NFL Wire News

Eagles make secondary a top priority


The Sports Xchange

PHILADELPHIA — After giving up 30 touchdown passes and a league-high 72 pass plays of 20 yards or more last season, the Philadelphia Eagles blew up their defensive secondary and rebuilt it.

When the Eagles open the season against the Atlanta Falcons in three weeks, they will have only one returning starter on the back end of their defense: safety Malcolm Jenkins.

The other three — cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll, and safety Walter Thurmond, all are new. Maxwell and Thurmond were free-agent additions, while Carroll was the Eagles’ dime linebacker last season.

The Eagles also replaced their defensive backs coach, firing John Lovett and hiring Cory Undlin away from the Denver Broncos.

Maxwell is the key piece in the secondary. Despite only 17 career starts in Seattle, the Eagles signed him to a six-year, $63 million deal that included $22 million in guaranteed money.

His contract is fourth among NFL corners in total value and guaranteed money and fifth in average per year.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis is hoping Maxwell will bring some of that aggressive Legion of Boom mentality to his defense.

Davis has placed a bigger emphasis on playing up on the line of scrimmage and pressing receivers.

“Last year, we were kind of soft with what we did,” Carroll said. “I think a lot of that was because we didn’t understand how to play press (coverage) or know where we were getting help.

“There was a bunch of stuff that happened last year (under Lovett). I don’t really want to talk about it. But last year to this year, it’s a big difference. Because now we understand the scheme and the technique and what we’re supposed to do out there.”

Undlin is obsessive about technique.

“For us, every single day is about technique,” Carroll said. “We have meetings in the afternoon where we look at our individual drills. Not many teams go and do that.

“Cory, every single day is about technique and ways we can make it better.”

The Eagles face a Murderers Row of great wideouts this season, that includes Julio Jones of Atlanta, Dez Bryant of Dallas (twice), DeSean Jackson of Washington (twice), Mike Evans of Tampa Bay, Calvin Johnson of Detroit and Sammy Watkins of Buffalo.

Davis said he is considering having Maxwell shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver as opposed to keeping him on one side and Carroll on the other.

Either way, opposing quarterbacks are likely to throw away from Maxwell more and in the direction of Carroll.

“It’s one of the things you kind of expect,” Carroll said. “I had a similar situation in Miami after we signed Brent (Grimes). I knew I was going to get a lot of opportunities to make plays just because he was on the other side.

“It’s going to be the same thing here. I’m prepared for it. I’m actually excited about it.”

–So much for speculation that head coach Chip Kelly was looking to get rid of linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks and the Eagles agreed to a four-year contract extension Monday. Kendricks is one of three starting-caliber inside linebackers on the Eagles’ roster, along with Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans. Ryans is 31 and coming off his second Achilles injury in five years.

Could the Eagles cut linebacker Marcus Smith, a first-round pick in 2014? It’s possible. Smith played only 79 defensive snaps as a rookie, but was in line to be the team’s third outside linebacker behind starters Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. But Smith injured a hamstring last week and will miss the rest of the preseason and possibly the first game of the regular season. He also missed most of the spring OTAs because of a groin injury.

Asked Monday whether he’s seen enough of Smith to get a sense of how he can fit on the defense this season, Kelly said bluntly: “No, not really. I mean, we got one game (that he played in, the first preseason game), so it’s tough to project. Obviously, this camp is better than last camp. But with one game, it’s tough to project where that whole thing will shake itself out. It’s just been unfortunate for him.”

Notes: Running back Kenjon Barner has returned two punt returns for touchdowns in the Eagles’ first two preseason games. He also has run for another touchdown. Barner is battling rookie Raheem Mostert for what is expected to be the fourth and final running back spot on the roster. Kelly admitted that Barner, who played for him at Oregon, is “making a huge case” to be part of the roster. “He’s putting himself in position,” Kelly said. … Linebacker Kiko Alonso, who missed nearly two weeks of camp because of a concussion, sat out Saturday’s preseason game against the Ravens, but practiced Monday. He said the concussion lingered longer than expected, but that he’s feeling fine now. … Quarterback Sam Bradford played only one series on Saturday against Baltimore. But it was an 11-play touchdown drive. He completed 3-of-5 passes on the drive and also took a couple of shots. But he said he’s fine. It’s unclear how much he will play this week against Green Bay, but probably should be on the field for at least a half.

Offensive lineman Andrew Gardner appears to be the front-runner for the season-opening starting right guard job. He has started there in both of the first two preseason games.

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