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Can Jaylen Watkins Make The Jump?

Posted Jul 1, 2015

No position group for the Eagles has seen as much offseason turnover as the secondary. Safety Malcolm Jenkins will be the only holdover among four starters in the back of the Eagles' defense, with newcomers like Byron Maxwell, Eric Rowe and Walter Thurmond set to make an early impact. Returners like Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll are also expected to be counted on in a big way.

But for a defense that purports to value versatility, there’s another returning Eagle who may have been overlooked by some. A fourth-round pick last May, Jaylen Watkins played only four games during his rookie season as a special teams contributor. But with experience at cornerback, safety and nickel, Watkins could be a moveable chess piece for defensive coordinator Bill Davis – if Watkins makes the necessary sophomore jump.

“Obviously my goal is getting on the field, being active and contributing to the team,” Watkins said during mini-camp, following a day in which he worked with the first-team defense at safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins. “I got my feet wet last year in the last game, but I need to actually – my first step is getting on special teams, contributing, making plays in preseason and proving myself before I can say what jump I’m going to have. As far as right now, I’m trying to make the 53 and then be a starter on this defense.”

At Florida, Watkins played both cornerback and safety as part of a talented Gators secondary, so he’s used to uncertainty when it comes to his position.

“As long as I keep performing the way I’m performing, showing the coaches that I am valuable at all three positions, whichever one that they say best fits me (is where I want to play),” Watkins said. “I can’t really say I want to play this position or that position, I just want to play. So wherever they say I best fit this defense, that’s where I’m going to play.”

As someone bouncing between positions in the secondary, Watkins’ partner at safety is a player to emulate. Jenkins, after all, was a cornerback when he first entered the NFL.

“We’re very similar players,” said the 5-11, 194-pound Watkins. “He’s much bigger (Jenkins is 6-0, 204), but as far as our skill set, we’re pretty much the same player, as far as knowledge about the game, we’re pretty much the same player, so we have a lot in common. We do talk a lot. (When) we were on the field together, it was good to actually be out there with someone who actually understands you and the way you play.”

Watkins has also taken well to new secondary coach Cory Undlin.

“Everything in our meeting room on the wall is about technique and he’s always talking about how technique overrides talent and he has us all believing that,” Watkins said of Undlin. “It’s just amazing to see all of us putting so much emphasis on our technique and you actually watch the film and you look like a totally different player because the emphasis is on technique.”

Though Watkins himself may not have a preference in terms of position, there are openings at both cornerback and safety for a starting spot. If safety is where Watkins ends up making a push, it’s a position with which he’s comfortable.

“I’ve done it so much now that it’s become second nature,” Watkins said. “Cornerback is more of a 'You have your job' and the other one’s more 'You have your job and other jobs.' You’re the last line of defense and you’re in one-on-one coverage. But now, it’s not really a difference anymore. It’s just what I do.”

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