It was just the first camp of a long spring and summer and the names could very well change between now and September 12 when the kelly green (for that day) Eagles play Green Bay at Lincoln Financial Field, but it was telling over the weekend that Macho Harris lined up as the starter at free safety and Joselio Hanson started at right cornerback for the defense. Telling in that the Eagles understand they are far away from drawing any conclusions in the all-important secondary.
How will it look when the season opens? Impossible to tell right now. This is not to suggest that Harris was a placeholder at free safety for the post-draft practices, but there certainly are going to be some challenges to the position. Harris is ahead of Quintin Demps on the depth chart, that much we can surmise from the post-draft camp. Where second-round draft pick Nate Allen and veteran free-agent signee Marlin Jackson fit into the equation remain to be seen.
The scenario is similar at cornerback opposite Asante Samuel. Hanson figures to be the team's nickel cornerback as he has been in the past, but who is to say that he won't make a run at the right cornerback spot? The Eagles anticipate competition, and Hanson is clearly part of a wide-open mix that includes Ellis Hobbs -- a former starter in New England who has a chance to win the job here -- fourth-round draft pick Trevard Lindley and young veterans like Dimitri Patterson and Geoff Pope.
This isn't the ideal situation, of course. The Eagles are turning over the defense, and in the process they are finding out about every position. The truth is, there is competition for a starting job at a couple of other key positions like left end (Does Juqua Parker start or does rookie Brandon Graham come in and win the job?) and SAM linebacker (Is Moise Fokou the guy in his second season?) but there is nowhere on defense quite as undefined as the secondary.
By trading Sheldon Brown and creating a younger look in the secondary, the Eagles also opened a position that had been held down by the durable Brown for the last half-decade. New secondary coach Dick Jauron, then, was the patient teacher over the weekend, working very precisely with his young group and making sure that they understood to be thorough and diligent in their techniques and their responsibilities at the positions.
Free safety was a trouble spot last year as the Eagles rotated Harris, Demps and Sean Jones at the position. They did not come up with a suitable solution and, in fact, Demps was inactive late in the season even though he was healthy and ready to play. Jones moved on in free agency, Allen moved in during the draft and Jackson came onboard in free agency.
Who wins the job? Well, Harris had never been a safety before in his football life and he worked hard to gain a solid comprehension of the position last year. Now Harris is five pounds stronger and a year of knowledge wealthier and he has a much better sense of what is required to play free safety in this Eagles defense.
Allen is a talented kid, of course, someone the Eagles targeted early in the draft. He has many rungs to climb to understand the defense, and of course he has to prove he has the physical skills to excel at this level.
Jackson is a great unknown here, for a couple of reasons. He is coming off a knee injury that KO'd his 2009 season with the Colts, and while he has made terrific strides and actually took part in the individual part of practice over the weekend, he still has to be considered a medical question mark for 2010. Can he get all the way back and play at a high level in the NFL after tearing each ACL in the last two seasons? And can he make the transition from cornerback -- where he primarily played with the Colts -- to safety here?
Maybe more unknown: Do the Eagles still see him as a safety -- which is where they indicated they would play him after he signed a two-year deal as a free agent -- or are they planning to use Jackson as a cornerback this year?
We're way, way early in the process, as the coaches always say. Still, it's fair game to wonder just a bit about how it is all going to shape up in the secondary. You certainly wish the defense had every answer in place at every position, but it is understandable that with all of this turnover there are going to be some spots that remain open for competition. And, yes, competition is a good thing.
The goal is that somebody steps up at both free safety and at right cornerback. You ever hear the one about the coach who says, "We've got players there to choose from," when what he really means is "We're not sure that we have an answer, so we're going to take this on a week-by-week basis?" The best-case scenario is that the Eagles have clear leaders for the starting jobs at free safety and right cornerback by the time training camp is over.
The months that pass between now and then are extremely critical to the fate of this Eagles defense. The coaching staff has a lot of young players to bring up to speed, and those young players must realize the opportunity in front of them. There are jobs to be won, starting jobs in the NFL. Nothing is going to come easily to anyone in the secondary. Jauron and defensive quality control coach Michael Zordich must sort through some talented players and find the right ones for the jobs here.
We are in early May and much of this is idle-time thinking. Before you know it, though, training camp is going to be here. The pads go on. And in a short time from there, the Eagles are going to need answers at free safety and right cornerback, something they don't necessarily have right now.