Eagles young safeties looking to make an impact

Eagles defensive backs (from left) Kurt Coleman, Tom Nelson, Jaiquawn Jarrett, and Jeremy Stewart wait their turn during drills at the NovaCare complex.
Eagles defensive backs (from left) Kurt Coleman, Tom Nelson, Jaiquawn Jarrett, and Jeremy Stewart wait their turn during drills at the NovaCare complex. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 25, 2012

Nate Allen tracked Clay Harbor. The two Eagles raced across the middle of the field.

As a pass flew in, Allen reached with his left hand, and swatted the ball to the ground. Fellow safety Kurt Coleman was waiting to congratulate him.

Crouching, they slapped hands low four times - Allen swinging right, left, right, left - then each swung an arm overhead, connecting at the inside of their elbows.

The pair of safeties, one laid back, one emotional, one a highly touted second-round pick, one a seventh-rounder, have been close since they arrived together in the 2010 draft. Allen and Coleman will be two of the most-watched Eagles of the summer as they try to solidify a position that featured a revolving and unsteady cast a year ago.

"Kurt's one of my good friends and we just feel good back there together," Allen said Wednesday after the Eagles second full-team offseason practice. "A lot of times we can just look at each other and know what's going on, give each other eye contact, and we can just keep building."

Allen and Coleman started nine games together last season, the most regular pairing of a safety group that often struggled. Each mixed flashes of promise and interceptions with mistakes and missed tackles. Each was benched for a stretch.

Instead of trying to bolster the position with a veteran, though, the Eagles are hoping a full, healthy offseason can help Allen, Coleman, and Jaiquawn Jarrett, a 2011 second-round pick. The team needs two of them to emerge as dependable starters.

"It wasn't always the best situation all the time last year, but we just went off what we had and just tried to make as many plays as we could," Allen said.

Coleman, the most vocal of the group, pointed out that the safeties combined for six interceptions, as many as the team's cornerbacks did.

"That says something, but at the same time, we also did things wrong. So we know that and I think we have a lot of room to improve," Coleman said. "That's what this whole offseason is about."

None of the young safeties have had a complete offseason in the NFL until now.

Allen, a 2010 second-round pick, has shown the most potential, and he also faces the highest expectations because of his draft status.

"I know it's there," said Allen, easygoing and reserved. "I'm just going to play my game and not worry about what the media is saying or what the fans are saying and just go out and help the team however I can."

He has looked great sometimes, ordinary others. His development was slowed by a torn patellar tendon late in his rookie year. Pain and stiffness lingered into last season.

"Consistency, that's the name of the game," he said. His knee is "a heck of a lot" better, which should help.

He is mostly noted for his cover skills, and the Eagles are planning to use Allen more on blitzes.

"Us bringing pressure, that'll create a lot of turnovers," he said.

Coleman, thoughtful off the field, combative on it, relies on intelligence and toughness more than pure athleticism. Despite the Eagles' big investment in Jarrett, Coleman is working with the first team and seems to have the inside track to the starting job.

"You love to be at that top, starting spot, that's what you work for every single year," Coleman said. "I'm just going to do my job each and every day and allow the rest to take care of itself."

Jarrett, a rookie last year, saw little playing time and did little when he did get on the field. The Eagles hope a year of learning will help.

"It's hard to play fast when you're hesitant, but this offseason has been tremendous for me," said Jarrett, who said he bulked up to 203 pounds, about seven pounds heavier than last year. "I am shooting to get the starting job. Everyone knows that. Kurt knows that, and he's shooting to keep the starting job. We're going to compete every day."

Clayton has surgery.

Linebacker Keenan Clayton had surgery Tuesday to repair a sports hernia.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari.

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