Eagles Camp Countdown: #1 – Safeties
The Eagles have four players on the roster that could start at safety, and the position is one of their primary weaknesses heading into training camp.
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, both entering their third seasons, return as the starters. Jaiquawn Jarrett hopes to challenge for a spot in his second season, while the Birds signed O.J. Atogwe for a veteran presence.
The 31-year-old also eyes a starting spot.
“I want everybody competing for a starting position, that’s what I want,” said head coach Andy Reid. “I’m not taking anything away from [Allen] or [Coleman], I mean those are good football players, but [Atogwe] is here to do that.”
Of the four, Allen is the closest to a sure thing to start. The Birds took the safety in the second round in 2010, and he quickly earned a starting job.
It appeared Allen was en route to establishing himself as a quality starter before injuries knocked him off course.
Allen tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in Week 15 of 2010 and struggled to regain his confidence in the knee last season. Just when it seemed he was returning to form last year, the former USF Bull suffered a concussion in Week 9.
Allen missed the following game and again lost his rhythm. He finished 2011 with 46 solo tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defended.
While Coleman held a starting job for 13 games last year, the 2010 seventh round pick was always an underdog to play a big role with the Birds. Coleman finished 2011 with 56 solo tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble, but has to hold off Jarrett, a second round pick in 2011, and Atogwe, an experienced veteran.
Jarrett, a Temple alum, struggled to get onto the field last year primarily due to his difficulties learning the playbook. In a perfect world, Allen and Jarrett would establish themselves as the starters, giving the Birds a quality return on their back-to-back second round draft picks.
Atogwe was one of the more sought after free agents heading into 2011, but the Redskins released him after he played just 13 games, starting eight, limited by injuries. Atogwe finished the season with 35 solo tackles and three picks.
His numbers have been on the decline since he caused 27 turnovers from 2006 through 2008, through a combination of 11 forced fumbles and 16 interceptions. Atogwe has picked off eight passes and forced five fumbles in three years since.
The Eagles also have a talented undrafted free agent on the roster in Phillip Thomas, but unless Atogwe isn’t healthy, it’ll be tough for the Syracuse product to make the roster.
Thomas had six interceptions and led the Orange with 82 tackles in 10 games last year before he was suspended for the team.
Allen and Coleman will go into training camp as the starters, and they’ll hold those positions going into the season. Jarrett will need to shine in pre-season games, as his strengths are his physicality and tackling, two elements that don’t stand out in practice. Expect Atogwe to be waiting in the wings if Allen or Coleman falter.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.