The reality for the fans that the Eagles have a new man in charge of the free safety position may very well be when the defense lines up for the first time at training camp and 20,000 pairs of eyeballs look for that familiar face deep in the secondary and instead find .... whom, exactly?
A new day has dawned for the Eagles at free safety, as you very well know. Veteran Brian Dawkins is a member of the Denver Broncos, and after much emotion in the off-season, the fans are looking forward, not back. So are the Eagles, who face their first question mark at the position since the mid-1990's. One of the greatest players in franchise history have moved on, and a changing of the, well, safety is here.
Quintin Demps is going to line up with the first-team defense next week, but by no means is there a guarantee that he will man the position for the entire season. It is very much a prove-it situation at free safety, with Demps the leader in the clubhouse now, but with a handful of talented players in hot pursuit, free safety is very much an open competition heading into training camp.
No question, though, Demps has a chance to win the job outright after an impressive spring. He handled all of the mental responsibilities, the first and maybe more important test for the second-year man. Demps played sparingly last season, but he also did a good job when he was on the field, and he showed enough athletic ability to convince the coaches that he can run and hit and cover and do all the things that good players in this league do.
The next step is taking in all the live action. The pads are on in camp. The hitting means something. The tempo is higher than it was in the spring, so Demps is going to have to show he can make plays in the practices leading up to the preseason games. Then Demps will face a different test: Seeing and reading offenses and then getting to the football is the piece Demps must show on a play-in, play-out basis.
Can Demps make the big plays? Can he direct the defense? Can he run sideline to sideline, and can he time his blitzes well enough to shine in this defense?
The Eagles are banking that Demps is the guy, that he is mature enough to take the next step in his career. But they also have made sure that they are covered at the position. The team added Sean Jones in free agency, signing him to a one-year contract. Jones was more of an in-the-box safety with Cleveland, but he also had a remarkable run of success forcing turnovers and getting his hands on the football.
Jones is healthy after knee problems last year and he ran well in the spring camps. Can he play free safety here? Yeah, the Eagles think so. They also think he can play strong safety if need be, and that Quintin Mikell is capable of sliding to the free safety spot, as he did in recent seasons when Dawkins was injured.
Jones is a big, physical safety who gives the defense a different look at the position. It will be interesting to see what kind of combinations the coaching staff puts together to make the Eagles the best they can be in the deep secondary.
Also in free agency, the team inked Rashad Baker to a contract after his fine play last year in Oakland. Baker is looked at as more of a reserve player who adds depth and who can help the team on special teams. He, along with rookie Macho Harris and former CFL star Byron Parker and rookie free agent Reshard Langford give the Eagles a lot to look at this summer.
The best-case scenario is that the competition is fierce and that there is plenty to choose from. Of course, the Eagles would love Demps to prove himself right away and step into the role without a hitch. That could be wishful thinking. To do everything that Dawkins did in the snap of the fingers is asking an awful lot of Demps.
He certainly is a talented player who understands the spotlight is on him. He knows how the fans reacted when Dawkins signed in Denver. He knows what everyone expects from the position.
"I just have to be me and play like I know I can," said Demps.
The Eagles have made a dramatic change at free safety. Where it goes and with which player remains to be seen. It doesn't happen often that a player of a generation is suddenly gone, but that is the case here. The Eagles have work to do at free safety, and they have a lot of confidence in Demps, and in the reserves they brought in during the off-season.
Is that enough? Training camp and the preseason will tell a lot of the story, indeed.