Walter Thurmond didn't sign with the Eagles expecting to play safety. In fact, the possibility was never mentioned during the team's courting of Thurmond during free agency. But when the opportunity was presented to Thurmond, the erstwhile cornerback surveyed the scene and decided it was time for a career change.
"Once they had the draft and we drafted three corners, they gave me the option actually if I wanted to play corner or if I wanted to play safety," Maxwell said Thursday. "I chose to play safety and I'm competing.
"I'm not (completely) new to the position, I've dabbled a little bit in practice during scout teams in Seattle and New York and stuff like that, so I'm pretty familiar, but it's a lot different from playing corner my whole career playing football. So there are going to be a lot of opportunities, especially in this defense, and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Two of the four starting positions in Eagles' secondary seem to be up for grabs and Thurmond initially expected to compete for the cornerback position opposite Byron Maxwell. But with second-round pick Eric Rowe in tow along with veteran holdovers Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin, Thurmond's sights are now set on the safety spot next to Malcolm Jenkins. On Thursday, that position was occupied by veteran special teams standout Chris Maragos, while Thurmond worked opposite Chris Prosinski on the second-team defense.
In Jenkins, though, Thurmond has proof that the transition can be successful. A former first-round pick, Jenkins initially played cornerback for the New Orleans Saints before he converted to safety, playing nickel along the way.
"The thing about Walt is he has really good instincts," Jenkins said. "He's played the nickel position and once you've learned the nickel, you pretty much know everybody's position. He's very, very versatile. He's even jumped back out and played some corner. He's been very, very productive over the last three practices we've had and so I think he's really a natural fit. I think once he starts to learn a lot more of the scheme, he'll be a lot more comfortable. But right now he's showing great instincts, he's around the ball a lot, he's making plays. So he's definitely been a good addition, somebody who can add depth and value to a bunch of different spots on the field."
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Still, Thurmond has a long way to go before he feels comfortable at safety. Thurmond, 5-11, 190, has never played the position in a game and he's also learning a brand new defensive scheme. There will be plenty of hurdles along the way.
"It's a different footwork motion than (I'm used to)," Thurmond said. "It's kind of similar to nickel. It's a little bit different in that aspect as well, but more eyes. You're another quarterback on the field so, especially in our defense, you have to make a lot of coverage calls so you have to be a lot more vocal and verbal to the cornerbacks and to the linebackers as well. So that's probably one of the biggest differences from playing corner and safety."
"The biggest (change) is just your eye progression," Jenkins said from experience. "A lot changes about reading things. You have to see the field and see the quarterback as opposed to just seeing the guy in front of you. So your eye progression changes a lot. And then obviously making calls and getting people lined up is something that safeties have to do. You have to kind of be the quarterback back there and that's something that a lot of our young safeties are learning now, just the ins and outs of the defense, the little caveats and different coverages and calls. The more reps they get the more confident they get and the louder they get, it just makes us that much more secure on the back end."
Despite the obstacles ahead, Thurmond believes he's well-suited for the change. For one, he has the requisite willingness to be physical for the position and he's obviously athletic enough to cover on the back end. But Thurmond's most important attribute, he thinks, is inside his helmet.
"You have to be very cerebral playing the safety position and I fancy myself as a cerebral player," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity of playing safety."