June 14, 2024   7 MIN READ

Rescue Club

Can Sydney Brown Boost Lagging Safety Group?


As currently constituted, the Eagles’ have made an admirable number of enhancements and depth additions – the latter of which was an obstacle last season, as cornerback and nickelback were tested.

At least on paper, this year’s team is much better equipped to navigate some positional turbulence.

But one area under the microscope is the safety group, which could be threatened again by injuries and inexperience. The defense’s season-long viability could be jeopardized by the issues at that position.

Here is a look at six projected primary depth players at the position.

Sydney Brown

GETTY IMAGES: Eagles second-year safety Sydney Brown could be a big boost to his position group when he’s fully healthy.

Sydney Brown

During pursuit of Giants punt returner Gunner Olszewski from his gunner spot – no pun intended – early into the season finale at MetLife Stadium, Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury. The rookie third-rounder was rounding into form and coming off a game in which he returned a Kyler Murray interception 99 yards for a touchdown.

In total, Brown appeared in 14 games (six starts), logging 335 defensive snaps while also serving as a core member of Michael Clay’s special teams unit.

Under normal circumstances, one could argue that Brown would have otherwise pushed Blankenship for a starting job in 2024. But even with the late-season injury, Brown appears to be ahead of schedule in terms of recovery, as he was spotted working out on a side field during spring practices.

On multiple occasions, Brown could be found standing deep behind the safeties during team work,  observing and logging mental reps. But even if Brown is ready in time for the initial part of the season, how immediate will his contributions be as he acclimates to Vic Fangio’s defense?

Tristin McCollum

McCollum, a second-year holdover who last season appeared in three games, will be one to watch this summer. A practice squad mainstay in 2023, McCollum, 25, was elevated for three games in which he served as a critical depth piece and special teams role.

In the season finale against the Giants, McCollum was pressed into service for the first defensive snaps of his career, registering six tackles over 29 snaps. He also played in the NFC wild card matchup against Tampa Bay, logging 23 special teams snaps.

Operating primarily with the second-team this spring, McCollum appeared to be playing fast and processing quickly, confidently patrolling the backend and flying around. His length (he’s 6-foot-3), versatility, football intellect, and special teams acumen are reasons to remember the name when the intensity ratchets up later this summer.

Mekhi Garner

A converted cornerback, Garner, listed at a hulking 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, always fit the mold of a throwback. The LSU product plays the game with an edginess, throwing his body around and setting the tone with physicality. Narrowly missing out on the 53-man roster last summer, Garner, another practice squad mainstay, also went on to appear in three games.

Like McCollum, Garner was afforded a taste of defensive action, accruing 27 snaps, though mostly providing a boost on special teams. He was active for the Eagles’ playoff game against Tampa Bay.

Garner, who mostly functioned as a second-team safety (some third-team) flashed on occasion this spring, his highlight coming on a play in deep coverage against wideout John Ross, leaping to reel-in the underthrown pass from Kenny Pickett to secure the interception.

I’ve always noted the energy and swagger Garner provides, and I’m expecting the second-year defensive back to accumulate a handful of notable plays in training camp. Given the shallowness at the position, Garner could elbow his way into a depth role.

Andre Sam (rookie)

The Eagles issued a $150,000 salary guarantee ($20,000 signing bonus) to the undrafted rookie from LSU. At 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, Sam is considerably undersized. He’s also on the older side for most rookies at 25.

With that knowledge, it’s also important to note that, with 2020 being the rare exception, the Eagles have an extensive track record of rostering at least one undrafted free agent on the initial 53.

Sam, who wound up at LSU following a one-year stop at Marshall and four-year stint at McNeese State, this spring has played fast and aggressive, swarming to the football. When plays were made in his vicinity, Sam, more often than not, was contesting passes and pestering receivers. A long shot, to be sure, but if he shows up on special teams, Sam could make things interesting this summer.

avonte maddox

GETTY IMAGES: A move to safety could help Avonte Maddox extended his career and help the Eagles with depth concerns at the position.

Avonte Maddox

Injuries have limited Maddox to only 13 games in two seasons, but the long-time Eagles defensive back has worked diligently this offseason to withstand the attrition that inevitably arises over a full slate of games. Notably, Maddox has implemented a cleaner diet and reconfigured his sleep schedule. He also lifted heavier and ran more.

The results this spring were apparent, as Maddox, one of the NFL’s premier nickelbacks when healthy, was asked to wear multiple hats. In addition to his first-team nickel role, Maddox shouldered double-duty as a safety.

“It’s more of a cross-training,” Maddox said during minicamp. “I’m doing both. I know the nickel spot really well, and you know, I feel like something that will help me in my career is to learn the safety spot.

“You know, as you get older you get a little bit slower. But other than that, I’m learning the safety spot and the nickel spot as well.”

Maddox showcased a tangible springiness and range, with his advanced anticipatory traits still intact. The veteran defensive back closed quickly and pivoted with fluidity, putting his short-area quickness on display.

Maddox, a veteran of seven NFL seasons, also possesses mentor qualities, which are essential given the plethora of young defensive backs in the position room.

Availability will obviously be paramount if Maddox is to execute his roster climb, but his versatility will likely be a deciding factor. The spring sessions afforded Fangio an early read on Maddox and how he might fit into his defensive equation.

James Bradberry

Moments before taking the field for the first mandatory minicamp practice of the Nick Sirianni era, the Eagles’ head coach offered an interesting nugget when asked what he’s seen thus far from Bradberry.

“His versatility,” Sirianni said. “He was able to do a couple different things last year. Had played a majority of his career at corner, and then was able to do some things at the dime and some things at the nickel, you know, some things at the corner. And now, you know, he’s working some of the safety stuff, which you’ll see today.”

Perhaps it’s a last-ditch effort to salvage the embattled veteran, whose career saw a steep and drastic decline a year after garnering second-team All-Pro honors. Or maybe the move was more strategic, showcasing Bradberry’s versatility to prospective trade candidates.

Nevertheless, Bradberry was never afforded the opportunity to moonlight at safety, coming up lame during pre-practice position drills. Soon emerging from the medical tent without a helmet, Bradberry was sidelined, not only for the session, but the duration of the three-day minicamp.

As of now, Bradberry remains in the fold. While the capacity of his cross-training remains to be seen, I’m not so sure how well his skill set translates to a more physical position.

The plan could also be the deploy Bradberry situationally, leaning on length and high-level football intelligence in defending tight ends along with factoring in confined space, like the red zone.

Still, at this stage, the transition should generate more curiosity than conviction.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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1 Comment

  • John Down

    The Eagles can release Bradberry with minimal cap consequence ($4.3M dead cap space, big deal). The Eagles have some talented, young, fast defensive backs who can actually cover and tackle. Why is he still on their roster? SMH.