Predicting Two-Deep Philadelphia Eagles Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp

Randy JobstSenior Analyst IJune 11, 2012

Predicting Two-Deep Philadelphia Eagles Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp

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    Andy Reid and his coaching staff now have a pretty good idea of what their depth chart looks like. It's important to have a good idea of who your starters are at this point and who the key reserves are as well.

    Training camp isn't as much about position battles as it is about chemistry and shaking the rust off. That doesn't mean your depth chart won't change, but you need to get your starters on the field together at this point.

    Right now, all the Eagles' major position battles are players battling for the top reserve spot, not for a starting job. Maybe the weak-side linebacker battle is the only real battle for a starting position that has any merit.

    This is a good thing. There will be a lot of competition for some of the final roster spots and some key reserve roles, but the starters are pretty much set. That means a lot more chemistry will be built up this summer.

    Last summer, the Eagles had no OTAs, no minicamp and a shortened training camp. They also had several positions that looked very unclear heading into preseason. That won't be the case this season. It will be about getting the first-team unit to be the best first-team unit they can be.

    Here is a very early prediction—heading into the upcoming full team minicamp and before training camp—of what the depth chart will look like with starters and second-stringers.

Quarterback: Starter, Michael Vick; Backup, Mike Kafka

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    Michael Vick will be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. That isn't exactly a bold prediction. Vick has the job locked up, with not much experience behind him.

    Vick looks poised to have a big season, similar to the type of year he had in 2010 when he threw for 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He should get back to the numbers he put up in 2010 if he continues to look as good as he has at the Eagles OTAs.

    Vick is getting rid of the ball very quickly, which is vital for the health of Vick this season. The longer he holds the ball, the more likely he is to take a serious hit from a defender. He has also been throwing a beautiful ball over the middle.

    There may not be a player that will benefit from the full offseason program more than Vick this summer.

    The OTAs are really passing camps for NFL teams. There is no hitting and no pads. The running game cannot be judged properly without hitting and neither can the battle in the trenches. Coverage of the defensive backs and the timing between the quarterbacks and the receivers can be.

    Nobody is supposed to win or lose either a starting or a backup job during OTAs, but it appears that Mike Kafka has. He was that great and Trent Edwards was that bad.

    Kafka has always been a pretty accurate quarterback with a very quick release; what he has worked on this offseason is improving his arm strength. He has hit the weight room hard this offseason and has really improved his throwing stance. He is allowing the power in his legs to help him drive the ball downfield.

    It was evident last season that Kafka didn't have the arm strength to be a quality NFL quarterback. He is doing a lot to change everyone's mind about his ability to win games if Vick goes down to injury.

    Nothing short of an injury will keep Mike Kafka out of the backup quarterback role behind Michael Vick.

Running Back: Starter, LeSean McCoy; Backup, Dion Lewis

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    If LeSean McCoy can manage to stay healthy, he will be the Eagles' starting running back for the next five seasons. He is an elusive runner who catches the ball well out of the backfield. McCoy is also one of the best running backs in pass protection as well.

    The one area where McCoy always gets criticized is his lack of ability to convert short-yardage situations. This couldn't be further from the truth, as he converted 72 percent of his third- or fourth-down carries into either first downs or touchdowns. When you compare that to the NFL's leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew, who had a 54 percent short-yardage conversion rate, McCoy is one of the best at converting third and fourth downs.

    McCoy will need a reliable backup running back to spell carries with if he is going to stay healthy over the next five or six seasons. Right now, Dion Lewis looks to be that key backup.

    Lewis has the benefit of already playing a full season behind McCoy. Lewis is a similar player, as he has the quick feet and the strong lower body that have made McCoy a very good back in this league. What Lewis has improve is his pass-blocking and his ability as a receiver.

    If he does that, he will easily earn the backup role, a role that should earn him seven to 10 touches a game this season.

Fullback: Starter, Stanley Havili

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    Fullback is Stanley Havili's position to lose this summer. He doesn't have a veteran to compete with. The only reason the Eagles coaches would have to bring in a veteran to compete with him at camp is if he gave them a reason to doubt him.

    The Eagles don't run the type of offense that would best utilize a fullback like Lawrence Vickers or Vonta Leach. Their offense needs a fullback who is more athlete than lead blocker. The West Coast fullback still has to be able to run-block, but it isn't his first priority.

    Havili fits in perfectly for what the Eagles need from their fullback. In four seasons at USC, Havili had 116 receptions for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also chipped in 509 rushing yards on 6.3 yards per carry and three touchdowns on the ground.

    The only factor that will keep Havili from losing his starting role is if proves to be an inadequate lead blocker.

Wide Receiver: Starters, Jackson/Maclin; Reserves, Cooper/McNutt

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    DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have become one of the most dangerous receiving duos in football. Neither player put up the numbers they are capable of in 2011, though.

    Jeremy Maclin got off to a slow start due to a cancer scare in the summer. He saw his weight drop down to 180 pounds at one point. He was able to recover very quickly, as he got off to a hot start in the first half of the season with 44 catches and 606 yards.

    Shoulder and hamstring injuries led to just 253 yards the rest of the season, though. He was on pace for over 1,200 yards and 88 receptions.

    Maclin enters the 2012 season completely healthy and focused on breaking out in a big way. His role will be the number one receiver and Michael Vick's most reliable outside target.

    DeSean Jackson will line up opposite of Maclin. Jackson isn't the Eagles' true number one receiver, but he is the most important. He forces safeties to play 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. His elite speed and quickness is impossible to defend with one player. He opens things up for the rest of his teammates.

    Marvin McNutt and Riley Cooper will serve as the primary reserve outside receivers. Jason Avant served in this role last season, but with both McNutt and Cooper on the roster now, it would make more sense to keep Avant in the slot.

    McNutt and Cooper are both taller, more physical receivers who could see extended playing time in the red zone.

    All four of these receivers give the Eagles something different on offense. They give Vick a lot of weapons on offense to stretch the field.

Slot Receiver: Starter, Jason Avant; Reserve, Damaris Johnson

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    Both the slot receiver and slot cornerback position have become very specific positions for a specific skill set. No longer is the third-string wide receiver and cornerback relegated to this role.

    Jason Avant is ideal in the slot. He does his best work over the middle of the field in traffic.

    Avant's crisp route-running ability and soft hands make him an ideal slot receiver. The Eagles would be smart to keep him in the slot, with Riley Cooper and Marvin McNutt serving as reliable backups on the outside.

    Damaris Johnson will see some time in the slot during camp as well. Johnson is a speedy but undersized receiver at 5'8", 170. His sharp cuts and agility make him a dangerous player in the slot. He is also a dangerous return man.

    Johnson is the all-time leader in all-purpose yards (7,796) and kickoff return yardage (3,417). He also had 150 plays of at least 20 yards or more in college while at Tulsa.

    He has really gotten the attention of both his coaches and his teammates. Every day at the OTAs he made his case that he belongs on this team. Right now, he is a key reserve slot receiver who we should see line up opposite of Avant in the slot at some point in both training camp and preseason.

Tight End: Starter, Brent Celek; Backup, Clay Harbor

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    The tight end position starts and ends with Brent Celek in Philadelphia. Clay Harbor is just lucky to be a part of it. Celek battled through injuries throughout the 2011 season, from which he has nearly fully recovered. He had surgery on a torn labrum and a sports hernia this offseason.

    Celek was second on the team with 62 receptions, third on the team with 811 yards and tied for first with five touchdowns. He should put up even bigger numbers this season as he will be relied upon less as a pass-blocker and will be 100 percent healthy.

    The way Harbor plays in 2012 will determine his long-term status, but he should remain the number two tight end. He will get some competition in training camp from Brett Brackett, but he should remain the number two. Brackett was a former college wide receiver, back in 2010, and he spent most of last season on the practice squad.

    Harbor has just 22 career receptions in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. He should see more playing time this season, but only if he produces on the field. The Eagles could keep Brackett on the practice squad for a second season and possibly promote him to the 53-man roster if Harbor fails to produce in his third season.

Left Tackle: Starter, Demetress Bell; Backup, King Dunlap

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    Left tackle won't be an open competition this summer, as some expected it might be after Jason Peters was lost for the season. When the Eagles signed Demetress Bell, they got the perfect left tackle for Howard Mudd's blocking scheme.

    Bell didn't wow anybody as the starting left tackle in Buffalo. It was a bad fit for him. Their blocking schemes better utilize bigger tackles than they do great athletes like Bell. Mudd will get the most out of Bell this season and turn him into the quality starter he struggled to be in Buffalo.

    King Dunlap will serve as the primary backup at offensive tackle. He has made starts at both tackle spots and could fill in at either side this season. In camp and preseason, Dunlap will most likely play left tackle with the second unit.

    He isn't enough of an athlete to beat out a player like Demetress Bell at left tackle, but he will serve as a very valuable backup tackle for the Eagles in 2012.

Left Guard: Starter, Evan Mathis; Backup, Julian Vandervelde

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    Evan Mathis is now the star of the offensive line. He was one of the top-rated offensive linemen in 2011 for good reason. His rare combination of athleticism and power make him an ideal guard in a West Coast offense. He gets a good push on inside runs and in pass protection will also getting upfield on screens and draws.

    Julian Vandervelde is a part of a very crowded group or reserve interior linemen. For now, he will be either the left guard or the right guard on the second unit.

    Vandervelde has big summer ahead of him. The Eagles will keep two, maybe three reserve interior linemen. They just drafted Brandon Washington, a guard out of Miami with a lot of potential. They also have three players in Mike Gibson, Dallas Reynolds and Steve Vallos, who can play both guard and center.

    Vandervelde has to prove he is the most polished backup interior linemen on the roster and that he can be trusted to make a spot start in case of injury to either Evan Mathis or Danny Watkins. For now, he is still a key backup guard.

Center: Starter, Jason Kelce; Backup, Mike Gibson

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    Jason Kelce was one of the best late-round steals of the 2011 NFL draft. He came out of Cincinnati as a undersized center that most NFL teams didn't have any interest in drafting. The Eagles took a chance on him based on how well he could fit in Howard Mudd's blocking scheme.

    Now, the Eagles have one of the best young centers in the game.

    Kelce made all 16 starts in his rookie season despite having little time to adjust to both the offense and a unique blocking scheme. He played around 285 pounds, and it showed at times during the season. He was solid in pass protection and at making blocks upfield.

    What he struggled with was getting a push against defensive tackles in the running game.

    Kelce is expected to add bulk this offseason in the weight room. His ideal playing weight should be closer to 295 or 300 pounds. Increased upper-body strength is the only thing keeping Kelce from becoming a Pro Bowl center. He allowed just one sack in 2011 and was one of the best screen-blocking interior linemen in football last season.

    Kelce's backup is a bit more in question. Mike Gibson is the favorite right now. He is the most experienced center outside of Kelce on the roster, with eight career starts and 20 career games.

    For now, Gibson should be considered the favorite to back up Kelce at center. Steve Vallos and Dallas Reynolds have also seen time time at center, so it will be an open competition all summer long.

    Gibson may have the most experience, but eight starts hardly labels a player "experienced."

Right Guard: Starter, Danny Watkins; Backup, Brandon Washington

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    Danny Watkins was the final piece of the offensive line to fall into place in 2011. Once Watkins earned a starting role on the line, the Eagles offense started to really come together.

    Before the Eagles started Watkins at right guard, they were 1-3. They went 7-5 the rest of the way with Watkins as a starter and 5-1 with the entire offensive line together with a healthy Michael Vick.

    Watkins' success in 2011 was largely unnoticed. He improved each week and didn't give up a single sack in his 12 starts. He wasn't the first-round pick that most fans wanted last season, but he has been the most successful first-round pick for the Eagles since Jeremy Maclin in 2009.

    Watkins' backup will probably be the same as Evan Mathis's backup once the roster gets cut down to 53. For now, Brandon Washington should be the number two right guard. Washington is still a little raw, but he has the athleticism and strength to really dominate defensive tackles in this league.

Right Tackle: Starter, Todd Herremans; Backup, D.J. Jones

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    Evan Mathis and Jason Peters were the best offensive linemen on the Eagles line last year in terms of performance, but Todd Herremans was the most valuable. His versatility on the line allowed him to make the switch from left guard to right tackle right before the regular season started.

    Herremans and Peters were the top offensive tackle duo in football last season. They allowed just seven total sacks in 2011. Herremans' ability to make the switch from left guard to right tackle so close to Week 1 was the key to the success of the line that allowed 17 fewer sacks than it did in 2010.

    The backup right tackle is another mystery heading into training camp. It all depends on how many total tackles they Eagles want to carry in 2012.

    D.J. Jones is penciled in as the backup right tackle. He hasn't played in an NFL regular-season game yet, but he does have the potential to be a future starter in Howard Mudd's blocking scheme.

    Jones spent the 2011 season on the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. The Eagles claimed him off waivers after the 2011 season concluded.

    Jones is almost like an undrafted free agent this season for the Eagles. He was an undrafted free agent last season but didn't spend any part of the season with the Eagles. He is a bit of a long shot to make the team, but right now he is the fourth-best offensive tackle on the team.

    The Eagles' fifth-round draft pick from last April's draft, Dennis Kelly, will fit into the Eagles plans at offensive tackle somehow. Kelly is very raw and stiff. He isn't ready to take on defensive ends in the NFL yet; he is a project.

    The Eagles could decide to keep four offensive tackles, with Kelly being the fourth tackle and most likely be on the inactive list each week.

Left Defensive End: Starter, Jason Babin; Backup, Vinny Curry

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    The left defensive end position in the Eagles defense has one job to do the majority of the time: to get after the quarterback. The Eagles could mix in defensive tackles Fletcher Cox or Cullen Jenkins at defensive end on obvious running downs.

    Jason Babin is as perfect of a fit as there is at left defensive end in the wide-nine scheme run by defensive line coach Jim Washburn. Babin gets after quarterbacks as well as just about anybody. In the last two seasons, his first seasons in the wide-nine scheme, he had a combined 30.5 sacks.

    They Eagles spent their third draft pick in the recent 2012 NFL draft on another pass-rushing specialist, Vinny Curry. Curry doesn't have the power and recognition skills to take on the run in the NFL quite yet. He is ready to give the Eagles a nice pass rush in a backup role right away.

    Curry was the focus of every protection scheme that he went up against in his final two seasons at Marshall. He had a combined 23 sacks, 40 tackles for loss and nine forced fumbles in his final two seasons.

    The Eagles have a volatile one-two punch at left defensive end. They have outstanding pass-rushers who could very easily combine for 20 sacks in 2012.

Right Defensive End: Starter, Trent Cole; Backup, Brandon Graham

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    As good as the combination at left defensive end could be this season, the duo on the right side should be even better.

    Trent Cole is one of the most complete 4-3 ends in football. He has been a steady pass-rusher, ranging from nine to 12 sacks each season the last five years. Cole is even better against the run. He had 41 solo tackles last season.

    Cole will get solid relief from third-year pro Brandon Graham. Graham has been labeled as a bust after his first two seasons, but he suffered an ACL tear late in his first season and was never fully recovered during his second season.

    Now entering his third season, Graham is poised to have a major breakout year. He is back down to his ideal playing weight around 268 pounds and has a serious chip on his shoulder. If he is ever going to prove he was worth a first-round draft pick back in 2010, 2012 is the year.

    Phillip Hunt will also be a part of the equation at defensive end. He looks both stronger and faster this season. He had two sacks and a safety in 2011 in a very limited role.

    Hunt and Darryl Tapp will be the odd men out in the Eagles' four-man rotation. Hunt will be the Eagles' fifth defensive end on the final 53-man roster while Tapp will eventually be cut or traded. That's what happens when you are a part of a very loaded defensive line.

Nose Tackle: Starter, Antonio Dixon; Backup, Derek Landri

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    It's important to understand how the defensive tackles line up in the Eagles defensive line scheme. In the wide-nine scheme, there is a nose tackle and a under tackle the majority of the time. The nose tackle lines up between the left guard and the center, while the under tackle lines up outside of the right guard, closer to the right tackle than to the center.

    The nose tackle is more responsible for drawing double-teams and clogging up the middle, while also being able to penetrate into the backfield. The under tackle is more of an inside pass-rusher whose main job is to get past the right guard.

    Mike Patterson is a big question mark at nose tackle. He is the most experienced defensive tackle on the Eagles roster along with Cullen Jenkins. He has been a big part of the Eagles defense since 2005.

    Patterson is also coming off of a major brain surgery. We don't know how he will come out of a major surgery like that until we see him compete in pads. We can speculate that he should be back to the same level he has been playing for the last seven seasons, but nothing is certain in the NFL.

    I penciled in Antonio Dixon at nose tackle for the Eagles because he is the best run-stuffer on the roster. That's what the nose tackle needs to be able to do in order for the Eagles defense to become truly great. They have the pass rush and talent in the secondary, and now they have linebackers.

    A 320-pound defensive tackle that has established a reputation for being a run-stuffer is what this defense needs.

    2010 was the best example of Dixon's ability as a run-stuffer. The Eagles were starting Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley at defensive tackle during the first four games. In those first four weeks, the Eagles gave up a combined 555 rushing yards.

    Bunkley got hurt in the fifth game of the season and Dixon took over at defensive tackle. In the next four games, the Eagles allowed just 276 rushing yards.

    Derek Landri should be the No. 2 nose tackle. He isn't as dominant as Dixon can be, but his motor is incredible. He plays the game hard and he plays it at one speed.

    He just had a knack for getting behind the line and making plays in the backfield last season. You can't just cut a player like that. He is good for the entire defense.

Under Tackle: Starter, Cullen Jenkins; Backup, Fletcher Cox

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    The under tackle duo of Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox could combine for 10 or 12 sacks this season. Both are strong, physical defensive tackles, but what makes them great inside pass-rushers is their athleticism and their versatility. They can both line up at any defensive line position.

    Cullen Jenkins got off to a great start last season. He had five sacks in the first five games but recorded just a half sack during the final 11 games. Antonio Dixon was lost for the season in Week 4, and Jenkins wore down in an increased role on the line.

    With more depth on the defensive line, Jenkins should put up the type of numbers this season that we thought he would after such a first start last season.

    Fletcher Cox is the player that can help this Eagles defensive line go from great to truly elite. He is potentially a better version of Cullen Jenkins. At Mississippi State, Cox played all four defensive line positions.

    Cox has the strength to clog up holes as a nose tackle and the athleticism to be a dominant inside pass-rusher as an under tackle. He also has the skill set needed to be a solid defensive end against the run.

    Cox really is the complete package at defensive tackle. His technique still needs some work, but that is what OTAs and minicamps are for.

    His weight will draw some skepticism, but it's very misleading. He is listed at just under 300 pounds, but he looks and plays like an athletic 320-pounder. He doesn't carry 20 extra pounds of flab.

    He really is a well-conditioned athlete at defensive tackle. That gives him a huge advantage over offensive linemen who aren't much stronger than he is and certainly aren't as well conditioned as he is.

Weak-Side Linebacker: Starter, Brian Rolle; Backup, Jamar Chaney

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    Linebacker was a mess for the most part last season for the Eagles, but for the most part Brian Rolle was the lone bright spot as the weak-side linebacker. He took over for Casey Matthews after Week 3.

    In Week 3, Casey Matthews, who had just been moved from middle to weak-side linebacker, was burned by Brandon Jacobs on a wheel route for a 27-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

    Matthews was later replaced by Rolle, who covered Giants fullback Henry Hynoski on a similar wheel route. Rolle had perfect coverage and the pass went incomplete.

    Rolle never looked back and was the weak-side linebacker during the final 13 games of the season. The weak-side linebacker isn't an every-down position in the Eagles defense. It's a position used on running downs and most first downs, depending on how the defense lines up.

    Rolle will be a key run defender, but not much else. He fills his role very well. His lack of height (just under 5'11") makes him harder to spot for blockers, and his speed allows him to cover ground very quickly.

    Jamar Chaney will battle Rolle for the weak-side linebacker spot at training camp. Rolle has the advantage of playing the position for nearly a full season last year. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo likes Chaney a lot, but he will still have to prove he is much better than Rolle as the team's weak-side linebacker in order to win the job.

Middle Linebacker: Starter, DeMeco Ryans; Backup, Casey Matthews

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    The middle linebacker position has been a weakness for the Eagles since Jeremiah Trotter was in his prime back in the early 2000s. That will change in 2012.

    The Eagles sent a fourth-round draft pick and swapped third-round draft picks with the Houston Texans for DeMeco Ryans. Ryans had been a star 4-3 middle linebacker before an Achilles' injury and a new defense slowed him down.

    Now Ryans is 100 percent healthy and is back in the 4-3 defense. Back in 2009, his last full season in the 4-3, he was a dominant Pro Bowl player. He had 93 solo tackles, one forced fumble and two pass deflections.

    Ryans should get back to his 2009 form. He is the ideal middle linebacker in a wide-nine scheme. He has the strength to run through blockers but also the athleticism and awareness to just avoid them altogether.

    Ryans' backup in 2012 will be the opening week starter from 2011, Casey Matthews. Matthews was a disaster as the starting middle linebacker last season but they fell more on the coaches than it did himself. He had a short training camp to learn a very difficult position for any rookie to learn.

    Matthews was overwhelmed with everything he had to take on in a short period of time, while also being very undersized for the position. He is now up to 250 pounds and has had plenty of time to pick up the complexities of the position.

    Should he be needed to fill in for Ryans as the middle linebacker at any time in 2012, he should be ready.

Strong-Side Linebacker: Starter, Mychal Kendricks; Backup, Akeem Jordan

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    Strong-side linebacker will be a crucial position for the Eagles' pass defense this season. This will be the position that is responsible for covering the tight end the majority of the time. Mychal Kendricks was taken by the Eagles in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft to be that player.

    Kendricks certainly has the athleticism to stay with any tight end in the NFL. At the 2012 NFL combine, Kendricks ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches. His biggest concern when covering tight ends will be his height. He stands just barely over 5'11".

    Akeem Jordan should serve as the backup strong-side linebacker. He started in seven of the final eight games of the 2011 season. He isn't great in pass coverage but is a reliable run defender.

    Jordan is a veteran linebacker who has been with the Eagles since 2007. He also serves as a solid special teams player.

Outside Corners: Starters, Asomugha/Rodgers-Cromartie; Reserves, Hughes/Marsh

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    There is now a very distinct difference between an outside corner and a slot corner. Some players can play on the outside and inside and some can't. Joselio Hanson is the best example of this. He is one of the better slot corners in the game but has really struggled at covering receivers on the outside.

    The Eagles have a pair of really special outside cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite. Both players are long, both measuring at 6'2". Their strengths are a little different, but both fit in well in a press man coverage.

    Nnamdi Asomugha has some of the longest arms in the NFL and is outstanding at jamming receivers right at the line of scrimmage. He has the strength at just over 210 pounds to bump any receiver off his route. He also has that rare ability that few corners have to really time the snap count and get a jump on his receiver.

    Rodgers-Cromartie doesn't have the strength that Asomugha has. He is more of a speed corner, though he is effective at jamming receivers at the line as well. What really makes him special is his recovery speed.

    DRC spent most of his time at the OTAs covering DeSean Jackson. He stayed stride for stride with him for the majority of that time. I didn't think their was a player fast enough to do that, but apparently there is and the Eagles have him.

    The reserve outside corners right now are Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes. Hughes started one game in 2011. Marsh didn't see much action on defense in 2011, Marsh was drafted in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft as a project player at cornerback.

    He has the size and speed combination to be a really good outside corner in this league, but for now he just needs to learn under guys like Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie for at least another season or two.

Slot Corner: Starter, Brandon Boykin; Backup, Joselio Hanson

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    The Eagles are lucky to have two very good slot corners on their roster. Some teams don't even have one. Enough teams run a lot of four-wide receiver sets to warrant keeping two players who are primarily slot corners.

    The Eagles drafted Brandon Boykin in the fourth round of the draft to compete with Joselio Hanson as the team's slot corner. Boykin is no stranger to the slot position. He played the majority of his final season in college in the slot.

    Boykin's speed, ball skills, athleticism and ability to jam receivers make him the perfect slot corner. He is adjusting to the defense very quickly already and will head into training camp as the No. 1 slot corner.

    Joselio Hanson isn't going to hand the position to Boykin. He is also having himself a solid offseason. He is still a very good slot corner that should not be kicked to the curb so quickly. The Eagles would be smart to keep both players to give themselves a real advantage over some of the more pass-happy teams that like to spread the field with four wide receivers.

Free Safety: Starter, Nate Allen; Backup, Colt Anderson

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    Nate Allen had a solid rookie season going into 2010 before a knee injury ended his season very late in the year. He wasn't fully recovered from offseason surgery until late in 2011. Now, in 2012, he is 100 percent healthy and ready to take that next step.

    Allen is a very good coverage safety who doesn't make the highlight tapes, but he is a very reliable wrap-up tackler. He doesn't have to be great to get the job done this season. He is surrounded by very good cornerbacks and a pass rush that recorded 50 sacks last season.

    As long as he doesn't consistently miss tackles and can prevent the big play, he will be just what the defense needs.

    Colt Anderson is listed as the backup free safety right now, but he really is the second backup safety. Anderson doesn't have the speed or coverage skills to be depended on as a starting safety in the NFL. In the event of a major injury to Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman would most likely most to free safety and Jaiquawn Jarrett would fill in at strong safety.

    The lack of a true backup free safety is a concern, but not a major one. Anderson is a must-have for the Eagles special teams. Nobody covers kicks better than he does. He can fill in during a game as a reserve safety—he did in 2010—but relying on him over the course of several games as a starting free safety isn't a good idea.

Strong Safety: Starter, Kurt Coleman; Backup, Jaiquawn Jarrett

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    Most people will expect Jaiquawn Jarrett to compete for the strong safety position this summer, but that just isn't realistic at this point. Safety is a very difficult position to pick up.

    Both safeties need to be on the same page with each other in order space the field properly. They also need to be able to recognize when a receiver is running a short route and when that receiver is going deep. Safety is that rare position where you are responsible for covering the deep portion of the field while also helping in run support.

    Strong safety doesn't have to be great in order for the Eagles to be a really good defense in 2012. That why Kurt Coleman is the best choice at the position. He isn't a great athlete and he doesn't have great size, but he holds his own against the run and in coverage. He also has started to develop great chemistry with free safety Nate Allen.

    That's what will make it so difficult for Jaiquawn Jarrett to beat out Coleman. He can just be a little better than Coleman, have good chemistry with Allen and be able to recognize routes as well.

    Another season as a backup for Jarrett should give him more time to learn the defense and better recognize routes. In 2013, he should be in a much better position to challenge for a starting safety role. Until then, he will be a valuable role player.