Rookies looking to bolster Eagles By DON BENEVENTO Special to The News Journal 05/31/2003 PHILADELPHIA -- Jamal Wallace expected to be drafted by a National Football League team last month, and the Temple University free safety was disappointed when the phone call he had spent two days hoping for never came. As it has turned out, Wallace is probably better off now that he wasn't selected as a late-round pick. As a free agent, he got a chance to choose what camp he'd like to attend. And Wallace suddenly has a chance to earn a spot with the Eagles, a team dreadfully thin in the safety position. "They called me right after the draft and I jumped at the opportunity," said Wallace, a Millville (N.J.) High graduate who is taking part with other rookies and free agents in a three-day minicamp. "I think that this is a great situation for me," Wallace said. "In my mind, I'm going to be here [for the season]." As the Eagles' roster stands, just two safeties have NFL experience. One is Brian Dawkins and the other is Michael Lewis, a second-round pick in last year's draft. Lewis made a huge impact in limited playing time last season. He's slated to step into the starting strong safety spot that opened when veteran Blaine Bishop was released. After Dawkins and Lewis, it's an open race for a roster spot between Wallace, Clinton Hart and Norman LeJeune. Hart is a one-year NFL veteran who did not play last season. LeJeune comes to the Eagles as a seventh-round draft pick who played strong safety last season at LSU. LeJeune and Wallace are sharing a locker during rookie camp and they are both working hard to catch the attention of the coaching staff. "You got to come in and execute and work hard," LeJeune said. "It's a great situation and you just got to take advantage of it." Both players know that if in fact they make the team, playing time could be scarce. They are both looking forward to the prospect of possibly earning their way into a secondary that ranks among the best in the NFL. Aside from Dawkins, the Eagles have Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent. LeJeune and Wallace know the reputations of those players. "Brian Dawkins and Troy Vincent are great leaders for me to follow," Wallace said. "These are guys I've heard about since I played in the midget league. But this is football. You can't get caught up in who they are. You have to go out and play." LeJeune didn't have the same benefit of watching the Eagles secondary perform and develop over a period of years, something Wallace did while growing up and playing in the Philadelphia area. But he knows their reputation well. "Those guys are known nationwide," he said. "You can't come in and not expect to be challenged. They won't let you do anything better than their best. Those guys are champions and that's what they want us to be." Still, Wallace and LeJeune have a long way to go to reach that caliber of play. They are, after all, still facing a fight just to make the team. In Wallace's case, scouts evaluate the 6-foot, 186-pounder as having above-average quickness with good balance and footwork. But his overall closing speed is sometimes a question mark, as is his ability to shed blockers. A former receiver, Wallace was a three-year starter at free safety with the Owls. In 45 games, he recorded 264 tackles, with 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also had three interceptions and 29 pass deflections. The 6-foot, 200-pound LeJeune started every game for LSU last season, finishing second on the team with a career-high 107 tackles. He registered five sacks for minus 46 yards and 10 stops for a total of minus 56 yards. He also had 15 pass deflections and four quarterback pressures. But this is a new level.