Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis met with the media prior to Tuesday's training camp practice. One of the first questions he was asked is the one that's been on everyone mind's throughout the offseason: how are the Eagles going to use their starting inside linebackers?
The Eagles have a bit of a logjam at the position with Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks, and DeMeco Ryans, but Davis sees that as a good problem to have. He suggested all three players could get on the field at the same time.
"There are a couple of thoughts in there. One of them is it's not only those three, but we really have a deep inside backer pool. I mean all of the guys. We have some talented players in there going beyond the first three. But if you're talking about the first three, we could go to packages and we might go to packages where all three are on the field. But there is also, we play more snaps and in the last two years we've had more snaps defensively than anybody. So there is plenty to go around, and a rotational basis can also be used and that's probably where we'll start."
So which two players are actually going to start on the inside? Ryans and Alonso have been seen taking first team reps during training camp, but it was the duo of Alonso and Kendricks in the spring. Also consider Ryans is still working his way back from a season-ending Achilles injury suffered in 2014. To no surprise, Davis insists he hasn't committed to starters.
"Right now in the beginning of training camp, it is everybody's up for everything. DeMeco could win the starting nickel spot through competition, just like anybody can. There’s not starters. We don't have depth charts. So right now in this beginning phase, it's all of you go compete for it, and as we break down the preseason games and we get closer to real games, then we'll start separating depth, we'll start separating packages. But right now DeMeco’s got every chance of being the nickel like everybody else does as does Kiko or Mychal."
Davis also touched on a number of other topics.
Defending Chip Kelly
"It's outstanding, and I say that from all sincerity. He has got one of the most open door policies of guys I've been around, and you can look at the guys I have been around and make your own assessments. Some of those guys have close door policies. He is wide open. Boykin – you talk about Boykin, but Boyk went in in the offseason and he had a long talk with Chip about his role, about outside corner, about nickel. He came into my office. We had great conversations with Brandon about all those things. I think Chip has one the biggest open door policies for the players and ask the guys in the building. He really does. It's really being portrayed outside different than it is inside because it really is an easy-to-be-around atmosphere."
Regretting not playing Nolan Carroll more in 2014
"Nolan has all the skill set to start, and he did in Miami, and we were very happy. He had one of the best offseasons I've been around, he really has. From every competition, I think he won maybe every competition that we had in the offseason through his technique that he's diving into. Nolan has been a starter in the NFL, and we viewed him as a starter last year. Early on we kept trying to rotate, and he had some hamstring and different issues. As we went along, I didn't get him in there enough and I probably should have. That's on me. But we've got all the confidence in Nolan to compete for that other starting corner spot. And he is competing for it also. It's not handed to him because [CB Brandon Boykin’s] not here. It's one of those deals where we are in competition-mode right now at all positions, and we're excited about Nolan and he’s started a lot of ballgames in the NFL at corner."
Losing Brandon Boykin
"Yea, well, you never want to lose anyone, and I'm a Boykin fan. I've always liked Brandon. I think he did a great job at nickel for us. He's a pleasure to be around. You know, I worked and coached a lot with the nickels the last two years, so I got to know him even probably better than some of the other positions. But the competition and the depth, because it's become more close, we have more depth when somebody comes asking for a trade and you have [a situation] where you feel comfortable with the options that you have if that particular player leaves. It was a close enough gap that we felt it was a good move for both him and us and the Steelers. It was like everybody won. Didn't want to lose him. Didn't think we would. As of two days ago, all the plans were to go forward, but Pittsburgh kept coming and coming and coming and asking for it, so I think it eventually happened."
Decision to give JaCorey Shepherd first shot at nickel
"We had to have somebody take the first practice snaps at nickel. JaCorey Shepherd is simply competing like all other guys that are in there. He just had the first rack. You'll see him again in there today. We're kind of going on a two‑day basis as far as who is in group one, group two, group three. It's not the first team, second team and third team. It's just groups that we practice in and we're going to mix and match and move everybody around, and it's neat to have the ability from both the skillset from the players in the secondary and a football intelligence set. We've got multiple positions that can move around both from a talent [standpoint] – where you know a guy can play corner, safety and nickel, or corner and nickel, or safety and corner, and we'll move them around until we find the best fit."
Who's in the mix at nickel and who isn't
"Well, [Eagles Head Coach] Chip [Kelly] made a lot of them—you’ve got [CB] E.J. Biggers in there, you have [S] Malcolm [Jenkins] and [DB Walter] Thurmond that can both do it. You have [DB Jaylen] Watkins. You’ve got the young guys, [CB Denzel] Rice and [DB Randall] Evans we’ve worked. Everybody's going to get in there and get a look at it.
Maxwell not right now. Right now, Maxwell and [DB Eric] Rowe and [CB] Nolan [Carroll] will stay outside of the corner spot with Nolan jumping into some dime when we go there. But right now we won't put them in the nickel, but they are being taught the nickel."
Marcus Smith progress
"He had half an offseason. He was out there some and out there not. He’s taken big steps. He came in here and he's looking great. He's in great shape. Best we've seen him look. His understanding of the scheme is in a whole another place. The rookie year is so hard, guys. You know from the whole offseason after college ends, to the pressure of being a draft choice. The guys you see in the second year, they relax more, they're more themselves, they play smarter because they're not all nerved up and we're hoping to see all those things come through with Marcus in this training camp."
Why Walter Thurmond makes sense at safety
"In the secondary, when you move somebody to a position they haven't played, and I was part of moving [Chicago Bears S] Antrel Rolle from corner to safety in Arizona, and I've seen it happen in San Francisco. I’ve had [former NFL DB] Michael Rumph from Miami, we moved him in, and it didn't work like Antrel worked. But what you look at with those players is how extensive is your football IQ and what kind of eyes do they have from a corner, nickel position. And it wasn't long being around Walter to know he's extremely football intelligent and understands leverages and concepts and where his teammates are. When you put him at safety a little bit, and we were just going to look at him, now I'm not only looking at where his eyes are, but the angles of his breaks and how he breaks. His vision – if he has narrow vision, it's hard to play safety. If he has wide vision, you have more instincts. And Walter kept checking off the boxes as we moved him, and it started off with his football IQ and talking about corner and nickel play that made us move him."
Jordan Hicks' progress as a rookie
"Jordan Hicks has got great instincts. It's neat to watch a rookie who has field vision and Jordan really jumped out so far as a young man with his vision and instincts and awareness. He still has a long way to go. He's an athletic young man, intelligent, works extremely hard in the meeting room, so we're excited about Jordan's progress."