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Thurmond may start at safety for Eagles

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PHILADELPHIA — The leading candidate to be the Philadelphia Eagles’ season-opening starting safety opposite Malcolm Jenkins is Walter Thurmond.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Thurmond, signed by the Eagles in March, has spent his entire career as a cornerback. But in the Eagles’ defensive scheme, the top priority for their safeties is coverage rather than run defense. So the transition isn’t as difficult as it might be in some other schemes that use their safeties up in the box.

Thurmond played inside quite a bit as a nickel corner, which wouldn’t be all that different than playing safety for defensive coordinator Bill Davis.

Thurmond had the option of staying at corner and competing for the starting job against Nolan Carroll and rookie second-round pick Eric Rowe or moving to safety.

“I opted to go to safety because of the defense we play,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of opportunities to make plays on the ball. They felt confident in me to be able to move to that position.”

The two other top candidates for that safety job were second-year player Jaylen Watkins and Earl Wolff. But Watkins is playing corner right now, and Wolff hasn’t taken a snap in organized team activities because of a knee injury. He has been cleared by the doctors to practice, but he still hasn’t done anything beyond stretching.

Coach Chip Kelly has been very pleased by what he has seen from Thurmond.

“Walt’s done a really good job,” he said. “He’s been the most productive player back there in the secondary as far as getting hands on balls and picking off passes and that stuff.”

Because the Eagles apparently want to bring Rowe along slowly this season, and because Davis isn’t too interested in moving 5-9 nickel corner Brandon Boykin outside, Carroll looks like he has the inside track on the starting corner job opposite Byron Maxwell.

Thurmond admitted that he considered that there is a lot less competition for the starting safety job than there is for the corner spot.

“I looked at it as a situation where we have some great corners. (We) just drafted three corners. Nolan is going to have a big year this year, and Maxwell as well,” he said. “Being familiar with this defense and playing it in college (at Oregon, where Kelly was his coach), there’s a lot of opportunities to make plays, especially at the safety position. I think it just gives us the best opportunity to compete.”

–Kelly said quarterback Sam Bradford, acquired in a trade that sent quarterback Nick Foles to St. Louis, is “right on track” with his recovery but they haven’t talked about when Bradford will be healthy.

“Sam’s done a great job, whether it’s in the meeting room or in the weight room or team meeting or just side-of-the-ball meeting,” Kelly said.

Bradford, who missed 24 games in the last two seasons, is recovering from his second torn ACL and is not fully cleared to take part in workouts. He talked to the media Monday about his frustrations.

“It is a little bit difficult,” he said. “I wish I was out there taking every rep. It would make it a little easier to take on a leadership role and develop some of those relationships. But there’s other ways of doing it — pulling guys aside after practice, in the weight room. You’ve got to look for different ways to do it when you can’t be on the field.”

Kelly has not declared a No. 1 quarterback on a roster that includes Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, Tim Tebow and G.J. Kline.

NOTES: DL Fletcher Cox returned to the field Tuesday after missing Monday. … RB Darren Sproles is expected to join practice Wednesday. … Kelly has not talked to OG Evan Mathis, who is not in attendance.


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