Walter Thurmond Talks Chip Kelly, Eagles' Super Bowl Potential and More

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJune 29, 2015

Newly-acquired Philadelphia Eagles' cornerback Walter Thurmond answers a reporter's question during a news conference at the team's NFL football practice facility, Thursday, March 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The only constant is change. This is the life of an NFL player. 

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Walter Thurmond III knows this as well as any other after joining his third team in three years. 

As an original member of the Legion of Boom secondary, Thurmond won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks before he tested free agency for the first time. The cornerback signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants last offseason but only played in two games after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. He was then placed on injured reserve. After the injury-plagued season, Thurmond once again entered the free-agent market and eventually reunited with his collegiate coach, Chip Kelly, in Philadelphia when he signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Eagles. 

Thurmond's recent history helps to provide a unique perspective of three very different yet successful organizations. Not only is Thurmond experiencing organizational change, but he is dealing with personal change as well. 

Bleacher Report conducted a phone interview with Thurmond last week, and he discussed a few issues surrounding the Eagles and his current status.

Bleacher Report: After playing cornerback, particularly nickle corner, for your entire career, the Eagles asked you to switch to free safety this season. How is the transition going? 

Walter Thurmond: I'm in the same defensive back group, but there are a lot of differences in the eyes and technique. The switch has been progressing successfully as I continue to learn and get better every day. There is a whole lot of similarities between the safety position as well as nickle corner. So that's helped me be smoother and more comfortable. One of the things I am getting used to is playing in the middle of the field and just getting lined up.

I have to be a lot more vocal. As a nickel, you have to be very vocal as well. Another similarity is being aggressive, particularly in your run fits. I'm used to that from being a nickel. There are also similarities in the various underneath zone coverages. Of course, there is always playing man-to-man against wide receivers and tight ends. I think that's helped my transition. It allows me to be comfortable at a new position.

I have practiced at the safety position in New York, Seattle and college as well. I have gotten some practice to prepare for this situation. It helped with the transition. Also, (previously) playing alongside two great safeties in Earl Thomas and Antrel Rolle helped. I've learned from those guys, and it helped a lot, especially with me and Earl coming in together from the same draft class. I took some of the things the defensive backs coach taught him over the four years we played together, and I'm now utilizing those same techniques and ideals to help my game.

May 28, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Walter Thurmond (26) takes the field during OTA's at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

B/R: Would you say the safety position is changing? In today's NFL, teams want, essentially, an extra cornerback playing the position. Do you feel this was something you were moving toward, and was it part of the plan when you originally signed with Philadelphia?

Thurmond: It wasn't part of the plan. I thought I was going to come in and compete for the right-corner spot opposite Byron Maxwell. They came to me during offseason workouts and asked me if I wanted to make a change to safety to compete for that spot. They felt it was a better position for me to be at considering the depth we have at cornerback.

I decided I wanted to do whatever it took to help the team to win. I didn't want to be selfish, while also wanting to get back to the Super Bowl. I took on the challenge.

The game is changing without in-the-box safeties, because teams aren't running the ball like they used to with big personnel. The game is being spread out, and you need to have guys who can work in space and cover. It's a passing league now. You're not getting paid the big bucks unless you're a 3,000- or 4,000-yard passer. With that, offenses split out an extra receiver or have an athletic tight end who is more of a receiver than a blocking tight end. The game is changing, and you want guys who can cover and still help in run support.

B/R: You spoke earlier about learning next to Earl Thomas when he came into the league, but you also have a teammate in Malcolm Jenkins who came into the league as a cornerback before he moved to safety. How has he helped in your transition? 

Thurmond: I followed Malcolm's career, because he was the top-rated cornerback and, ultimately, the No. 1 cornerback selected in his draft class.

To see him make that transition, he's one of those guys with great coverage ability, very smart and high football IQ. He's really adapted to playing safety. He's very vocal and helps with understanding the coverage. He's definitely helped me out.

I think we have a great group of guys in our secondary. Everyone is helping each other to progress their games. There are guys on the team with more free-safety experience than Malcolm and myself that are younger than us, because they've been at the position for a very long time. We're constantly growing together as a group and helping each other get better every day.

At the end of the day, you haven't made it until you retire. We take that white-belt karate mentality and constantly learn to get better.

B/R: Obviously, there was a previous history playing for Coach Kelly as a senior with the Oregon Ducks, but one of the arguments against his system is that the tempo of his offense actually hurts the play of the defense. How is this viewed in the locker room, and what's your personal take on how it affects you as a player? 

Thurmond: Even playing for him in college, it wasn't as fast as it is now. When we first got out there, I kind of felt it hurt us, because we would sacrifice our technique on the defensive end due to how fast it was going. Actually, after getting used to the pace, it becomes second nature, and you can still focus on your technique.

It's a situation where it gives us stamina on defense. We're fresh when we go against opponents. We're not tired like other teams are, because we trained at a higher tempo. We can recover faster and work on our technique longer to the point where it doesn't get sloppy in the third or fourth quarter. We're going to be healthy and strong throughout the entire game.

B/R: That's basically the opposite of what Cary Williams said after he left the team. Do you feel his assessment that the tempo with which the team practices wears down players and that they were outcoached during games is incorrect? 

Thurmond: It comes down to personal preference. I've talked to Malcolm about this particular situation. There are concerns coming from other programs.

The next program closest to us I feel like is in Seattle in regards to our fast tempo and how competitive we are. You then go to another team that is more veteran-style with tempo and tries to protect the team like the New York Giants. By being a part of these different organizations and situations, I felt the same way going into it after being away from the program for so long. Also, my training was different when I was younger and had fresher legs.

I then started talking to Malcolm, and he said that this past year was the best his knees have felt physically toward the end of the year. When you hear a guy like that who is entering his seventh year, takes it in with a positive attitude, doesn't talk about the system, continues to adapt and he's saying these things, it serves as a testament that it does work for some. Maybe it didn't work for Cary, but Malcolm, who is a captain of the team, said it's the best he's felt.

B/R: This leads me to the fact you played for some very interesting personalities in Pete Carroll, Tom Coughlin and now Chip Kelly. Can you explain the differences between them, since each can be typecast by those of us on the outside? For example, Carroll is ultra-competitive. Coughlin is a disciplinarian. And Kelly is a modern mad scientist. 

Thurmond: I'll start by saying they all have one thing in common: They are driven to win a championship. And they believe with every fiber in their bodies all the way to their core in their philosophies. They realize some coaches would belittle the situation once the playoffs came by just trying to win this or that game. When the coach is confident in saying, "We're here to win a championship, and that's our sole purpose," I think guys react that way.

Coach Carroll really started talking about that championship mentality going into his third and fourth year when we won the Super Bowl, but even he didn't believe we had a team to compete for a championship before then. Just hearing that was kind of surprising, but we realized we really were a team that could win a championship at that point and believed in it.

Coach Coughlin is the same type of person, but we battled through injuries last season. Yes, he's a little old-school, but he's starting to come around to the times. He doesn't believe in the sport-science aspect like Coach Carroll or Coach Kelly and the newfound technology for the players. His style takes a hit, because he doesn't believe in this aspect. He believes in winning, but he doesn't believe in the modern medicine to progress the players to that next level.

Coach Kelly is the front-runner and the most extroverted as it pertains to sport science with hydration and maximizing the full potential of the players. Coach Carroll has done the same thing. It's not at the same level as Coach Kelly, but he's still doing the same things.

It's interesting to see the varying types of coaching from staff to staff, but they all have that common belief in winning a championship.

In Philadelphia, the potential is there for us to win a championship. It's going to come down to the hard work we put in during training camp. Can we continue to get better each and every week? Coach Kelly has that same goal of winning a championship, unlike too many coaches.

B/R: So I'm feeling pretty good about picking the Eagles to win the NFC East this year...

Thurmond: It's feeling good. If you come from a program where you saw the process of winning the championship, you know what it takes. You saw how the offseason, training camp and season played out. There are similarities here that I see which I saw in Seattle during the offseason. It's very exciting, especially when there are other guys—like Byron Maxwell and Chris Maragosthat won championships on the team. They're feeling the same way that it's resembling what happened in Seattle.

It'll come down to all of the players actually believing that we are champions and we can win. It will take a lot of hard work, because nothing is ever given to you.

B/R: With Coach Kelly, it appears as if the system overrides everything else. We recently saw the release of Evan Mathis. Is it Coach Kelly's way or the highway? 

Thurmond: It's the same for any coaching staff. Of course, you'll have rifts with the coaching staff and upper management if you're not buying into the system. All of these coaches, it's their way or the highway. They're the ones that command the team. They want guys who buy into their system and want to win a championship. You can't win a championship if you don't buy into the system or become a cancer, because all you are doing is hurting the greater goal of the season.

When guys goes go out and make certain remarks, it's a little bit of their feelings being hurt. This is a business, and they get caught up in everything and forget it's a business. Unfortunately, there isn't too much loyalty from the business side. Who is going to come in and do the things for the greater good of the team and organization, or whatever the case may be, to help it flourish? It goes through all sections of life and not just sports.

B/R: It comes back to me as, "It's not the X's and the O's. It's the Jimmy's and Joe's." Does Coach Kelly rely too heavily on his system instead of dealing with his top players? 

Thurmond: If you look at the Seattle model, we had some guys like Russell Wilson who were still coming into their own that really weren't hallmark names on the team, especially the offensive line and the wide receiver corps. You had a bunch of guys that were ultra-competitors that worked for the team. They bought into the system and believed in themselves, and we won a championship. It's the same thing with the Patriots last year. They have Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, and most couldn't name anyone else on that team, if we're being honest with the situation. It's been proven that if you have guys that buy into the program to where a team has its core guys, superstars and captains, it does make it go.

Coach Carroll's motto is, "Either you're competing or you're not." If you're not competing, you're cut. So it's the same thing. It doesn't matter if you're a 10-year veteran or your first year; you're getting cut, because you're not buying into the program.

Coach Kelly shouldn't be singled out. Coach Carroll was the same way. I saw 220-plus transactions in my first season in Seattle. That was all about whether or not you were competing. He was trying to find the right group of guys to build our program. I saw him cut T.J. Houshmandzadeh after he gave him $6-7 million in guaranteed money, because he knew he wasn't going to buy into the program. It's not far-fetched to say that's an extreme example, but that's the business.

B/R: On offense, how good can the Eagles running backs be this season? 

Thurmond: I think they're going to be great, especially when we get into late December and January and need a running game. People usually view Coach Kelly's offense as pass-oriented, but his offense is really built around running the ball. It's a ground-and-pound offense that he spreads out to give the unit better numbers. It allows you to have a better run game. Why have eight guys in the box when you can run against a five- or six-man box? It's ingenious.

We have three guys (DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles) who are great running backs, especially when you get into the fourth quarter and they still have fresh legs. DeMarco won't have to carry the ball 30 times like he did in Dallas. He'll be getting a healthy 15-20 carries. This will prolong him throughout the season and minimize injuries. Now you're bringing in two guys who are bruising backs to wear down defenses.

B/R: The group you see every day is the wide receivers. What do you see going against them, particularly the young players like Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor? 

Thurmond: We have guys that are competitors and want to be great. We had to take three of the hardest-working guys on the team. They were Malcolm Jenkins, Nolan Carroll and Jordan Matthews. Jordan is a guy who will not be denied. He will give you 110 percent in every single workout he does and everything on the field. His goal is to be great. He has a bright future ahead of him.

Josh Huff is another guy who is going to have a great year.

Obviously, the team added Nelson as well. I've talked to him quite a bit through OTAs and minicamp to see where his mind was. He is the type that takes in the knowledge that he's given and really applies it. He has tremendous athletic ability. He could have a year like Odell (Beckham Jr.) did last season.

They are young, but they're competitors. You can never test a man's heart to be great.

B/R: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about the quarterbacks. How is Sam Bradford doing so far, and what have you seen in Tim Tebow's progression? 

Thurmond: Sam has only had limited reps during seven-on-seven periods, but his arm looks great. He's a former No. 1-overall pick. He has that type of arm with a lot of power and finesse. It's going to be a great competition once he's able to get out there.

The group has done a good job protecting the ball and not throwing interceptions. I'm really interested to see how camp goes and who pulls in the lead to win the starting position.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.


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