There is a change at safety, in case you didn't notice, and maybe not just in personnel. Maybe, just maybe, Jim Johnson has ideas to play things differently at the safety spots, so I'm wondering how the Eagles are going to play the positions this season ...
How the Eagles use their safeties is way too complicated for a simple discussion. It is not a matter of one safety up at the line of scrimmage and one in deep coverage. It is not a two-deep scheme. The Eagles use the safeties to help over the top and they use them on the blitz and there is a series of checks and balances within the defense that allows the safeties to make plays.
Brian Dawkins, a great player who made his seventh Pro Bowl in 2008, did so as a different player doing different things than the player who dominated the defense in years past. Back then, Dawkins was the where-is-he? player in the defense, the player whom quarterbacks had to specifically find before they settled under center to take the snap. In 2008, Dawkins did most of his damage at the line of scrimmage where he made a tremendous impact as a blitzer. He got to the quarterback. He supported the run very well. He timed things expertly.
Dawkins was still a factor in coverage, but not nearly as much as he had been in previous seasons when he was a ball hawk who got his hands on the football.
With Dawkins gone, how will Johnson and the coaching staff play the safeties?
A lot depends on whom the Eagles team with Quintin Mikell. Quintin Demps is a young, athletic kid who has to demonstrate that he has the necessary instincts and the requisite safety sense to play the free safety position effective. Can Demps blitz? We don't know that yet. He sure has the speed and he can tackle well and, yeah, you have to like what you've seen from him. Can Demps play in coverage? We know more about that part of his game, because he lined up as a cornerback from time to time last season and did a good job. I know a lot of fans are jacked up because Demps slipped and fell in the NFC Championship Game and Larry Fitzgerald had a catch and run for a touchdown, but it's not fair to blame Demps. He was all alone. The Eagles were beaten on the play. Demps was the closest guy in coverage, and so it's easy -- and not correct -- to lay the guilt on Demps.
Still, it is a play that he needs to learn from. Teams are going to throw at Demps if he is on the field. They need to find out what he can do, just as the coaches need to find what he can do.
Sean Jones is more of an in-the-box strong safety, which makes it remarkable that he had so many interceptions prior to suffering a knee injury last year. I admit to not knowing a whole lot about Jones, but from what I hear he is a physical player who is going to help against the run. If his knee is OK, and he shows that he can run, maybe Jones becomes a huge part of this defense and is interchanged with Mikell, and with Demps.
Rashad Baker is another new player to the system, so the Eagles are really going to stress the importance of the mental part of the post-draft practices. There are no pads and there is no contact at those workouts, but the coaches want to throw as much of the defense at all three safeties -- Demps, Jones and Baker -- to see how they react to formation changes and requirements within the defensive scheme.
The emotional part of the Dawkins departure has melted away, replaced by the obvious question of how the Eagles are going to use the safeties and then, of course, what that all means for the defense. Mikell emerges from the long shadow of Dawkins, so it could be a blessing for him in the long run. Mikell is suddenly the focal point of the deep secondary after his Pro Bowl-worthy season a year ago.
No doubt there are questions about the safeties. That isn't a bad thing, just an interesting part of a whole lotta good stuff going on with this team ...
... Just wondering when Brian Westbrook, who met the media on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex, is going to put an end to the Is-he-past-his-peak? line of questioning as he passes the age of 30. I think it is going to be very, very interesting if the Eagles use a high draft pick on a running back. I imagine that the questions Westbrook hears prior to the season will deal with some topics he hasn't talked about before.
... Speaking of running backs, how much of a difference is there between the best of the best in this draft -- Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells -- and the rest of the prospects? I guess I've always believed that you can find running backs in rounds 2-4, and then I look around the Pro Bowl roster and see that many of those in the recent years are first-round picks. So, what does that mean?
... I wonder how much of an impact the first round is going to have on this roster. I think the Eagles did a good job trading out of the first round the last two Aprils and getting value, but the saying in the NFL is that your first-round picks are Pro Bowl players. So, let's go draft some Pro Bowl players in two-plus weeks.
... After all of the self-scouting the Eagles have done in the months since the 2008 season ended, I wonder what the red zone scheme is going to look like this year. How many changes will we see in X's and O's? Is it more a matter of personnel, or play calls? I know everybody out there wants the fade route to be a more important part of the offense, but that alone won't make the Eagles score more touchdowns.
.... I wonder how many of you will stay tuned in to our Eagles Draft Live! beyond day one, because as excited as I am about the first day of the draft, the second day holds just as much intrigue. I may not know all the names, but the Eagles are going to be in position to mine for some second-day talent with all of those draft picks. You still going to be with us?