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Secondary Shuffles As Rookie Camp Opens

Nothing is permanent, and who in the world over-analyzes a no-tackling, no-pad rookies and selected veterans camp, anyway (who doesn't these days??), but there *was *some news as the Eagles opened a mini, mini-camp on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex: Macho Harris moved to cornerback and Marlin Jackson is very, very relevant in the defense's big picture.

First, Harris. A fifth-round draft pick last year after an outstanding career as a cornerback at Virginia Tech, Harris moved to free safety and shockingly ended up as the starter when the Eagles opened the regular season in Carolina. Harris, who had never played safety, showed the coaches enough with his mental acumen and had an up-and-down first year in the NFL, starting eight of the 15 games in which he played.

But free safety was never a rock-solid position for the Eagles, and there were a lot of questions about how Harris fit into the 2010 defense. He lined up at free safety in the post-draft camp, but likely would have been moved to safety then had Jackson and second-round draft pick Nate Allen been healthy enough to take part in the team portion of the practices.

Harris, at this very moment, is back at cornerback. Whether he stays there, he doesn't even know. The coaches asked him if he could play corner and Harris didn't flinch.

"I'm a competitor, so I'll do whatever the team needs. We're professional athletes, so you have to step in and do what the coaches want," said Harris. "Today was a day to knock off the rust. I felt good, but I just have to get used to backpedaling and coming out of the break. It's a different technique from playing safety. I'll get it, though."

Harris is probably more naturally suited to playing cornerback, having lined up there for four seasons in college. He played one year at safety in this scheme. So, certainly, he has a tremendously well-rounded knowledge of the defense, and that can only help him.

As far as what his move to cornerback means for Sean McDermott's starting lineup, the answer is that training camp and the preseason will determine that part of the equation. Ellis Hobbs is the leading candidate at right cornerback. Dimitri Patterson has more experience than does Harris. Fourth-round draft pick Trevard Lindley is going to make a push. And don't forget Geoff Pope, who saw time at the corner with the Bengals.

Jackson's remarkable return from his torn anterior cruciate ligament continues, and it clearly impacts the entire picture in the secondary. Jackson insisted, on the day he signed a two-year contract with the Eagles during the free-agency period, that he would be ready to go right about at this time. I don't know who believed him. I'm not sure I did. ACL injuries have always been considered career-threatening, and at the very least a player needs 12 months to recover. That isn't the case in today's medical world. Jackson has been a diligent worker in his recovery. He has attacked it like few other players I've seen.

So when the defense lined up and sent out 11 "starters," it was exciting to see Jackson at free safety. He looked great, quite honestly, as he moved confidently and quickly around the field.

And just like that, Jackson is someone you have to think is going to make some noise at free safety as the defense looks for someone to step forward and claim the starting job. Is it absurd to think that Jackson could be first on the depth chart at free safety when training camp opens?

"It went really, really well. I felt good. Quick, explosive. I had to make sure I took care of my assignment and didn't try to do too much, but physically I felt fine," said Jackson. "I said when I signed here, a lot of people didn't agree with me when I said I would be back for OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and things like that. But I could tell how my body was recovering and how I was coming along. I got so much stronger so much faster and I knew that I would be able to be back for OTAs."

Yeah, he is back and it is going to be interesting watching Jackson make progress. The true test comes when the two-a-day practices in full pads with full contact begins in late July, but by then Jackson will have built a solid foundation of confidence. By then, maybe, we'll get a better sense of what the coaching staff sees in a secondary that is as wide open for competition as any we have seen in recent Eagles seasons.

The right cornerback job is, clearly, up for grabs. So is free safety, with Jackson, third-year man Quintin Demps and rookie Nate Allen factoring into the mix. The best-case scenario is that one player at each position distances himself and earns the starting spot. Jackson sounds like he is ready to be that guy at free safety.

"I knew when they signed me that they wanted me to play free safety, so that is what I am here to do," he said. "If they want me to move and play some corner, I'll do it, of course, but I'm here to win a job at free safety. That is how I'm approaching things."

You can only tell so much from one day of rookies and selected veterans running around in shorts, shells and helmets. The Eagles, for instance, have some good size at wide receiver and there are going to be some really good battles for wide receiver spots four and five (Hank Baskett, Riley Cooper, Jordan Norwood, Dobson Collins, Blue Cooper, Chad Hall, etc.) Max Jean-Gilles is 30-plus pounds lighter and appears quite a bit quicker after his lap-band procedure. The defense has all kinds of young talent and speed, but how can you judge a defense when nobody is allowed to tackle?

Those secondary issues, though, aren't secondary at all. The Eagles need answers there. And having Jackson on the field, and moving Harris to cornerback -- temporary or not -- accelerates the learning curve.

"This is the NFL, and every job is up for grabs," said Harris. "I'm trying to keep a job, no matter where I play."

That is the right attitude to have for a player who is back at his natural position, and who is part of the moving puzzle that is the state of the Eagles' defense right now.


  • Cornelius Ingram looked good for his first day of having no limitations on what he could do in practice. He made a nice, twisting catch and landed solidly on his feet, showing no ill effects from his ACL surgery late last summer. "It was great to be out there," he said walking off the field.
  • Mike Kafka and Joey Elliott split the reps at quarterback. Both threw the ball well, but my non-scientific eye gave the edge to Kafka. The young man throws a terrific ball.
  • I watched some of Ricky Sapp at SAM linebacker over the tight end and he is definitely working in the right direction. Sapp is not there yet as far as his comfort and his movement in coverage, but he is a terrific athlete and is working hard to get it down.
  • Clay Harbor is a super-athletic tight end. So is Martin Rucker. Adding those two to Ingram and Brent Celek and I honestly can't remember a more dangerous (potentially, anyway) group of pass-catching tight ends on an Eagles roster.
  • One thing you really notice when this group of wide receivers is on the field is how big the Eagles are in certain parts of their wide receiver corps right now. Pat Simonds is 6 feet 5, Riley Cooper is 6-3 and both Blue Cooper and Collins are 6-2. And all of them can play. Obviously, not all of them will make the team, but there are no stiffs in this group. Riley Cooper is really growing on me.
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