One of the interesting questions yet to be resolved is what will happen with the Eagles secondary?
Asante Samuel will start at left cornerback. Beyond that, there is uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a tricky word. It has a negative connotation, but really just means that we're unsure exactly what will happen. Things might be OK. Heck, they could be good. There is some reason for optimism.
Free safety Nate Allen is on the mend from a torn patellar tendon that cost him the final few games last year. He's reportedly on schedule with his rehab and thinks he'll be ready for training camp, assuming if/when that happens. A healthy Allen will be key for 2011.
Samuel is a top-shelf cornerback. Joselio Hanson is good in the slot. Allen looked like a real good free safety last year. If he's healthy, that's huge. I have confidence that the team figure out a good solution at right cornerback. That makes strong safety the mystery position. So while there is some uncertainty, there is talent and lots of potential.
The strong safety job is up for grabs between Marlin Jackson, Kurt Coleman and rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett. The Eagles like all three players very much. Before you comment about Quintin Mikell, he's about to become a free agent so he could be in the mix here but I'm focusing on who is on the roster now. Jarrett was taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, so he's the guy that the team expects to win the job long term. Allen was able to start as a rookie last year, but had a full off-season to adjust to the NFL. Jarrett comes in under much tougher circumstances. It really is hard to know if he'll be able to start right away
Jackson is a versatile, talented veteran, but a guy with an extensive injury history. You can't count on him at all. You hope he shows up and is able to stay on the field because of how good he is, but his last full season as a starter was 2007. Think of him more as a lottery ticket than a likely option.
Coleman was a rookie last year and impressed the team as a backup and special teams player. He took over for Allen when he got hurt and Coleman played pretty well. Ideally, he would be the third safety. I do think he's got starting potential. He showed last year that he can be an effective short-term starter. I expect Coleman to be better this year, whether he does start or come off the bench.
There is also the possibility the Eagles could add a veteran player to start at strong safety this season. Jarrett is the guy they want on the field, but not knowing if he'll be ready to start complicates things. Of course, the veteran would also be coming in to learn a new scheme and adapt to the team, but that's easier for a guy with starting experience than a rookie.
One spot where we do know the Eagles are most likely to bring in outside help is at right cornerback. Trevard Lindley or Hanson is sitting atop the depth chart right now. We all know Hanson is best suited to playing the slot. Lindley played well at times last year and is part of the future plans, but I'm not so sure he's ready to start on a team that expects to challenge for the Super Bowl. Rookie Curtis Marsh is definitely a project.
I know some fans will be skeptical that the Eagles won't make any moves for a right cornerback. Just because a move wasn't made doesn't mean the team didn't try to pull something off. You have to remember that there were limited resources last year because of the revised free agency rules. Only players with six years of experience were eligible. That took a lot of guys off the market. There just weren't good options. This year will be different. We don't yet know who the Eagles will add. They know that right cornerback was a spot that must be better than it was last year and will not want a repeat of that.
While I don't see Lindley as ready to start, he will be an improved player. He'll probably have to start a game or two due to injury at some point. He should be fine for that. I re-watched some game tape of him from last year a couple of weeks back. Lindley played a lot in the win over Dallas and had a good showing. You could see the potential the Eagles were banking on when they drafted him. He's still got some stuff to work on in terms of technique, but I was impressed by that game. Juan Castillo made mention that Lindley needs to focus on improving his footwork.
The Eagles could head into the season with a second-year free safety and a rookie strong safety. Can this work or is that crazy? Ideally you'd rather have one of the safeties be a veteran, but the key is having the right guys. In 1981, San Francisco had three rookies starting in the secondary. They went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl. The veteran was free safety Dwight Hicks. He was in his third year and had 20 career starts heading into 1981. Now that was a young secondary.
As long as Allen is healthy, I have no issues with him. Knee injuries are tough to come back from, but you have to remember that he didn't have a torn ACL. Big difference. That's the injury that takes a couple of years to get all the way back from. A torn patellar tendon is very serious, but still is better than a torn ACL. The Eagles did everything they could to get the rehab started on the right track. It sounds like Allen has worked hard on his own to get all the way back.
Without the injury, Allen would be a guy I'd be projecting to have a major breakout season. He played pretty well last year, but still had his share of rookie moments. With a year of experience under his belt, I would expect Allen to play at a high level. Even with the injury I expect Allen to play well, but this strange off-season isn't conducive to a guy like him making a major leap. We'll see how that goes.
Jarrett is the guy I'm most curious about and fascinated by. I was caught off-guard when the Eagles took him in the second round. Afterward, we found out a couple of other teams had their eyes set on him in the third round. If the Eagles really wanted him, they had to take him in the second. From everything that Andy Reid and Castillo have said, Jarrett is a player they absolutely targeted.
That's an important point for me. It is one thing to have a player highly rated, but it's another when you specifically target him and focus on getting him. That shows a significant level of interest. Castillo obviously sees Jarrett as a guy who will fit the new system very well. Castillo has talked about how he will keep things simple, especially with the offseason circumstances. That might give Jarrett the ability to play right away.
One of the things missing from the secondary since Brian Dawkins was kidnapped by aliens has been a physical presence. Mikell is generally a good tackler. He can hit, but isn't a punishing hitter. Mikell doesn't lack toughness or intensity. He's just not an impact hitter. Some guys are good at that and some aren't. Jarrett is. Reid talked about Jarrett's ability to hit and make his presence known as one of the key reasons the Eagles wanted him. They felt a need to have an impact hitter in the secondary.
The Eagles are hoping the situation plays out a certain way. They want Allen to be the rangy, centerfielder type of safety. They want Jarrett to be the box guy who can really lay the lumber. They want Samuel to be the ballhawk corner. They want the right corner to be a bigger, more physical player than Samuel. That group would give the Eagles a complete secondary.
The pieces aren't all in place right now, but the secondary has the potential to be good. The Eagles need Allen to stay healthy. He looked really good at times last year. The Eagles need to land the right guy to play opposite of Samuel. It doesn't have to be Nnamdi Asomugha, but the team needs a talented cover corner. The secondary will also be better if the young players can stay on track. Lindley and Coleman could be very valuable backups. The uncertainty of the spring and summer could turn into a pretty good unit by the time fall gets here.