It was a surprise to many when Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly announced that cornerback Walter Thurmond made the move to safety. Although Thurmond doesn’t have any actual game experience at the position in the NFL, he certainly has the tools to succeed at the position in the City of Brotherly Love.
Listed at 5-11, 190 pounds, Thurmond isn’t the most physically imposing player on the Eagles’ defense. But he does possess the length and athleticism that the team looks for in their secondary. Although he may be considered “small” by many, Thurmond has ridiculously long arms and big hands for the position. With 32 3/4″ arms and 9 5/8″ hands, Thurmond is quite a rare physical specimen. But how freakish are his measurements? Put it this way, Thurmond has longer arms than Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (32″) and bigger hands than Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (9 1/4″).
I know, size doesn’t really mean much if a player can’t actually perform at a high level on the field. Luckily for the Eagles, Thurmond has played well whenever he’s on the field, but that’s a big concern. He’s had quite an injury hampered career, suffering multiple knee injuries. But what else is new? Kelly clearly doesn’t care about a player’s injury plagued past and took a chance with Thurmond on a one-year deal.
Yet Thurmond’s injury history is a serious problem. In 2009 at Oregon, Thurmond tore three ligaments in his knee during the beginning of the season and missed the rest of the year. In 2011, he was placed on the injured reserve in October after suffering a broken fibula and high ankle sprain. In week 2 of the 2014 regular season, Thurmond tore his pectoral muscle and missed the rest of the season. Clearly, Thurmond is a major injury risk but if he can stay healthy, he’s got a ton of potential…especially with the move to safety.
Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis absolutely love safeties that have experience at cornerback, especially at nickel cornerback since they like to use one of their safeties in a single high alignment and the other in the slot. Thurmond has played nickel cornerback most of his career in the NFL so the transition should be seamless in that regard. But he must learn how to play single high coverage as well as be the vocal leader on the back-end of the defense, letting the other players know where to line up, what he may see, etc.
Throughout his NFL career thus far, Thurmond has primarily played slot cornerback but he has shown flashes of brilliance that could translate to the safety position. While watching film of Thurmond during his time with the Seahawks, it’s easy to see how well he played in zone coverage. When the play is in front of Thurmond, he excels at reading the quarterback’s eyes, anticipating the route and making a play on the ball. Here are a few examples of his success in zone coverage that may translate to the safety position:
1) Here’s Thurmond dropping in zone coverage, he stays hidden behind the slot receiver while also reading the quarterback’s eyes. Then he antipates the throw, jumps the route and gets an interception which he returns for a touchdown.
2) Here’s a play where Thurmond is practically lined up at safety, reads the flat route and makes a solid, open field tackle on the fullback for a short gain. Just showcases his ability to read and react to what’s in-front of him.
3) Once again, Thurmond is lined up in nearly a safety alignment but reads the run and comes down to help tackle running back Adrian Peterson with the help of some other players. But who can tackle Peterson on their own anyway?
4) Thurmond drops into zone coverage on this play and reads the pass perfectly but fails to get the interception. Either way, he breaks up the pass and shows off his impressive instincts in zone coverage.
5) Once again, Thurmond makes a phenomenal play in zone coverage. Jumps the pass intended for tight end Vernon Davis perfectly and bats the ball into the air where safety Earl Thomas is able to track the ball and get the interception.
6) I sound like a broken record now, but here’s Thurmond once again showing off his recognition skills and ability to close quickly on the pass. He reads the comeback route perfectly and breaks up the pass intended for tight end Vance McDonald.
As you can see, Thurmond has impressive skills, especially in zone coverage. He seems to play especially well when the play and ball is in front of him, giving him time to read and react to the play. Thus a move to safety makes a ton of sense for both Thurmond and the Eagles. It would potentially filly a major void in the team’s defense and also utilize his skill-set better than if he was a reserve cornerback spending time on the bench.
Whether Thurmond is successful on the field at safety remains to be seen. But he certainly possesses the size, skill and mindset to succeed as a safety, especially in the Eagles’ defensive scheme. Thurmond was actually given a choice by the coaching staff to either play cornerback or safety and he selected the latter. Clearly, Thurmond is excited about the opportunity and could be exactly what the Eagles need at safety to succeed in 2015.
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