Paul Domowitch: Eagles still have a safety issue

The Eagles are confident Kurt Coleman can get the job done at strong safety.
The Eagles are confident Kurt Coleman can get the job done at strong safety. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: May 16, 2012

THE GENERAL consensus of folks outside the walls of One NovaCare Way in January was that the Eagles' two biggest offseason fix-it jobs were linebacker and safety.

In a mild upset, the folks inside the walls of One NovaCare Way actually agreed with the folks outside the walls on one of those two things. After years of getting by at linebacker with duct tape and mid- and late-round picks, the Eagles have been very aggressive in trying to upgrade the position, trading for two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans in late March, and then selecting their likely season-opening starting strongside linebacker, Mychal Kendricks, in the second round of the draft last month.

The folks inside the walls don't share the same opinion as the folks outside the walls on the safety position, though. While you and I might not be crazy about their two options at strong safety - Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett - the Eagles insist they have the utmost confidence in both of them, as well as starting free safety Nate Allen.

"We're excited about our group of safeties,'' general manager Howie Roseman said a couple of weeks ago.

So excited that the Eagles, who spent second-round picks the previous 2 years on safeties (Allen in 2010, Jarrett in 2011), didn't use any of their nine draft picks on the position last month. And just one of the 15 undrafted free agents they brought to the 3-day rookie camp that concluded Monday - Phillip Thomas of Syracuse - was a safety.

"I like the things that I've seen from our safeties,'' head coach Andy Reid said. "I saw them go through that maturation process [last year]. Young guys, you have to give them an opportunity to grow a little bit.''

That maturation process was frequently rocky. The Eagles gave up 27 touchdown passes last season, the seventh most in the league. According to STATS, their linebackers gave up 10 of them and their safeties eight.

Their safeties were targeted 93 times and gave up 52 completions. Opponents averaged 20.2 yards per catch on those 52 completions. That's 3.3 yards per catch more than the safeties for any of last year's six NFC playoff teams.

Allen, who ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee late in his rookie season, struggled early on last year as he made a slow recovery from the injury. But he played well in November and December.

"Nate was playing at a really high level as a rookie before he got hurt,'' Roseman said. "Last year, because of the lockout and the problems guys had rehabbing, you saw a lot of guys who were slow coming back from injuries. We knew it was going to take Nate some time to get right.

"But he's all the way back now. He's got all the skills you look for in a safety. He's an incredible athlete. He's a smart kid. He's got really good ball skills. He can cover. He can tackle. He can blitz.''

I don't disagree at all with Roseman on Allen. While he might not be Earl Thomas, he's a solid safety with excellent cover skills, which is a must in today's NFL.

The concerns, at least outside the NovaCare walls, come at the other safety spot. Coleman, a 2010 seventh-round pick, started 13 games last season and, according to Reid, will head into the spring OTAs as the starter at strong safety.

Coleman plays hard, but is better suited for a role as a backup and core special-teamer than a starter. He's not a particularly good cover guy. He had a team-high four interceptions last season, but three of them came against charitable Rex Grossman in a mid-October win over the Redskins.

He misses too many tackles because he has a tendency to go for the kill shot rather than wrap up receivers and ballcarriers. And his 5-10, 195-pound body really isn't built for the rigors of a 16-game marathon.

According to STATS, Coleman was targeted 34 times last season and gave up 20 completions for a team-high 465 yards and four touchdowns. The only Eagle defender who gave up more touchdown passes than Coleman was linebacker Brian Rolle, who gave up five.

"Kurt's been productive every time he's played for us,'' Roseman said. "He makes plays. He's a smart guy. He can play either spot. He's effective on special teams. He's just a good player. We had a fourth-round grade on him when we drafted him.''

Which brings us to Jarrett. In a perfect Eagles world, he will show up at Lehigh in late July, take the starting job away from Coleman and never look back. But that may be wishful thinking.

As a rookie, he was a disappointment. The 4 1/2-month lockout forced him to try to learn Juan Castillo's defensive system in a hurry, and he never really got his arms around it. Because of that, he didn't get on the field much, and despite a reputation as a big hitter, failed to even make an impact on special teams.

But the Eagles are hoping Jarrett will benefit from a full offseason of field and classroom work and hit the ground running when he gets to Lehigh.

"We'll see,'' Reid said. "Last year, he was doing too much thinking and not enough playing. That's going to slow you down. He's not the fastest guy in the world as it is, but he's fast enough.

"You didn't see the big hits that you saw out of him at the college level. He's a big hitter. Once he gets comfortable with everything, and it looked like he was picking things up as the year went on, I expect him to do good things.''

It's still possible the Eagles could bring in a veteran safety between now and the start of training camp. But they're not inclined to do that right now, and the list of available free-agent safeties hardly makes your mouth water. Most of them - Yeremiah Bell, Chris Hope, Deon Grant, Oshiomogho Atogwe - are on the downside of their careers.

So, for better or worse, what you see likely is what you're going to get when training camp opens.


Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com or on Twitter at @Pdomo. Read the Daily News' Eagles blog at www.eagletarian.com.

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