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Fan-Demonium: The Safety Debate

Posted Feb 8, 2012

Fan-Demonium

The 2011 season is finally over. The Eagles have been done for a while, but now it's over for everyone. We can put 2011 into the books. Time to move on to the 2012 season.

The Eagles can't start signing unrestricted free agents and making trades until the new league year officially begins on March 13. They can work on contract extensions and internal moves like that, but mostly it will be us speculating about what the team will do and talking about what we think they should do. The tricky part is figuring out where the team needs an upgrade in talent as opposed to where it has young players who are developing.

You must be patient with young players and give them a chance to develop. Giants defensive end Justin Tuck did very little for two years before becoming an impact player. 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman had a quiet rookie year, but exploded in 2011. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo sat for almost three and a half seasons before he became a household name. Not every player shines from day one. Sometimes they have health issues. Other times guys just take longer to adjust to the NFL (schemes/coaching/level of competition).

At the same time, you can't have young players holding your team hostage, so to speak. You need the players to be at a functional level or you must have other starters in place. The Eagles went and claimed Kyle DeVan when they saw that Danny Watkins was going to be delayed in getting into the starting lineup. DeVan started at right guard until Watkins got to the point where he could take over.

I see middle linebacker as the biggest question mark on the team. Jamar Chaney had a disappointing season and got hurt in the season finale. I don't think you want to count on him for 2012. Neck injuries are serious stuff for anyone, but even more so for linebackers. Casey Matthews did start a couple of games in the middle early on. He struggled. Matthews found a home as a nickel linebacker late in the season, but I never saw enough from him to make me think he's definitely the guy I want running the middle. This is a case where I think the Eagles need outside help.

Strongside linebacker is a bit more confusing. Chaney, Moise Fokou and Akeem Jordan all started games there in 2011. All three are under contract for 2012. Each player had moments when he played really well. None of them was so consistently good that you said "he's the answer." Chaney is the best athlete. Fokou is the most rugged. Jordan is a combination of both. I think the Eagles should spend a draft pick here. Let the rookie compete with these guys for the job.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com

SAM linebacker is a spot where the Eagles got adequate play in 2011, but the team needs to improve. Also, a long-term answer at the position is needed. That player could already be on the roster, but you can't count on that based on past performance. I don't think the Eagles need to invest a first-round pick at SAM, but they do need to bring in a quality player.  At this point, I'm not sure any draft prospect at SAM is worth the 15th pick.  There should be good options in the second and third rounds. 

Safety is a position that gets a lot of attention. This is a spot where I think the Eagles need to stand pat. The team has invested second-round picks in Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Kurt Coleman was a late pick, but has started games in both of his seasons here. I think the prudent move is sticking with the young guys to find out if they are good enough. There is risk involved and I absolutely acknowledge that. Jarrett was disappointing as a rookie. Allen has shown good flashes, but is inconsistent. Coleman is solid, but lacks ideal athletic ability. I still think this trio has shown enough that you stick with them.

With Colt Anderson's ACL injury, the fourth safety spot is open. I don't think you count on Anderson being ready by September. Tom Nelson was good on special teams as his replacement, but he didn't lock down a job. The Eagles can draft someone or sign a veteran to be competition. Dave Spadaro said on a recent episode of Eagles Live! that he'd like to see the team address safety as early as the first round. I do get that people feel that way after the up and down showing in 2011. I have to warn you that the safety class is not good. There is one really good player - Mark Barron of Alabama. I'm not sure that I'd have him rated above Nate Allen when he came out. No safety is worth the 15th pick or anything close to that. A desperate team may reach for him, but I don't see the Eagles as desperate because of the guys already in place.

One position that could see some change is wide receiver. DeSean Jackson is a free agent and the Eagles must decide whether to re-sign him, place the franchise tag on him, or tag and trade him. Even if Jackson returns, I think this is a position where the Eagles should look for upgrades. Riley Cooper is a player that I think can be a good role player, but after two years he's still somewhat of a mystery. You can't count on him to take a major step forward. Jason Avant is one of my favorite Eagles, but he'll turn 29 in April and he wasn't fast coming out of college.

I think the Eagles need to add a receiver who is starting caliber so that if the current starters get hurt, there is someone ready to step in. Cooper and Avant have started in the past, but neither has proven to be a player you definitely want as a starter. Cooper lacks the consistency and experience. Avant is very good in the slot, where his quickness and crisp route-running help him to get open. On the outside against top corners, you need speed and/or size.

The good news is that there are plenty of quality free agents to choose from and the receiver class in the draft is outstanding. The Eagles can literally pick the kind of player they want. It is simply a matter of figuring out who fits best and what their draft value is. In an ideal world, the player would also help in the return game. 

Beyond these spots, the Eagles are looking for talent upgrades or depth.  Cornerback could be a position to watch. The Eagles have good starters in Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel. Will the Eagles keep all three? Curtis Marsh had a strong training camp and is a player to watch this year.  Brandon Hughes is another young guy that the Eagles like a lot.  Joselio Hanson once again had a solid year in the slot, but he will turn 31 this summer.  This is another place where the Eagles could look for a player with kick return skills. 

Jonesin' For A Tackle

The Eagles added offensive tackle D.J. Jones from the Ravens.  He was cut by them as they tweaked their roster.  This wasn't a case of the Ravens wanting to get rid of him.  In fact, their offensive line coach had already had a talk with Jones about plans for the future.  He was a player they liked, but they had to make a roster move and he was the guy they cut. 

Jones was a rookie in 2011.  I went back and re-watched some tape of him from Nebraska's 2010 season.  Jones started 17 games at Nebraska, all at right tackle.  He has good lateral agility.  Jones is a good run blocker.  He can play in Howard Mudd's system.  Tackles fire off the ball or move laterally.  Jones does both well.  In a system where he had to make a traditional vertical pass set, I think he'd have some issues.  With good pro coaching (which he'll definitely get from Mudd), Jones could become a quality backup tackle.  I don't know that I would ever project him starting, but he's good competition for a backup spot on the line.  Plus, if he gets Mudd's seal of approval, you can sure bet he'll get mine.

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