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Position Analysis: Defensive Backs

*This is the final piece in a series analyzing the Eagles, position by position, leading into training camp ...

It is particularly noteworthy that one of the most significant moves the Eagles made in the off-season was adding a veteran coach to work with a changing secondary that includes, as it turns out, a rookie lined up and prepared to start at the free safety position. Dick Jauron, a 25-year veteran of the NFL, was brought in as a senior assistant/defensive backs coach, and he has a lot to work with, and he has a lot of challenges ahead with the Eagles defensive backs.

Two pieces are in place from last season, and both of those pieces played in the Pro Bowl in Miami in February. Cornerback Asante Samuel is a premier ball hawk, and while he must work on his game and get better like everyone else, there are few players in the league with his big-play ability. The Eagles need Samuel to be even better this year as the secondary takes shape.

Strong safety Quintin Mikell has blossomed into a very fine player who is in the right spot at all times. Two years ago he earned some All-Pro recognition and last season he was an alternate sent to the Pro Bowl. Mikell continues to improve.

The rest of the secondary, however, is not nearly as set in stone as are the left cornerback and strong safety positions.

At right cornerback, veteran Ellis Hobbs is first on the depth chart heading into training camp. A tenacious player, Hobbs is eager to get his shot to again establish himself as a starter. He did it in New England for a couple of seasons and then he was buried last year on the depth chart. Hobbs is healthy after his neck injury and he is certainly a player to watch in this camp. Hobbs isn't going to be handed the job, however. There will be competition.

Second-year man Macho Harris has been moved to cornerback after an experiment playing safety last season. He is a more natural cornerback who seems to have some toughness, good size and excellent instincts. Can he make the transition back to his college position? Is Harris fluid enough to play cornerback at the NFL level?

Joselio Hanson lost four games last year because of the NFL suspension and he wasn't as effective upon his return. He has a lot to prove, and Hanson has his eyes on the starting right cornerback job, too. He is experienced on the outside and he will challenge for playing time.

Rookie Trevard Lindley came around nicely in the spring and enters camp with some momentum. The pads are on starting Tuesday, so we will quickly get a handle on Lindley as he works against one of the best receiver corps in the league. Dimitri Patterson and Geoff Pope and rookie David Pender are certainly in the mix as the Eagles look for their best cover men in this camp.

At free safety, second-round pick Nate Allen is the guy. He hasn't signed his rookie contract as of this report, but with so many second-round picks coming under contract it wouldn't be a surprise to see a deal get done before practice begins on Tuesday. Allen is smart, he is athletic and he appears to have all the tools necessary to make plays at free safety.

But he doesn't have NFL experience. And the Eagles are going to make sure to stay on top of him and have him grow up quickly in this defense. Along with Allen, young veteran Quintin Demps will fight for playing time. Demps was the starter entering training camp last year and the Eagles replaced him prior to the regular season and Demps never recovered. Now he has another shot at earning the starting role.

Seventh-round draft pick Kurt Coleman missed much of the spring practices, so he has some catching up to do. The Eagles are eager to see Coleman in pads after his fine career at Ohio State.

Rookies Ryan Hamilton and Brett Johnson round out a young group competing for roster spots in the secondary.

Bottom line: There are major question marks here. Samuel and Mikell are proven players and so is Hobbs to some degree, but for the most part the Eagles have more young and more concerns in the secondary than they have had in years. Jauron and defensive backs coach Mike Zordich have an exciting and challenging camp in front of them.

Finally, let's talk briefly about the specialists under new special teams coach Bobby April. There won't be much change. David Akers is the placekicker and he remains one of the best in the game. Sav Rocca is in line to be the punter, with Ken Parrish getting a shot to do both jobs in training camp and in the preseason. Rocca showed quite a bit of improvement in the spring and should really benefit from April's teaching.

The return game offers all kinds of possibilities. DeSean Jackson is the best in the business and Hobbs is a tremendous kickoff return man. The Eagles want other options if Hobbs starts at the corner. Demps would be a strong candidate there.

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