Paul Domowitch: Safety first? Eagles didn't think they'd have to think about that

Santana Moss beats Kurt Coleman and snags a touchdown pass in the last meeting between the Eagles and Redskins.DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Santana Moss beats Kurt Coleman and snags a touchdown pass in the last meeting between the Eagles and Redskins.DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: December 23, 2012

One of the last things that should be on the Eagles' shopping list this offseason is safeties. But there it is, right near the tippy-top, right there after finding a new head coach.

Yeah, even with Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans coming back, they need another offensive lineman, unless you believe that the light bulb finally will go on for Danny Watkins next season or that Dennis Kelly can be a 16-game starter.

Yeah, that defensive line that looked so damn deep in training camp could use another difference-maker or two.

Yeah, cornerback is a concern, particularly if they let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie take a free-agent powder. And, yeah, they really need to do better than Jamar Chaney at strongside linebacker.

But safety is the most glaring positional need heading into the offseason, even though it shouldn't be. The Eagles spent second-round draft picks in both 2010 and 2011 on safeties, taking Nate Allen with the 37th overall pick in '10 and Temple's Jaiquawn Jarrett with the 54th overall pick in '11.

The plan was for Jarrett and Allen to be their safeties for the next 10 years. But the plan was bad. Jarrett turned out to be a bust and was released in September, only 17 months after the Eagles drafted him.

Allen was benched this week because he hasn't been playing very well for a while now. The two starting safeties against the Redskins Sunday will be Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson.

Both are undersized, overachieving mutts. Coleman was a seventh-rounder. Anderson was an undrafted free agent who was signed off the Vikings' practice squad. Both should be core special-teamers. Neither belongs in an NFL starting lineup. But that's where the Eagles are right now.

After drafting Jarrett, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and coach Andy Reid talked glowingly about his hitting and tackling ability. Made him sound like the second coming of Ronnie Lott.

"Jaiquawn did a lot of good things in college," said Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, another former Temple safety, who wasn't with the team when it drafted Jarrett. "You saw some big hits. You saw everything you thought you wanted to see.

"He probably was a little short on the athletic side. You take a chance on those guys, thinking you can nurture them and mature them. Some pan out, some don't. There's a bunch of guys like Jaiquawn that make it and there's a bunch that don't."

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they seem to keep picking the ones who don't. Allen isn't quite the bust Jarrett was. Has better coverage skills. But hasn't tackled well, hasn't made many plays and has been involved in far too many blown coverages the last two seasons.

The Eagles likely will have a top-five pick in the April draft, no top-five safeties are coming out. No top-10 ones, either. The best of the bunch is 6-0, 210-pound Kenny Vaccaro, of Texas, a do-it-all type with the size to hit and the speed to cover. He figures to be a midround pick. At this point, Vaccaro looks like the only first-round-worthy safety in the draft, which means it's probably back to playing guessing games with one in the second and third rounds.

"In college, offenses are so spread out that everybody's playing with corners and nobody's playing with safeties,'' Bowles said. "So when they come into the league, there's kind of a shortage of tacklers and that type of thing.

"You want a guy that's going to make plays. You're looking for an instinctive guy. More than height, weight, speed, you want somebody with instincts and intelligence that can tackle."

Said Eagles secondary coach Mike Zordich, who spent 12 years as an NFL safety: "The whole game has gotten a little faster in the last 12 to 15 years. But not counting the speed, I think you still have to be able to have a [safety] that knows the defense in and out and is able to be the quarterback of the defense back there and make all the calls and make all of the adjustments. Work with the MIKE linebacker and get everybody lined up. That to me is what you need most, besides the obvious physical part of playing the position."

Zordich echoed Bowles' sentiment that it's tough to evaluate safeties coming out of college because of all the spread offenses in the college game.

"They play the game different in college," he said. "You just don't find that kind of safety anymore. They're more of a corner than a pure safety. You want a hybrid, but within that hybrid, you want a guy that's physical as well as mental. And then be able to cover guys and be able to cover space and be able to tackle in the open field. It's a position that requires a whole lot."

McNabb on being traded

Since trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins on Easter Sunday 2010, the Eagles are 22-25 and have made the playoffs only once in the last 3 years. McNabb clearly disagreed with the team's decision to get rid of him after 11 seasons, but he said he has taken no satisfaction in their struggles.

"All of us that have played here, we bleed green," McNabb said Thursday on " Daily News Live" on Comcast SportsNet.

"If I decide to retire here or not or whatever, we had years of a lot of success, a lot of fun. Friendships that were built. I was happy about what we were able to do."

McNabb, 36, who spent this season doing TV work for NFL Network and CSn, thinks the Eagles would have been much more successful the last three years if they had kept him.

"I had no control over the way things went after I was trade," he said. "Do I look back and say, 'Hey, things would've been different if I had been here?' Of course. When you build around a player, it gives the player an opportunity to flourish and showcase his talent and see how far he can go. And we went very far.

"It was unfortunate the year I got traded. We lost in the playoffs, lost to the Dallas Cowboys. We were 11-4 going into the last game of the season. That's a great season in the NFC East. But we lost, then lost a week later in the playoffs [to the Cowboys again] and things happen. I was the one to get traded. They decided to go with their young guys that they felt was going to grow them."

Does he have any hard feelings about being traded? Is the pope Catholic?

"I was pissed," he said. "I explained that to them. I felt like there was no reason for me to be traded. I thought it was more financial than just kind of moving on. I can understand if a player's not playing well. You kind of want to transition to the younger guys. But we were playing well.

"There was no full explanation of why. I knew it had to do with me having 1 year left on my deal. Peyton Manning had 1 year left. Tom [Brady] had 1 year left. We were all slotted in the financial aspect of what we were going to receive. Hey, things didn't work out and I move on."

Quick hits

* Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will get my vote for both NFL comeback player of the year and the Associated Press' league MVP. His remarkable return from a torn ACL trumps Peyton Manning's multiple neck surgeries for the comeback award. Quarterbacks usually win the MVP award because, well, you're not supposed to be able to win in this league without a good quarterback. Only two of the last 12 MVP winners have been running backs - LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and Shaun Alexander in 2005.

Manning is fourth in the league in passing, third in touchdown passes and third in completion percentage. But the 11-3 Broncos have a defense that is fourth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed and third in sacks per pass play. The Patriots' Tom Brady is fifth in passing, first in third-down passing, second in passing yards and tied for first in touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. But he has a 100-catch slot receiver and two outstanding pass-catching tight ends and a defense that leads the AFC in takeaways.

Peterson? He's managed to run away with the league rushing title and challenge Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record and keep the Vikings in the playoff hunt not only with a surgically repaired left knee, but a one-dimensional offense that has Christian Ponder at quarterback. Ponder is 25th in the league in passing, 34th in yards per attempt and 36th in touchdown passes. And, yes, there only are 32 teams in the league. Almost every time Peterson touches the ball, the opposing defense has eight - and sometimes nine - men in the box. Unlike other running backs, he seldom gets the opportunity to run against two-linebacker nickel packages. And yet, he has managed to carry a team that lost 13 games last season to an 8-6 record. Without Peterson, the Vikings would be staring down the barrel of a second straight 3-13 season.

* The Eagles have an interesting decision to make on Michael Vick. Not whether to keep him or not. I think that decision already has been made. The decision is when to get rid of him. They have a 3-day window after the Super Bowl when they can release the 32-year-old quarterback and not have to pay him the remaining $3 million in guaranteed money on his contract. But they may prefer to hang on to him until March when the league's trading period opens and see whether they can get a draft pick for him.

Figuring the Eagles

* With two games left, the Eagles have only seven interceptions, which is tied for the fewest in the league with the Chiefs, Steelers and Cowboys. The franchise record for fewest interceptions in a season is eight in 1983. Twice they've had nine - in '98 and '76 (14 games).

* The Eagles' 12 total takeaways are the second fewest in the league behind the Colts' 10. The franchise record for fewest takeaways in a season since they began keeping track of fumbles back in 1941 is 17 in '98.

By Quarter

Att.-Yds. Avg.

First. . . 87-343 3.9

Second. . . 87-464 5.3

Third. . . 105-475 4.5

Fourth. . . 135-426 3.2

By Down

First. . . 228-993 4.4

Second. . . 138-517 3.7

Third. . . 45-194 4.3

Fourth. . . 5-4 0.8

* Opposing tight ends have averaged 10.9 yards per catch and running backs 6.9 this season. Last year, tight ends averaged 11.6 yards per catch against the Eagles and running backs 9.6. Tight ends and running backs have caught five touchdown passes against the Eagles. Last year, they caught nine.


Email: pdomo@aolcom


On Twitter: @pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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