Eagles

Eagles

Terrence Brooks and Jaylen Watkins have known about each other for nearly a decade. 

Both grew up in Florida and were heavily recruited out of high school. In 2010, after graduating, Brooks went to Florida State, Watkins went to Florida. They became rivals. Then, in 2014, they were both drafted (Brooks to the Ravens in the third round and Watkins to the Eagles in the fourth). 

Now, they're fighting for the same job.  

"It's a good competition," Watkins said. "Off the field, it's definitely professional. And on the field, we help each other out as much as we can. And may the best man win."

While the Eagles' top two safeties — Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod — already have their names cemented, an interesting battle for the third safety job is brewing at Eagles training camp this summer. 

Watkins is the incumbent. A converted cornerback, he ended up playing 38 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps in 2016, largely because after Ron Brooks got hurt, Malcolm Jenkins played slot corner and Watkins replaced him. Those 388 snaps he played in 2016 were by far a career high, although the results weren't always great. 

"It was good for me," Watkins said. "I played a little bit of safety in college. It was different. I was just there for man situations. So when I got moved to safety here, it was a complete safety, so there were a lot of things I was still learning from Malcolm and Rodney. I take ownership of everything. Now I'm trying to put it on the field. I'm trying to see things from their eyes, what makes them great. That's the next step for me."

 

While Jenkins might not play slot corner as much this year, Jim Schwartz likes the idea of matching up Jenkins against some tight ends and bigger slot receivers.

So the third safety will still likely see some action in 2017. 

While Watkins was playing those 388 defensive snaps last year, all Brooks could do was watch. He joined the Eagles as a waiver claim after the Ravens let him go at last cuts. He spent most of his 2016 season playing catch-up. 

But he definitely noticed how much playing time Watkins got and he's been thinking about it since. 

"I peeped that a lot last year, just seeing how much the third safety was in on the action," Brooks said. "Man, if I could just get in there on those amount of plays, it would really benefit me and really prove to my teammates that I can make a lot of plays for them. I feel like it's just a matter of time. I just have to keep stacking days and coming out and being vocal and being a leader and everything should just take care of itself."

Brooks admitted he was pretty surprised when the Ravens released him at final cuts. But he came to Philly, likely because personnel chief Joe Douglas has plenty of familiarity with him after working for years in Baltimore. 

After he was drafted, Brooks played 234 snaps as a rookie in 2014 before tearing his ACL. The next season, he played just six percent of Baltimore's defensive snaps. 

"I feel like I owe it to myself," Brooks said. "I've been through a lot of adversity back in Baltimore, trying to get back on defense."

Last season, Brooks was mostly a special teams player, but he made the most of his opportunity on defense. Brooks got his only three defensive snaps of the season late in the Week 16 win over the Giants. He got on the field and snagged his first-career interception (see story)

Now that he's had nearly a year in Schwartz's defense, he's starting to feel comfortable. And it's been showing on the field. 

"You've been around the OTAs, and even yesterday he's been around the football," Schwartz said. "Sometimes that's hard to quantify guys that can just be around the football. But he was behind it a little bit last year. Also having a couple of experienced safeties, you know. It's tough to catch up in all of training camp and three days before the regular season. ... But it's been a world of difference for him. 

"I think you could probably ask him, but you just see from the first day he was here, going through all those meetings, and sometimes those Phase One meetings can be really tedious, and maybe for Malcolm Jenkins or Rodney [McLeod], maybe that's the case. But for Terrence, that was an important time for him. He took advantage of all of it."

 

Chris Maragos is still on the team, but it seems like the Eagles are happy letting him concentrate on special teams, where he really makes a difference. That leaves Brooks or Watkins to battle it out. 

They're both fighting for the same job, but Brooks and Watkins are very different players. Brooks is known as more of an old-school, hard-hitting safety, while Watkins is more of a finesse cover man from his experience as a cornerback. 

"I think we're both doing a good job right now," Watkins said. "It'll be up to the coaches at the end of the day."