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Secondary Issues Are A Primary Concern

The Eagles have always had it covered, pun intended, at the cornerback positions. They have always been forward thinking at cornerback, as they were in 2002 when they selected Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in the draft even though they already had starters Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor on the roster. In this past of-season, the Eagles stocked up at cornerback, just in case.

Well, just in case happened. Again and again and then again. It was scary enough when Asante Samuel was sidelined against Dallas with a neck injury (he later returned) and all of a sudden the Eagles had a hole where a Pro Bowl player once was. On Wednesday, the team received a double dose of bad news: nickel corner Joselio Hanson is suspended for the next four games by the league after testing positive -- after the 2008 NFC Championship Game -- for an unspecified substance that is among those banned by the league, and that dime back and valuable kickoff return man Ellis Hobbs is out for the remainder of the season because of a neck injury suffered against Dallas.

Just like that, two-fifths of a talented group of cornerbacks is gone as the Eagles launch into the second half of the season and into a very rough stretch of their schedule.

"We've got some young guys who are going to step up," said Brown, surrounded by reporters after Wednesday afternoon's practice. "It's like this: You're in a win-win situation. Nobody is going to expect you to do well, so everything you do positive is a chance to prove everyone wrong. I've been in that position before in my career. That is the mindset they have to have, and that they will have."

Samuel and Brown remain the starters, so the Eagles are good and proven there. What they have done in the past, with Hanson here, is move Brown into the slot in the nickel, with Hanson outside. For the next four games, the Eagles have to mix things up. Brown said that Patterson would likely move inside and Brown would stay outside in the slot. But the Eagles can't be married to any one idea.

This is a testing time, no question about it. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has his work cut out for him, not only with the cornerbacks, but with a linebacker core that likely won't have Akeem Jordan to go along with Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither. The good news is that Chris Gocong is playing this week. He and Will Witherspoon and who knows? are the starters with Spoon and Tracy White likely to play in the nickel.

McDermott has not been the least bit tentative to think out of the box in scheming his defense, and he is going to come up with something unique here. He's got to work in some young Eagles here -- Patterson has been in the league long enough to know his way around, having seen a good amount of time in Kansas City -- and making sure they know their assignments.

Second-year man Jack Ikegwuonu knows the X's and O's, has a world of talent, and has a lot to prove after he was a fourth-round draft pick last year who spent the season on Injured Reserve. Ikegwuonu didn't make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp, but the Eagles thought enough of him to put him on the practice squad and monitor his progress.

Now Ikegwuonu gets his chance to prove he belongs in the NFL. Same with Patterson, who has been here since late in the 2008 season. Newcomer Ramzee Robinson played for two seasons in Detroit, so he at least knows the tempo of the game.

This is a huge challenge for the A) Personnel department to see what kind of emergency help they can find to help the situation and B) Coaching staff, because the defense can't have players running around on Sunday without any idea what they are doing Philip Rivers will exploit that in a second of time.

Losing Hobbs also impacts the kickoff return game, of course. Quintin Demps, Macho Harris and Jeremy Maclin will get looks there.

There was a time, Brown recalled, during the 2003 season, when he and Sheppard were called upon to step in when Taylor was hurt prior to playing at Buffalo and Vincent injured a hamstring during the game and the prospects for the season looked bleak. The Eagles were 0-2. Buffalo was a tough place to play. The doomsayers were ready to bury the Eagles.

But the defense played a whale of a game that day and Brian Westbrook's touchdown run sealed a 23-13 win and the season turned around as the Eagles drove to an NFC Championship Game appearance.

"I always pull for the underdog, and I think they are going to do well," said Brown. "They've been working hard and preparing for this moment. You can't show that you are a good player if you don't get the chance to play."

Samuel didn't really go into detail about how he feels with Hobbs going down for the season and Hanson losing four games due to the suspension, but he did get right to the point on what needs to be done with the young pups.

"Gotta get 'em on board, gotta learn what's up, and catch on," he said.

Samuel and Brown will be instrumental in making sure the kids have every question answered, that the on-field communication is free flowing, that every player is on the same page with every call. McDermott's defense in the first of the year was really very good with few missed assignments and infrequent big plays.

But he has lost some major firepower with Bradley done before the year started, with Gaither out early on, with Hobbs gone at the midway point, with Hanson on the sidelines for a quarter of the season, with Victor Abiamiri out for a handful of games, with Jordan likely sidelined for a week or two, or more ... Injuries are part of the NFL, for sure. But all that the Eagles are incurring, on top of the loss before the season of coordinator Jim Johnson, puts and enormous burden on a young coaching staff.

That's life in the league, though. It is a war of attrition. Personnel departments -- and the Eagles have a fine one with Tom Heckert, Howie Roseman, Jon Sandusky, Louis Riddick, etc. -- are constantly manipulating the roster. Every move means something. Every emergency list is important. The practice squad is a treasure trove of talent.

The Eagles have dipped deep into their pool to shore up some holes created by injury and, now, Hanson's suspension. We'll see what McDermott has up his sleeve, what these new players can do, and how the Eagles react to losing part of what was once considered the deepest group of cornerbacks in the NFL.

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