No Eagles’ position group has endured more turmoil this offseason than the safeties.
The safeties seem to be a work in progress without a blueprint. For a team with deep playoff aspirations, no position group should be a question mark.
Heading into training camp, safety was perceived as a weak link on the roster. When the Eagles signed 30-year-old Jaquiski Tartt in June, that was a robust signal the position wasn’t solidified.
Maybe the signing was a depth move; maybe it was a move for a much-needed starter.
There have been any number of safety transactions — many indicative the Eagles are playing “ready, fire, aim” with the position.
SOME OF THE TRANSACTIONS
- June 17: Free-agent signing (Tartt)
- Aug. 15: Trade with the Seahawks for a defensive back who can play safety (Ugo Amadi)
- Aug. 24: Same safety traded to the Titans (Amadi)
- Aug. 29: Free-agent signing that didn’t pan out (Tartt)
- Aug. 30: Trade with the Saints for a safety (C.J. Gardner-Johnson)
- Aug. 30: Possible starter released (Andre Chachere)
- Aug. 30: Undrafted free agent made the squad (Reed Blankenship)
- Aug. 30: Starter cut (Anthony Harris)
- Aug. 31: Same starter brought back to the practice squad (Harris)
- Sept. 5: Same starting safety waived (Harris), as Eagles bring back defensive back Mac McCain to the practice squad.
- Throughout camp: A defensive back auditioning at safety (Josiah Scott)
That is a season’s worth of transactions in a month — at one position.
Cutting Tartt, a veteran presence who played seven years with San Francisco, had to hurt even though his play wasn’t superb in camp.
This is what coach Nick Sirianni said about Tartt on Aug. 25:
- “Jaquiski, I think he’s doing a good job out here,” Sirianni said. “He’s fighting for a position and he’s working every single day.
- “It was a great hit he had on the sideline against Cleveland the other day. You see him in those drills. He had that one hit on the sideline, then he cleaned up a play on fourth down that got a good stop.
- “You see some of the things of why you brought him here every time he steps on the field. I’m glad he’s here and competing with the guys.”
The Eagles cut Tartt four days later.
SOUNDS LIKE A PROBLEM
All this movement says either the Eagles wound up with depth among the safeties or they have a potential problem.
The starters, right now, are Marcus Epps and Gardner-Johnson. Avonte Maddox is the nickel back and can play a little safety. Blankenship and K’Von Wallace are back-up safeties.
Gardner-Johnson has played much of his career at defensive back. In the Eagles’ system, they say, some defensive backs are interchangeable with the safeties.
Still, acquiring a defensive back who’s going to play safety just weeks before the regular season could be, uh, interesting.
“We pay [defensive coordinator] coach [Jonathan] Gannon and [defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach] coach [Dennard] Wilson a lot of money to do their jobs, and C.J. [Gardner-Johnson] is a smart guy,” Sirianni said.
“So, we’ll get him ramped up and get him ready to go. I know the guys have been working really hard, he’s been working really hard, and the coaches have been working really hard to get him caught up.”
Blankenship, an undrafted free agent from Middle Tennessee State, had a team-high eight tackles in the preseason opener against the Jets. Throughout the preseason, he always seemed to be around the football.
“Just like all those guys, he’s very smart, he’s instinctive, and has a unique skillset,” Gannon said about Blankenship. “When I say unique skillset, he’s not a post safety or a box safety. He can do it all.
“He tackles and he processes fast, and he just needs some reps and time on task.
“There are certain things, as a rookie, he hasn’t seen like some of the older vets have seen. I really like though that he’s a guy that when he makes a mistake, he’s not a repeat offender.”
EPPS THE LEADER
Epps has been a solid player and he has taken a leadership role with the safeties. The Eagles might need more such solid players.
“Just like any young player, a guy that hasn’t been a full-time starter, is just consistency,” Gannon said about Epps, who is starting his fourth NFL season.
“He’s played at a high level the times that he’s played for us, and you have to be able to do that over the long haul snap after snap.”
If the Eagles’ defense is going to dominate and help win games, the safeties can’t be a weakness.
The season opener is less than a week away, so the time for the safeties to build chemistry among themselves and the defensive backs is dwindling.
Overall, the Eagles’ roster looks strong — certainly playoff-worthy and maybe capable of winning the NFC East.
For that to happen, safeties must defend their turf.