There are a great deal of excuses that have been used to explain the deficiency of the Philadelphia Eagles defense last year, especially in their secondary. The most often heard reasons include the fact that there was a drastically shortened off season in which the new players were not afforded the opportunity to come together as a group in addition to the promotion of former offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. It seems as if many of the critics, however, forgot about much of their criticism during the final 4 games of the season, all of which the Eagles won. Those 4 games saw the Eagles defense finally start to gel as a group.
My personal opinion is that while, yes, the defense did finally “click” as a group, a lot of it had to do with the fact that players were finally being put in the right position. Asante Samuel missed the last few games with an injury, which allowed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to play outside instead of in the nickel spot. This provided him the opportunity to maximize his talent across from Nnamdi Asomugha.
This year, the Eagles secondary will have no excuse for not hitting the ground running to start the season. Samuel is gone, allowing DRC to take all the starting reps at outside cornerback, opposite Asomugha, so the starting outside corners are locked up. Joselio Hanson, an above average nickel corner has been playing very well thus far in OTA’s, but has fallen behind rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin in a battle for the backup outside corner. Hanson simply does not have the speed or size to play on the outside.
The Eagles have struggled to find a suitable replacement for Brian Dawkins at safety since his departure to the Denver Broncos a few years ago. Nate Allen has been impressive at the free safety position and has demonstrated a nose for the ball. Allen has been decidedly better than Jaiquawn Jarrett to this point. While he is improving, he still has a long way to go. Kurt Coleman is looking to build off a decent 2011 season and is in the process of developing a very nice rapport with Allen. The two of them, combined with the rest of the defense could be a very difficult thing for opposing offenses to overcome.
The fact remains that just about everyone looks good during OTA’s. We will see how things play out during training camp and the preseason. Barring injuries, however, the 2012 version of the Eagles defense should be head and shoulders above their predecessor from 2011.