It's early, but Tre Sullivan and Jeremy Reaves seem to be making a pretty good case, in their effort to convince the Eagles they don't need to add a veteran safety during training camp.
The team retains Super Bowl starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, but Corey Graham, the 11-year vet who ended up playing 84 percent of the defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, became a free agent in the offseason, as yet unsigned.
Games that count are still more than a month away, the Eagles could still reach for Graham or some other vet, but maybe it's notable that they haven't yet done so.
Would defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz like to have Graham, or somebody with experience, backing up at the most cerebral defensive position?
"Right now we're just concentrating on the guys we have … trying to put ourselves in the best [position] to use all the guys that we have. So that's really not for me to say," Schwartz said Tuesday.
Sullivan was an undrafted rookie in last year's training camp – you might recall his hit on Green Bay's Malachi Dupre in the preseason opener – and after being waived with an ankle injury, he spent time on the practice squad. Reaves, from South Alabama, has been the most notable of three 2018 undrafted rookie safeties, a group that also includes Ryan Neal from Southern Illinois and Stephen Roberts from Auburn. With Chris Maragos still mending from knee surgery, the Eagles don't have a backup safety who has ever played in an NFL game.
"You have a second-year player like Tre Sullivan, and then a lot of first-year guys. It's a lot on their plate," Schwartz said. "Those guys handle most of our [coverage] calls. They got to keep the whole secondary on the same page.
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"They've been up to the challenge so far. They're all works in progress, and they're all trying to work for consistency and to prove their worth, also."
Jenkins said he was impressed by what he saw from the youngsters on the first day of full-contact camp work Tuesday.
"I think they're actually playing really well," Jenkins said. "The biggest thing is just repetition and the experience you gain just from being out there. Today we got a chance to see 'em actually tackle. We already know Tre Sullivan can hit, actually can bring the hammer. Saw Jeremy Reaves today make some good tackles in the open field.
"The [other] biggest thing is just seeing them take command of the defense. We put a lot on their plate to start camp. We haven't been installing in sections like we've done in the past, we started Day 1 with the entire playbook up. And they've done a good job of really commanding their job in the backfield. Now it's just that next level of getting guys lined up, using the tools and manipulating the defense to get us into some good situations. All of that comes with repetition – being able to recognize formations, situations, and then bark out those orders.
"I think they've got all the physical attributes to execute what they're doing."
Sullivan, 6-feet, 200, agreed that the first day of tackling was significant – "That's football, right there." He said the biggest thing he needed to improve on from a year ago was "Just maturity. I felt like I had to grow from last year, coming back from my [ankle] injury … I've been working on my 'man' techniques, and moreso, just knowing the scheme … I can make a lot more calls and be more comfortable.
"You have to know what's going on — both safeties. We work in tandem. We do a great job in the film room, being on each other and helping each other out, and then we try to transfer to the field to the point where we don't have to lean on each other to make calls and things like that. Everything is full speed, and we can just go and play."
McLeod said that Sullivan, as the most experienced member of an inexperienced group, has taken the lead.
"Tre Sullivan, you know he's getting a lot of time – asking him to do a lot, as far as coming in on certain packages, going against the 'ones,' getting good work, going against Zach Ertz. He's been handling himself well, taking coaching well. I think if you ask him, he's not necessarily where he wants to be, but he's improving each day," McLeod said.
McLeod said that last part also applied to Reaves, Neal and Roberts.
"Those guys are just feisty," McLeod said. "They all compete and they all take coaching well and try to apply it on the field."
Reaves, 5-11, 205, said he benefited from playing in an NFL-style defense at South Alabama. He said the terminology is different, but he isn't being asked to do anything he didn't do in college.
"I think I'm a very aggressive player. I like to get to the ball. I like to get in the action," he said. "I'm not afraid to get in the box and go get nasty. That's my bread and butter, kinda. I'm also not afraid of coverage."
If any of the young contenders wonders about the outlook for an undrafted safety, McLeod is there as an example. This is his seventh NFL season after making the Rams as a UDFA out of Virginia. He had some advice to that end, that went beyond learning coverages and formations.
"I mentioned [being undrafted] in the room, trying to explain to them how special teams is going to be the deciding factor," McLeod said. "Of course you gotta know the defense … But getting in good with [special teams coach Dave] Fipp is going to be the way in."