As productive as last season's Eagles safety duo was, the new tandem they created this offseason has a chance to play at a different level.
Malcolm Jenkins and the Eagles said farewell to Walter Thurmond, who went on to retire at 28 on Tuesday, and welcomed in former Rams safety Rodney McLeod, who signed a five-year deal with $17 million guaranteed.
Between that signing and the contract extension that guaranteed Jenkins $21 million, the Eagles appear to be set up for years to come at an increasingly important defensive position.
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Last season, Jenkins graded out as Pro Football Focus' top safety. He was a sure tackler, was constantly around the ball, covered slot receivers like a cornerback, and though he dropped several picks, had two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
In Year 2 with the Eagles, Jenkins also cemented himself as one of the Eagles' leaders and most respected voices.
Leadership is typically forced upon a safety, who has the entire defense in front of him and can communicate to get players in and out of calls. Last year, almost all of that communication fell on Jenkins' shoulders, because even though Thurmond had a solid year in his own right, it was Thurmond's first year playing safety after five years as a cornerback.
That was the first thing Jenkins mentioned when asked the difference between practicing alongside Thurmond and McLeod.
"Walter, it was his first year playing the safety position so he had to get used to the communication part of it, getting guys lined up, being that quarterback on the field. So a lot of it was more on me to get everybody lined up," Jenkins said.
"Rodney's been playing safety his whole career. He's a very, very smart guy."
Jenkins and McLeod haven't played together before, but they do share a defensive coordinator in common: Gregg Williams. Williams, most infamously known for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal, was Jenkins' defensive coordinator in New Orleans and McLeod's with the Rams the last two seasons.
The Eagles are not running the Gregg Williams defense, but the knowledge Jenkins and McLeod acquired under him, their techniques, the way they interpret offensive looks are similar because they're drawing from the same source.
So on top of Jenkins now playing alongside a natural safety who has experience making calls and communicating with the rest of the defense, he has a partner that he already has a short-hand with because of their common backgrounds.
"We both came up under Gregg Williams so we speak the same language," Jenkins said. "We see the same stuff because we've been taught by the same person. When we talk, we're already kind of in sync.
"So from a communication standpoint, it takes a big load off of me and allows me to focus in more on my tips and keys. It also gives us a lot of flexibility — me and him can tweak something in the defense that no one else knows about, but it's just us being on the same page and can put us in some better positions."
Jenkins is looking forward to the Eagles' new defense with McLeod and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who has a personality Jenkins compared to Williams' and that McLeod described as "wild and crazy."
"They're similar guys, different defenses, but similar in the fact that they think it's more about a mentality than necessarily the X's and O's," Jenkins said "They're tough on you in practice but it's really just to prepare you for the game.
"[Schwartz] has fun with it, he's intense, but he's very much about X's and O's. He's flexible enough — as big as everyone thinks his ego is, he's actually very, very flexible and he'll take criticism from players if I had any questions or suggestions. He's very open because he feels like we're all invested in this. It's fun, it's been a good change of pace. I think the mentality of the defense is probably more important than the X's and O's and that's what he brings.
"I think it translates onto the field. Most defenses take the personality of their coordinator and I think with Jim, our defense will definitely have an edge."
Taking suggestions and adjusting on the fly were not things the Eagles' previous regime of Chip Kelly and Bill Davis were known for. "Flexible" was not a word ever used to describe Chip. Jenkins himself last year expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of accountability the Eagles had during the week and the lack of input team leaders had with decision and game plans.
"I think it's definitely something that gives you confidence going into the season, just knowing you'll have a coach who knows situations, knows how to be flexible, knows how to adjust, but also knows there's a certain mentality and standard that must be set in practice day-in and day-out," Jenkins said. "It's definitely encouraging."