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Safety A Critical Focus For D

There are some other questions about this defense -- is there enough up front against the run and off the edge? What are the Eagles going to do with the glut of cornerbacks? Who lines up next to Ryans at the linebacker positions? -- but none is more prominent than what happens at safety.

What do we really know about the players the Eagles have at safety? They're young, they have talent, and they all have inconsistencies or injuries or inexperience that makes for some consternation about the defense.

We'll know in a matter of weeks just what the Eagles think about Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Colt Anderson and Tom Nelson. Let's take a look at each one and evaluate where they stand as the 2012 draft approaches ...


Just getting back on the field in 2011 after suffering a torn patellar tendon injury late in his rookie season was enouraging for Allen. There were times, maybe four or five games, when Allen was terrific on the field -- making big plays, tackling consiistently, getting his hands on the football in coverage -- and those moments provided great encouragement for the coaching staff.

But there were other games in which Allen visibly struggled, when he tackled poorly and attacked plays from the wrong angles and looked a step slow with a heavy leg because of the injury.

The feeling is that two seasons out from his injury will make a huge diifference for Allen, a 2010 second-round draft pick. It is expected that the Eagles will challenge Allen and see what transpires in the summer camps and at Lehigh University and throughout the preseason.

Allen has the tools and the work ethic to be a very fine player. Can he regain his form and then some for 2012?


Undersized from a height standpoint, Coleman became a starter because he worked very hard in the film room, he gained a lot of strength and he played his way around the football in 2011. Coleman got his hands on the ball as much as any Eagles defensive back last season.

He isn't a big guy, so there is always going to be a concern for his health. Indeed, an arm injury sidelined him for the 2011 finale. However, Coleman is healthy and ready to take another step forward.

A third-year man, he is a smart player who is rarely in the wrong position. Coleman doesn't change games -- although he took care of the Redskins at FedEx Field to give the Eagles a much-needed lift in a big win there last year -- but he is a solid player. The real question is whether he has what it takes to play the Eagles want their safeties to play. They want the last line of defense to move around the field, to blitz from time to time and to tackle consistently.

Coleman is a favorite to start right now. He's going to be pushed by Jarrett and anyone else the Eagles bring in.


The image of Jarrett last season is of him in single coverage against Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald late in a game the Eagles eventually lost, coming up just a half step short of stopping a completion. What people don't take into account is the coverage call and other players and their responsibilities on the play.

In other words, that play wasn't only on Jarrett.

You learn those kinds of things as a rookie, and Jarrett had a tough first season. He didn't play much as a second-round draft pick after rushing into training camp and zipping quickly through the preseason. Safety is a tough position to learn in the NFL, far more difficult when there is little prep time.

So what about 2012 for Jarrett? Is this his year of blossoming? He has worked extremely hard in the offseason to be the best he can be, that much is for sure. He's in great shape and is far advanced mentally after last year.

The question with Jarrett is his ability to run well enough to play in coverage. Is he destined to be an in-the-box safety who plays primarily against the run? Or will he be able to cover in space.

Offensive coordinators are going to challenge Jarrett. They want him to prove he can cover sideline to sideline at this level.


Coming off that devastating knee injury, Anderson expects to be healthy for training camp. He's making great progress. When healthy, Anderson is the linchpin of Bobby April's cover teams, and is a Pro Bowl-level player on special teams.

The expectation is that Anderson will be healthy and will get all of his straight-line speed back for this season. He hasn't really been in the mix much as a safety as the Eagles want him to stay sharp for special teams.


Signed when Anderson was injured, Nelson played pretty well on special teams last year. He wasn't as dominant as Anderson, but the Eagles saw enough to Nelson to keep him around and take a long look in this offseason.

At 5 feet 11, 200 pounds, Nelson has adequate size. He has good speed and will have to show he can cover to make this roster.

So, there are the five safeties on the current roster. More on coming, trust me. The Eagles can go in a number of directions. A veteran like Yeremiah Bell, who played for cornerbacks coach Todd Bowles when Bowles ran the defense in Miami, remains an unrestricted free agent. The draft has a few highly-rated players on the board. Trades are always possible around here.

By doing nothing so far, the Eagles have demonstrated confidence in what they have. We don't know the grand plan, though, so the next few weeks are going to tell us how they really feel about the safety positions.

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