Eagles rookie Reynolds battling to stick at safety

Despite a late start, Ed Reynolds hasn't taken his few months with the Eagles for granted.

Of all the Eagles draft picks, the rookie safety is seemingly the only one who may have to sweat out Saturday's final roster trims. It's not that Reynolds has looked unable to compete at this level. It's just been difficult to assess his development from deep down the depth chart.

He missed about a month of offseason workouts after the Eagles selected him in the fifth round. And when preseason snaps have been distributed, Reynolds has had to wait his turn, with the Eagles in their finest shape at safety in years.

Malcolm Jenkins, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has brought some stability to the position. Nate Allen, who claimed the other starting spot, is back to play in the same defensive scheme for the first time in his career.

Earl Wolff, entering his second season, still needs repetitions. And special-teams ace Chris Maragos has warranted extensive play on defense if he's to dress on game days.

Wolff and Maragos are likely to start Thursday night in the preseason finale against the New York Jets, but Reynolds will finally get more than the 15 snaps he averaged in the first three games. The Eagles say he has progressed, but they need more evidence.

"I've shown that I've been able to make tackles in open space, play the middle of the field, play coverage, and contribute on special teams as much as I can," Reynolds said Tuesday. "So, overall, I feel good about my three games. But this last game is big for me."

The Eagles kept five safeties last season. They'll probably keep the same number this year, with Reynolds possibly beating out Keelan Johnson for the last spot. But with great depth on the defensive line and at linebacker, they may not have that luxury.

The Eagles typically activated all five safeties on game days. Reynolds has to show he can contribute on special teams to play.

When he left rookie camp in mid-May, the Eagles gave him three things: the defensive playbook, an iPad, and a Skype account. He still had a semester to complete at Stanford and, per NFL rules, had to finish all of his classes for the year before he could participate in post-rookie-camp practices.

Second-year tight end Zach Ertz, another Stanford product, faced the same obstacle last year. The Eagles, though, have tried their best to keep absentee rookies from falling too far behind.

Reynolds said he could watch practices and meetings on his iPad, and if he had any questions he could ask defensive backs coach John Lovett and special-teams coach Dave Fipp for answers during their weekly Skype conversations.

He still had four classes to attend, though.

"It's trying to find that balance where you're like, 'OK, well, I have this Skype session set up for this time. And I got this schoolwork done. But I need to watch Monday through Wednesday's practice,' " Reynolds said. "You learn early on how to manage your time, especially at Stanford."

Reynolds returned to Philadelphia in time for the last organized team activity in June and was a full participant in minicamp the following week.

"I think he's done a great job of picking up the system and not having a lot of mental errors," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said, "which is really the tough part about not being here in the offseason."

The Eagles ask a lot of their safeties. They must be capable of playing the strong and free roles. And because the safeties are interchangeable, both must be able to communicate with the rest of the secondary and set the back line.

Stanford ran a pro-style defense and faced some of the most explosive offenses in college, but the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Reynolds admitted there has been a learning curve.

"I think for certain things I've been really good at communicating, and other things I was hesitant," Reynolds said. "And you can't be hesitant back there."

Reynolds has NFL bloodlines. His father, Ed, played with the Patriots and New York Giants from 1983 to 1992. The elder Reynolds worked for the league office after football and once brought his son to the Eagles' NovaCare Complex to watch practice.

The younger Reynolds attended high school in Virginia and spent a semester of his junior year as an exchange student in South Africa. His major is political science - Reynolds said he plans on finishing his degree next offseason - but his time overseas made him focus on international relations.

But football will come first, he hopes. The Eagles haven't cut a fifth-round pick since 2007, with safety C.J. Gaddis. Reynolds doesn't want to be the next.

"I think the moment you feel comfortable in this league, you can get back-doored, and you're out of a job," Reynolds said. "I went out and competed every day, had fun with it. Not many guys can say they play football for a living and get a paycheck for going out there and touching the field. I'm living the dream."