickoffs -- as if holding receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in check wasn't enough to worry about.
“Whatever it takes, man,” Williams said. “No 'I' in 'team.' Coach needed me to do that, then dang it, I'm going to do it. It didn't matter. It was a great game plan we had in place. There were a lot of DBs out there. It didn't bother us, because the game was so significant. We wanted to get back to winning ways.”
Fletcher forced Bears kickoff returner Devin Hester to fumble in the first quarter. Williams recovered, giving the Eagles the ball at the Chicago 39.
“That's what we do,” nickel corner and special-teams regular Brandon Boykin said. “That's our personality. The starters on kickoffs, that's the want-to, that's the attitude of our team. Get the job done no matter who's out there.”
The Eagles scored on McCoy's 1-yard run five plays later, their second touchdown in 2 minutes, 10 seconds. It was 14-0, and the Eagles were on their way.
It was hard to believe they were the same players who got crushed by the Vikings the week before.
“Redeeming ourselves,” Boykin said. “That was huge, man. It was a great team win. Knowing where we are, knowing our possibilities, we wanted to come out and get our momentum rolling again. Especially at home, Sunday night football. There's nothing better.”
It's also hard to believe this is the same Eagles offense that failed to score a touchdown against the Cowboys here in the teams' first meeting this season. That was Oct. 20. The Eagles lost the next week to the Giants, falling to 3-5 at the midway point of the season.
They are 6-1 since then, with the only loss that mystifying game in Minnesota.
“We stumbled when we were in Minnesota,” Kelly said. “Minnesota beat us and played better than us that day. But we weren't going to let Minnesota beat us twice.”
Now the task is not letting Dallas beat them twice. Win next week, and they earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. For Kelly, it also would mean eliminating the rival Cowboys. There's no better way to win over Eagles fans.
“One down, one to go,” Kelly said.
Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) are out. That has more impact on the Eagles' special teams than their defense. Both players are key members of the kicking and return teams.
That gives defensive coordinator Bill Davis close to a full complement of defensive backs as he tries to cope with the Bears' array of receiving options. Chicago likes to use wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the slot a fair percentage of the time.
Although the Eagles have faced Denver's group, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, Boykin said he thought the Bears' Marshall and Alshon Jeffery presented the biggest overall challenge to the secondary.
"You're talking about guys that are 6-3, 6-4 and they're both playing at a very, very high level," Boykin said. "Normally, you might have two big guys, but one of them is better than the other. I don't think that's the case. They can throw to either one of them."
"Whenever the quarterback throws the ball in the air," Wolff said, "they go and get it. Those are the big plays we're going to have to stop. I feel like we're up for the challenge."
Wolff may be eased back into action after missing so much time. Patrick Chung could start and play a fair amount.
"I feel like I came in this week in a groove more than I was last week," Wolff said. "Last week, I was still kind of trying to get back into it. Now I feel like I'm pretty much back to where I was before."
As for special teams, the Eagles are likely to have linebacker Najee Goode back from his hamstring injury. He was also listed as questionable. Keelan Johnson, a safety signed off the practice squad earlier in the week, could also be active and help fill in for Coleman and Anderson.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) and wide receiver/special teamer Brad Smith (hamstring) were also listed as questionable.
Going into their Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears’ high-powered offense, the Eagles have serious issues with four of their safeties, plus nickel corner Brandon Boykin.
Rookie starter Earl Wolff, who injured his knee six weeks ago in Green Bay, said he expects to play.
“I’ll be probable, which means I’ll probably play,” Wolff said. “If the game was today, I would play. On Sunday, it just didn’t feel right. I thought this would be three or four weeks. I didn’t think it would be this long.”
Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) were injured Sunday in Minnesota. Both are also important special-teams players. That is the role Johnson likely would fill if he is active for the Bears game.
“Right now, it’s just about trying to get healthy and help this team out,” Coleman said. “We’re trying to make a push for the playoffs. I’ve got to get better as fast as possible because we need everyone out there.”
The other safety with issues is veteran Patrick Chung. In his case, the issues are related to performance, not any injury. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Chung was in “a slump” that had the coaches moving Coleman into the lineup before he was hurt.
“Until they separate themselves,” Davis said, “I’ll let the competition get the best out of both of them.”
Wolff had separated himself from Chung earlier in the season before getting hurt.
“He was starting to really show some playmaking ability,” Davis said. “He got injured and has been out for a while. We have to crawl him back into the mix as we go.”
Boykin was knocked out of the Minnesota game with a concussion. He was out on the practice field Tuesday, which is a positive sign, but he still has to be cleared according to the NFL concussion protocol. If Boykin can’t play, Davis said, either Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael would move into his role in the slot.
“For me, I like playing outside more,” Carmichael said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career. But going into the inside, it’s still a defensive-back position. Playing man will be the same, but now I have to learn more of the zones – which 'backer do I have to help, is the end going to drop, little things like that.”
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Johnson was in training camp with the Miami Dolphins. He signed to the Eagles' practice squad in September.
That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).
But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.
“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”
That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.
Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.
Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.
Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.
“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”
Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.
Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”
And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.
“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”