Can the Eagles Trust Tre Sullivan?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - From undrafted small-school rookie to stalwart on one of the best scout teams in football to meaningful contributor on one of the NFL's best defenses in 10 months.
That's the plan for first-year Eagles safety Tre Sullivan and the path to get there is to find some way, any way to get Tim Hauck, Cory Undlin and Jim Schwartz to trust the former Shepherd standout.
Sullivan has his eyes on being the Eagles' third safety, the so-called Corey Graham role which the currently unsigned veteran performed so admirably in during Philadelphia's run to Super Bowl LII.
Sullivan spent the spring as the Eagles' third safety, getting numerous first-team reps when Schwartz went to his big-nickel looks, a defense where Pro Bowl selection Malcolm Jenkins moves down to the slot and Sullivan enters opposite Rodney McLeod at safety.
"Just getting those opportunities means so much," Sullivan told 973espn.com during minicamp. "Being on the field with those guys [the first team] makes you a better player."
Sullivan, who spent part of last season on the practice squad, was one of a group of players the coaching staff lauded when talking about the unheralded guys who got the Eagles' stars ready to play each and every week -- names like Steven Means, De'Vante Bausby and Greg Ward.
The biggest leap Sullivan has to make now to start preparing against the 2018 scout team is in coverage. Needless to say, the difference between Division II football at the college level to the NFL is significant.
"There was an adjustment period," Sullivan admitted. "Being here last year and getting to play with Malcolm and Rodney [in practice] has helped a lot."
When away from the NovaCare Complex Sullivan spent much of his time working out in Los Angeles with teammate Ronald Darby and a number of other NFL caliber players.
The improvement was obvious as a more confident Sullivan showed up for OTAs, according to Undlin.
"Tre Sullivan has done a great job," the Eagles secondary coach said. "He’s a sharp guy.”
The final step for Sullivan is turning the teaching he got in the offseason into production when being evaluated this summer. That and earning Schwartz's trust, something that is easier said than done.
“With Corey, it wasn’t an issue bringing him into the game," Hauck, the safeties coach, said. "It came down to trust. As coaches, it’s hard putting an unknown on the field when you don’t know what outcome is going to be."
Schwartz, though, is going to enter training camp with an open mind, albeit with Graham's number on speed dial.
"Yet to be told with that," the defensive coordinator said when asked if he could trust a younger player in the Graham role.
Sullivan, meanwhile, plans on telling Schwartz a simple story, one which says the 23-year-old is ready to be trusted.
"I have an opportunity and I'm just doing my best to try to take advantage of it," Sullivan said.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on the difficult decision Tampa Bay has with Jameis Winston at GetMoreSports.com