So, defensively speaking, what do the Eagles think about their free safety position? Really, truly? We won't know until the post-draft camps begin when Sean McDermott has a chance to line up his players and see how quickly they pick up the mental game and about they move without pads. Then, of course, training camp tells the true tale until the season starts and, for sure, the Eagles want to make sure they have a more stable situation than they had a year ago.
At the moment, as it lines up on an imaginary depth chart, the Eagles have three candidates. They have third-year man Quintin Demps, who 12 months ago was the expected starter. Demps was coming off a good rookie season and he showed flashes of solid coverage moments and the Eagles thought he was ready for the step up.
Turns out, Demps wasn't ready. Whatever happened from the preseason to game one, when Macho Harris moved into the starting role, knocked Demps back a peg and he did not recover all year. Finally, a late-season injury put Demps on the sidelines, and even when he was healthy for the final two weeks, Demps did not return to the field.
What now with Demps? He's been in the off-season conditioning program daily and he is working hard to bounce back. Demps looked, at times during his rookie season, that he could cover and that he had range and that he was willing and able to get nasty. So what happened between then and September of 2009? Maybe Demps just wasn't ready to handle the responsibility. Maybe it was a mental thing. Maybe he just did not rise to the challenge.
Whatever the reason, Demps fell out of favor and Harris ascended. It was a great story, really, as Harris became the first rookie safety to start for the Eagles since Wes Hopkins in 1983. Truth be told, it is hard to distinguish Harris' play because so many components went in his move to the starting lineup -- how he lined players up, how he communicated and, of course, how much of an impact Harris had in the game physically. He started eight games, missed the next one with an ankle injury and then played in a reserve role until Week 17 in Dallas and then the playoff game.
Harris has also been a regular on the off-season conditioning program and he and Demps should bring out the best in each other this summer. Harris had never played free safety, so getting the mental part of the game down so quickly was a huge plus. Now, maybe, he will be a more natural and instinctive player there.
Then again, who knows what role new defensive backs coach Dick Jauron has for both Demps and Harris. They both have to learn from Jauron what he is looking for, what he asks of the defensive backs, and how Jauron and McDermott have tweaked the scheme as far as the free safety position goes.
Add Marlin Jackson into the mix and the picture becomes even more interesting. Jackson has been a good cornerback in the league when healthy, but the knee injuries suffered the last two seasons have compromised his career. Jackson is with the Eagles in the off-season conditioning/rehabilitation programs and he speaks with great confidence about his expectations for good health and about transitioning to safety.
The answer from this perspective, and it is not a very educated one, is that the Eagles aren't going to turn away if they see a chance to add to the position. Yeah, Demps can rebound and Harris can make the move to becoming a full-time safety and Jackson can stay healthy and slide over to safety and ... is there a sure thing among them?
I know what you're saying. I hear you. Brian Dawkins was a sure thing. Of course you are saying that. He was a sure thing, but he isn't here any longer and it makes no sense to lament the past. The Eagles have to upgrade safety in 2010. They don't want to bounce around from one starter to another.
As it stands now, it is truly a three-man race. Who is to say who has the edge? If the Eagles go into the post-draft camp with Demps vs. Harris vs. Jackson (who won't be able to get on the fields that early, I imagine) well, they're going to need somebody to step up. One player. Take the job and seize the opportunity.
What happens if the Eagles acquire another player to compete? Well, then the plot thickens and Jauron and McDermott have a deeper pot of soup to stir, hoping somebody emerges at the top quickly.
We've been talking about this throughout the off-season and we will continue to do so until the season is here. Free safety has a lot of questions about it once again. Is the answer here? Maybe. But somehow I just don't think the picture at the position is finished being painted.