If I were to list some "concern" positions looking ahead to training camp -- it's a fresh topic, asked on the Discussion Boards and debated intensely – I would start with the defense. No specific position, just the defense in general. There are so many new faces and really not a lot of time to get everyone on the same page and playing as a ""fit"" group.
Within the defense, of course, there are some hot spots. Starting jobs are still open, in theory, at right cornerback and at free safety and probably a case could be made that strong-side linebacker and left defensive end are open, too. I would argue that Moise Fokou and Juqua Parker, respectively, are strong candidates to start at both spots.
But there is no doubt that the Eagles have some ways to go before they are a "finished" product. The offense appears to be ahead of the defense on paper. Here is an analysis of a few of the spots to watch on defense, as they look from this perspective.
*FREE SAFETY *
I'm a big Nate Allen fan after knowing him for a short time. Mature kid. Looked good in practice. Wants to be a great player and is willing to work for it.
At the same time, he is a rookie and he is going to learn something new every day and having a rookie start a season again at free safety is a scary thought.
Allen is far advanced over where Macho Harris was a year ago. The Eagles should be better at free safety for that very reason alone. And Allen is obviously a player the Eagles loved enough to draft early in the second round in April.
How quickly can he grow into a big-time player? And if Allen isn't ready early, is Quintin Demps good to go? How about seventh-round draft pick Kurt Coleman?
*WILL LINEBACKER *
In a roundabout way, I think Ernie Sims could be the most important player on the defense. Why? Because Sims is here not to be a transition player. He is not here to be an "adequate" piece of the defense. Sims was once the ninth pick in the NFL draft. He was a tackling machine in Detroit prior to last season. Sims is here to make a lot of plays all over the field. He is here to get to the football.
The Eagles need to get Sims free and allow him to use his speed to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. His coverage ability is key for the defense, which gave up way too many plays in the short passing game last season.
Sims has to be an impact player. I think, honestly, that Akeem Jordan is going to push for playing time and that he is having a terrific off-season, but the job is for Sims to secure and to thrive. When is the last time the Eagles had a big-time player at WILL linebacker? Sims has to be that guy this season.
*SAM LINEBACKER *
Fokou has his ups and downs last year, no question about it. But he is a tenacious kid, a talented player and he made plays. He was aggressive and I like young players who aren't afraid to play fast and learn from their mistakes.
Obviously, Fokou has to be physical against the run and he has to be a factor in coverage against the passing game. He has long arms and uses his body well and he has come a long way in the defense.
Still, Fokou is a young guy. He is going to make mistakes. The Eagles can't leave him out on an island in coverage against all of these star tight ends on the schedule.
*RIGHT CORNERBACK *
Ellis Hobbs is first in line to be the starter here and establish himself again as a starter in his league. Hobbs is an experienced player and he is in great shape and he is as highly motivated as any player I've seen in a long, long time. He knows there are doubters out there.
The Eagles also think that Joselio Hanson, Dimitri Patterson and rookie Trevard Lindley will challenge for playing time. Harris is now a cornerback who is going to compete on the right side. Geoff Pope is going to be a factor. The Eagles have some depth here, even if it is not "name" power that gives fans a feeling of security.
Clearly, though, the Eagles have a giant question here and that is something we have not seen in a long time for this defense. Hobbs has to provide the answer, because teams are going to challenge that side of the defense early and often.
*NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT *
Congratulations to ESPN's Chris Berman, who was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as this year's recipient of the Pete Rozelle Award. Berman has always been a cooperative member of the media with whom to work, and whether or not you enjoy his style, you can't deny his impact on the game and on the broadcast industry. Good call on adding Berman.
- I spent part of Monday night watching the NFL Network's re-broadcast of a Chiefs-Broncos game from 1994 featuring Joe Montana at quarterback for Kansas City facing Denver's John Elway. One thing that struck me watching Montana: He threw to the running backs and the tight ends a bunch. LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek will have a chance to catch a lot of footballs as the Eagles look to get Kevin Kolb into a rhythm passing game. I think it is fair to expect Kolb to have a goal to complete 64-65 percent of his passes this season.
- By the way, that Kansas City-Denver game from October, 1994 was incredible. I really can't wait for this season to begin!
- Nothing new to report on the contract talks with the Eagles and unsigned draft picks Brandon Graham, Allen and Riley Cooper. Rookies and selected veterans report to Lehigh University on July 26 and the first practice is July 27.
- My vote for Eagles Comeback Player of the Year is right guard Stacy Andrews. He has a lot of show the football team and the fans. I think he is a hard-working guy who has a lot of pride. And I expect him to have a big year.
- What will you do without your World Cup? I watched a lot of it – it is a fantastic sporting event – but the games itself had their time and now it is on to the real sports season – NFL football.