For a select group of NFL players, training camp is about solidifying your role on the team and preparing for the upcoming season accordingly. But for the vast majority of players, a head-turning performance in August can be the difference between making the club and finding yourself on the outside looking in.
Now entering his sixth season, defensive back Walter Thurmond III enters training camp looking to grab hold of a starting job on a team with postseason expectations. And unlike some of his previous stops, Thurmond feels like the true open competition at safety means he could find himself starting in 2015.
"Usually where I’ve gone, [the depth chart] has been set in stone, especially depending on the position," Thurmond said after practice Tuesday. "Some teams preach the competition aspect, but they know there’s no way for me to bump up, even though you outplay somebody in camp.
"I’ve been in that position before. It’s different here, where you don’t have the big money guys except for [Byron] Maxwell. You really have to be strong within that situation and keep focus."
Thurmond was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, and entered a secondary that would become among the most feared defensive units in the NFL. After his time in Seattle, Thurmond signed with the Giants during the 2014 offseason. He tore his pectoral muscle in Week 2, and spent the remainder of the year on injured reserve. He then signed a one-year deal with the Eagles this past offseason.
Thus far, Thurmond has proven to be healthy throughout the spring and into the summer. And though he had only played corner before joining the Eagles, he surprised many observers by making the jump safety during OTAs.
Playing Thurmond at safety would give the Eagles two defensive backs who are good in coverage, and both had interestingly similar paths to the NFL: Jenkins himself was drafted by the Saints as a corner and eventually moved to safety. Thurmond said the transition can be a beneficial one.
"I think in a lot of defenses there are similarities between the nickel and safety as far as coverage schemes go. You have a lot of the same responsibilities. The only difference is playing in the middle of the field. Being able to have that aspect and being able to learn that is one of those things I’ve been working on getting better at each day."
At this stage, it remains to be seen what Thurmond can do in a live game setting. And admittedly there hasn't been much competition at the second safety position so far. But Thurmond has been around the block long enough to know that resting on what laurels he may have is not an option.
"Nothing is set in stone until the last preseason game and until they make the final cuts," he said. "You always have to keep that mentality, if you’re with the ones or if you’re with the twos. On Thursday when we come back [to practice], we’re going to have guys who were depth, second depth and third depth move up to first and second depth and I’m going to go to third depth or whatever the case is. So they’re really going to rotate the rotation of DB spots. There is nothing that is solidified as of right now, and you have to keep that mindset and compete all day.
"They gave me the opportunity to compete for a starting job, and that’s what I was looking for in the offseason, was to be able to compete for a starting job," Thurmond said. "Whether it’s at corner or at safety, I’m happy to be able to compete."