“Somewhere in the heat-soaked hills of Lehigh County, the Eagles hope over the next three weeks to find a creature so rare that it surfaces with Halley’s Comet-like infrequency: a free safety who can simultaneously play with reckless abandon and steady self-discipline.
Of course, the Eagles once had such a creature. And for the second straight training camp they will try to find a replacement for Brian Dawkins.
Last year’s camp exposed two veterans who weren’t ready to be Dawkins’ heir, and rookie Macho Harris was awarded the job. It didn’t work out. This year, another rookie, Nate Allen, will arrive in Bethlehem looking to maintain a grasp on the starting spot he was unceremoniously handed in the spring.
The Eagles wouldn’t have promoted Allen, their second-round draft pick, if they didn’t believe he was ready. But they won’t know what they truly have until he dons the full pads and starts to hit.
“Ideally, you find a guy that’s an animal,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said last month during workouts. “But it’s hard to find a balance of a guy that’s an animal and can function in the defense at the same time. When you put pads on at any position – in particular signal-caller type of positions like safety or middle linebacker – you want to see a player that won’t lose his mind.”
A year ago, Quintin Demps, once deemed Dawkins’ successor by former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, “lost his mind” and then the free safety job. After an off-season in which he claims to have found his psyche, Demps is attempting to win back the starting role.
“Now I’m working from the bottom up,” Demps said. “Sometimes that’s good.”
When the 2010 Eagles open training camp on Monday, there could be as many as seven position battles. Coach Andy Reid likes to say every job is up for grabs, but some are more open than others.
Free safety is there for the taking, especially with a rookie tenuously holding down the position as he heads into his first NFL training camp.
“Am I nervous? Yeah,” Allen said. “It’s your first NFL training camp. You’re just trying to get situated. But once the ball is snapped, it’s just like playing football – different level, better guys – but it’s still football. That’s the way you got to think of it.”
The Eagles didn’t expend the 37th overall draft pick on Allen – the “Donovan McNabb pick” they received from Washington in exchange for their former franchise quarterback – without expecting him to start at some point. But the day arrived sooner than expected – maybe just a few months sooner – when Marlin Jackson was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon tear.
Jackson, coming off surgeries on both knees in two years, was a free-agent Band-Aid remedy and may not have even made the team. But his injury quickened Allen’s learning curve.”