Eagles safety Jarrett attracting attention for wrong reasons

Posted: August 14, 2012

BETHLEHEM — In the NFL, totally whiffing on a second-round draft pick is a fairly big deal. You want a second-rounder to become a long-term starter, if not a star.

That's why Jaiquawn Jarrett's inability to cover or tackle very well in last Thursday's preseason opener got a lot of scrutiny. Warning bells had already sounded, when Jarrett couldn't help a beleaguered safety corps as a rookie last season, and wasn't an asset on special teams, either.

In the offseason, before this year's draft, general manager Howie Roseman kept saying one thing he'd learned from 2011 was that if you think your team needs a specific quality, and you see a guy who has that quality, maybe you don't look hard enough at the total package, maybe you project the other stuff more than you should.

Roseman didn't say, "I'm talking here about Jaiquawn Jarrett," but he really didn't have to. Coming out of the 2011 draft, Roseman was pumped because Jarrett, from Temple, was a hitter, the best tackling safety in the draft, the Eagles felt.

In the NFL, though, it is hard to hit what you can't catch. Jarrett isn't real speedy. He also has a fairly narrow build, at 6-feet, 196; it isn't clear he can deliver devastating blows the way he did in the MAC. And there's the fact that he still seems confused in coverage — Jarrett acknowledged Sunday he was responsible for that easy pitch-and-catch for the first Steelers touchdown in the preseason opener.

Like a lefthanded power pitcher in baseball, an NFL second-round draft choice is going to get every chance to make it. But Jarrett — a surprise starter Thursday, with Nate Allen sitting out because of a minor hamstring problem — might be running low on chances already. Sunday, he split second-team reps with Tom Nelson, a veteran safety the Eagles brought in late last season strictly for special-teams help, after Colt Anderson tore his ACL. There is another vet newcomer, O.J. Atogwe, currently running with the second team, who probably projects ahead of Jarrett once Atogwe finishes learning the defense.

"During training camp and preseason, you have every practice, and games to give you a full evaluation," Roseman said Sunday, when asked about Jarrett's situation.

Under Andy Reid, the Eagles have never cut a second-round pick before his second season. Linebacker Quinton Caver, a 2001 second-rounder, departed Oct. 21 of his second season — Caver couldn't learn Jim Johnson's defense and was a disaster on special teams. Linebacker Matt McCoy, a 2005 second-rounder, was cut during his third season, after entering his second Eagles season as a starter. Those are really the only Reid Era comparables.

"That's how it goes," Jarrett said of the Nelson move. "I'm going to continue to do what I do, go out here and get better ... The game was very disappointing … I watched the film, to see what I needed to correct … I took poor angles on tackles, I didn't play with the sense of urgency I needed to play with."

Jarrett said he feels he can correct his angles by taking another step before he launches.

"J.J. played hard," defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said Sunday. "He did some good things, and there were some things we'll correct, with a [practice] tackle circuit, with the angles, understanding where your leverage is. The way we want to tackle, we want to run through everything, but there will be some things we'll correct and we'll be OK."

Castillo said Jarrett "has had a good camp ... You can't take away the training camp that he has had."

Does Jarrett feel pressure?

"You always want to get out there and perform," Jarrett said. "When you don't perform the way you want to and the way they look forward to you performing, a lot goes into that … [the number of chances he gets] is in God's hands. I just go out there every day, every practice and give it everything I've got ... You can't think too far ahead."

Atogwe was franchised by the Rams in 2009. He's 31 now and has an injury history, but you'd think he might be impatient to get the kind of chance Jarrett got in the preseason opener, to make good on the challenge to starters Allen and Kurt Coleman coaches projected when Atogwe was signed in June.

"I'm not really concerned with that," Atogwe said Sunday. "The opportunities they give me, I'm going to make the most of them, be faithful, and really just serve in any way possible."

Atogwe stood up for Jarrett's potential.

"Sometimes you get in the game, you get a little flustered or whatever, you have your eyes in the wrong place, and that'll lead you to take a bad angle, but day in and day out, I've seen him take great angles to the ball and make great plays," Atogwe said, He's definitely capable of it."

Coleman also defended Jarrett.

“J.J., he's a great player, he's a hard, hard worker," Coleman said. "I just tell him, ‘Be confident in yourself. No matter what happens, be confident in your abilities and what you do. You got here for a reason, you were selected second round for a reason. You got it; just continue to work your way and you'll be there.' "

The Eagles did a lot of red-zone work Sunday. That was where the Birds' first-team defense gave up the Jarrett-coverage touchdown Thursday, to the Steelers' second-team offense. On third and goal from the Eagles' 2, corner Nnamdi Asomugha released wideout Emmanuel Sanders to Jarrett, who didn't pick him up. Asomugha and Jarrett looked at each other.

"Red zone's all about communication," Atogwe said. "Field gets short, it's all about how fast you can communicate, how in sync everybody is, being on the same page. That's all it is. It's a timing game down there, and everybody has to know where you're going to be at, you gotta play as one … It's just [a matter of] practice. Once it clicks, it's in."

Nelson, who played 2 years for the Bengals, starting three games in 2009, talked Sunday about playing safety in the NFL.

"Safety is a smart man's position," Nelson said. "You have to be able to anticipate, and basically know what's coming before it happens." n

Contact Les Bowen at bowenl@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.eagletarian.com.

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