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Atogwe A Safety Net For Defense

The fact is, the Eagles worked O.J. Atogwe out last week, liked what they saw, and then got a deal done on Wednesday. Atogwe (full name, Oshiomogho Isaac) was at one point in his career an up-and-coming player, a safety around whom the Rams hoped they could build their defense.

But the last few seasons have not been kind to Atogwe's body. A shoulder injury in 2009 hampered Atogwe there, leading to his release following the 2010 season. Washington took a chance on Atogwe last year, before the work stoppage, and signed him to a long-term deal that, as many deals go, included an "out" for Washington should Atogwe's body not respond in a positive fashion.

He started eight games in 2011 for Washington, played in 13 overall, and put up some decent numbers. But the Redskins wanted to move in another direction, and they did, releasing Atogwe in March.

Talk about a crazy ride. Atogwe signed a big contract in St. Louis and then had another one last year in Washington – he received $7.9 million guaranteed from the Redskins in 2011 – and then, suddenly, he was out of a job in March.

Since then, it's been a matter for Atogwe of convincing teams that he is healthy enough to play in 2012 and help a defense and be the kind of player he was on his way to being prior to the shoulder injury (torn labrum) in St. Louis and then the hamstring, leg and toe injuries last year in Washington.

The Eagles want to take a closer look. They want to get him to Lehigh University for training camp and see if Atogwe can make the safety spots deeper, more talented and more secure. Does Atogwe come in as a starting player? No. That's not the scenario in place. Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are in place to start right now.

What does signing Atogwe mean for second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett? It means, as with all of these players, that an accomplished veteran has been added to the roster and that the level of competition for a roster spot has been elevated. Jarrett has to play good football to earn a roster spot. Same with all of them, really. May be the best man win …

What can we expect from Atogwe? The Eagles will look to maximize Atogwe's strength, which is his sideline-to-sideline range. If he's healthy, all the way healthy, Atogwe can play in a single-high look and he can help as a depth player at both safety spots. Maybe he challenges for a starting job. Maybe not. At the very least, he comes in and learns the system and makes sure he is in the right place at the right time.

Atogwe isn't coming in to change the dynamic at safety. He's got a lot to prove after some injury-plagued seasons. Signing a player at this stage of the offseason isn't a game-changing move, but it certainly can have some significance.

Once upon a time Atogwe had 19 interceptions and 317 total tackles in his first five NFL seasons. He was a rising star in the league and he was paid like it – Atogwe made, according to my unofficial calculations, about $18.3 million from 2009-2011.

How much have the injuries affected Atogwe's abilities? Clearly the lack of action in free agency indicates that teams are concerned about his health. The Eagles figure he's worth a test run, and his initial impressions at the workout last week were a positive first step.

Allen and Coleman are the starters, we know as much. After that, is there anything etched in stone about the safeties? Where is Jarrett in his development? Can Colt Anderson come all the way back after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament last season? He needs to be a star on special teams to make it in this league. Have any of the rookie free agents caught the eye of the coaching staff enough to make the team?

The Eagles were reportedly interested in a couple of safeties in the offseason, namely LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. Both of those players signed with the Jets. Howie Roseman didn't use a draft pick on the positions.

Now Atogwe is an Eagle, and the plot thickens. The Eagles need to know that what they have at safety, whether they keep four or five on the 53-man roster, is enough to provide stability and flexibility. Offenses are going to go after the deep middle of this defense in the passing game if the quarterback has time to throw the football. That much is certain. If you are a coordinator and your choices are to throw at cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or to throw at the safeties, which would you choose? If you want to spread the defense out and find a prime one-on-one matchup, wouldn't you try to do it against these safeties, who have so much to prove, or one of the cornerbacks on this roster?

Don't view Atogwe as a savior, or even as a starter. See him for what he represents – a seasoned veteran who has had his career challenged by injuries the last few seasons. He joins the Eagles to challenge for a roster spot, for playing time and, if he is really healthy and playing like he did when the Rams made him a franchise player, perhaps even a starting job.

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