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Practice Notes: Nelson In S Mix

Posted Aug 12, 2012

On Saturday, the Eagles made a noticeable change to the practice depth chart, inserting King Dunlap as the first-team left tackle, the spot previously occupied by Demetress Bell. On Sunday, King stayed the left tackle King, but there was another development on the depth chart - this time on the second-team defense.

Opposite Oshiomogho Atogwe, the second safety position was no longer held only by Jaiquawn Jarrett. This time, Jarrett spent practice rotating with veteran safety Tom Nelson, who originally joined the Eagles for the final four games of last season after Colt Anderson was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Nelson had been working exclusively with the third team through Training Camp, but he does have significant experience in the NFL, having played in 24 games, including three starts during his 2009 rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals

"It's been hard because as a rookie I got to start a couple games and then I battled some injuries my second year," said Nelson. "Last year, of course, I came in so late that there wasn't really a chance to learn the defense. So I did what I could on special teams. Obviously, I'll do whatever's asked of me but yeah, of course I think I can play safety in the NFL. I think I just need an opportunity and hopefully they're giving me one.

"I'm a competitor. I think I'm just as good as anyone out there. But like I said, you can't control that kind of stuff, you just have to get the most out of what they give you. But that's doesn't change my approach. Whether I'm with the one's, the two's or the three's, I'll just go as hard as I can and make things happen. That's just how I've always been."

Nelson has made an impression beyond the coaching staff. He's also caught the eye of his temporary Sunday safety partner, Atogwe.

"Tom's got great feet," Atogwe said. "I like playing with Tom because he communicates. We're always on the same page and also I like watching Tommy play because he's fast, he's always in the right position and he's very aggressive. I feel good playing in there with Tom and I just try to learn from him as much as possible."

Nelson said he found out yesterday that he would be getting some time with the second team, but he tried not to let the news affect him very much.

"You can read into it so many different ways, I've been around long enough that you're better off not reading into anything," Nelson said. "Whatever reps I get, I'm going to make the most of them. They control who goes with what group and how many reps you get within those groups, so all I can do is do my best and hopefully everything takes care of itself.

"Most teams are going to keep the best players because they want to win championships, so I feel like if you're one of the best players then you'll be here."

Of course, Nelson likely wouldn't be afforded this opportunity if Jaiquawn Jarrett were playing lights-out football. But that doesn't mean Nelson has been rooting against Jarrett in any way.

"I'm here to support him," Nelson said of Jarrett. "I'm an older safety on this team. Jaiquawn's a great player, he'll bounce back and he'll be fine. I try not to read into that. All I can do is control how I play. If it's here or somewhere else, I feel like I can play in this league and that's just the approach you have to take."

Focus On Red Zone

The Eagles offense was fifth in the NFL in 2011 with a total of 298 points in the red zone.

That's the good news.

However, the Eagles had a league-high nine turnovers inside the opponents' 20-yard line - four more than any other team. They ranked 17th in the league last season with an average of 4.52 points per trip to the red zone.

On Sunday, the Eagles worked on improving their performance in the red zone with three sessions dedicated to play within the 20-yard line - Special CAT, 7-on-7 and third-down situations in the red zone.

The practice was not just for the offense. The defense was 30th in the league last season allowing a touchdown on 59.6 percent of red-zone opportunities.

For the second straight day, the defense had the upper hand at Lehigh. Facing a ferocious pass rush, there simply isn't a lot of time for the offense to make plays.

"If we can hold our coverage for two to three seconds, they will get there," free safety Kurt Coleman said.

The challenge for an offense that's as explosive and vertical as the Eagles is there simply isn't a lot of room to operate.

"The safeties don't have to play very deep because they aren't going to go in the stands," tight end Brent Celek said. "It's a little bit tougher that way. You've got to game plan for that.

"We've got a great defense. It's a good team to go against."

Celek and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin were the Eagles' most dangerous red zone receiving weapons with a combined eight touchdowns last season. Running back LeSean McCoy was the best red zone rusher in terms of scoring with a league-best 14 touchdowns.

The key to keeping the McCoys and Celeks out of the end zone is communication. That was apparent last Thursday when Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders scored on a 2-yard reception. As the Steelers lined up, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha signaled to safety Jaiquawn Jarrett that he would take away any throws to the outside. Sanders ran a slant inside and Jarrett was not able to step up in time and it looked as if there was some confusion.

"Red zone's all about communication. When the field gets short, it's all about how fast you can communicate and how in sync everybody is, being on the same page," safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. "That's all it is because it's a timing game down there and everybody has to know where you're going to be at and where they're going to be at. We have to play as one, so that's what we're working on here in practice."

Hopefully, Sunday's practice will help both the offense and the defense attain better numbers in the red zone in 2012.

Harboring A Grudge?

During the final team red-zone session, the fans at the Goodman Campus were treated to another old-fashioned Training Camp scrum. The play began with a short inside pass to Clay Harbor and ended with Harbor tossing a football at a defensive lineman without his helmet on. What happened in between?

"It was a shovel pass and I got in the end zone and I turn around to go back to the huddle and I just catch a bang from inside after the play, so instinctively I just turn around and give whoever it was a little push," said Harbor. "It happens to be Derek Landri, who's known for the fight instigation or whatever. He was pretty upset that I pushed him I think and he tried to grab my helmet and start punching me. I just tried to keep him away from me and ended up tossing the ball at him after it was all done."

"It's competition," said Landri. "I'm just trying to finish the play. I was trying to strip him. Sometimes you can't tell where you are on the field. He didn't like it, so he turned around and tried to swing. I didn't like that. It's done and over with now.

"I shouldn't be doing things like that."

Indeed, there were no hard feelings after practice.

"It's really not my personality to go out there on the field and try to box people," Harbor said with a smile. "It is Training Camp. Long days, people's tempers get the better of them. We'll put it behind us and on to normal life, normal practice."

Block Of The Day

The hit of the day came courtesy of a most unlikely source - 5-8 wide receiver Chad Hall. During the Special CAT Red Zone drill, Hall lined up just left of the left tackle in a four-wide set with the first-team offense. At right end, Trent Cole was revving to attack Michael Vick on a third down play. But just after the snap, Hall chipped Cole, a blind side so unexpected by Cole that the Pro Bowler fell to the ground.

Damaris Johnson capped off the play with a beautiful touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone, but Hall received just as many plaudits from the coaches afterwards. He even got some "daps" from Cole, once the defensive end figured out what happened.

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