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Saturday, June 22, 2013
Eight in the Box: Secondary status check

By Matt Williamson

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC East team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys: Last offseason, the Cowboys used premium resources to acquire Brandon Carr in free agency and Morris Claiborne in the draft so they could be better equipped to play man coverage on the outside. Then this offseason, they went out and hired Cover 2 guru Monte Kiffin as their defensive coordinator. Kiffin supposedly will incorporate more man coverage into his play calls, but Carr and Claiborne are not ideal players for Cover 2, which will be Dallas’ base coverage. Still, these two, along with nickelback Orlando Scandrick and fourth-round pick B.W. Webb, give the Cowboys an excellent set of cornerbacks overall. Scheme notwithstanding, Claiborne should be much improved in his second season. Safety is another story though. This position was a huge weakness in 2012. Free-agent signee Will Allen is penciled in to start opposite Barry Church, who is highly unproven. The Cowboys used a third-round pick on J.J. Wilcox, but Allen is not starting material and Wilcox is extremely raw. Wilcox has a ton of ability and should be an immediate standout on special teams, but trusting him to read quarterbacks and route combinations as a rookie could be a disaster. To me, safety remains an immediate weakness for Dallas.

New York Giants: There isn’t a lot of change here from 2012 -- and that isn’t really a good thing. Gone is Kenny Phillips and in are Aaron Ross and Ryan Mundy, but this is a franchise that relies on its defensive line to make the defense go -- and the line does look impressive. Safety Stevie Brown made a lot of plays last season and will be asked to replace Phillips on more of a full-time basis alongside Antrel Rolle, whose best trait is probably his overall versatility. At cornerback, the Giants are counting on Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley to take noticeable steps forward in their young careers, especially from an overall consistency standpoint. Terrell Thomas returns from yet another major injury and Ross will provide corner depth, but Corey Webster is the player New York absolutely needs to play like he did earlier in his career. In 2012, Webster struggled mightily and Hosley was often beaten, which obviously is a huge concern.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles gave their secondary a total overhaul this offseason. While there was talent in this group a year ago, it collectively made a ton of mistakes and just allowed far too many big plays. Simply said, the Eagles’ secondary was dreadful in 2012. One carryover is Brandon Boykin, who played well as a rookie and should be the ideal nickel cornerback going forward. The starters at corner, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, have plenty of questions around them. I don’t see either player as close to being a true No. 1 cornerback, but if they can show some consistency it will be an improvement for Philadelphia at the position. At safety, the Eagles signed Kenny Phillips from the Giants, an excellent move and a massive upgrade if he stays healthy. They also inked Patrick Chung away from the Patriots. There is much more uncertainty around Chung, who has never stepped up as many expected he would have by now. Earl Wolff, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Curtis Marsh provide the Eagles with young talented depth, but while the secondary has been totally reshuffled, the starters here are far from sure things. But like the rest of Philadelphia’s secondary in 2012, Allen and Coleman had a rough go of it last season.

Washington Redskins: Probably the biggest need area for this team heading into this offseason was the secondary. In free agency, the Redskins added E.J. Biggers, who should be a very solid all-around third cornerback. In the draft, Washington addressed its secondary in a big way, using a second-round pick on David Amerson, a fourth-rounder on Phillip Thomas and a sixth-rounder on Bacarri Rambo. Right now, the starters are DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson at cornerback and Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty at safety. Surely the Redskins would love for Amerson, Thomas and Rambo all to challenge for starting spots right out of the gate, but rookie cover men often struggle. Still, Doughty is very average. Meriweather is returning from injury and has been highly inconsistent and untrustworthy, while Hall is one of the more overrated players in the NFL, who can look great one week and terrible the next. Wilson might be the best member of Washington’s secondary, which is an indictment of the status of this unit overall. The Redskins have, however, added young talent, and the return from injury of Brian Orakpo, their only truly top-notch pass-rusher, also should help the cover men a great deal.