NFL Nation: O.J. Atogwe

Mike Shanahan defends franchise direction

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
6:25
PM ET
ASHBURN, Va. -- The record suggests one thing; Mike Shanahan sees another. A day after the Washington Redskins stumbled to 3-7, Shanahan defended his program -- and said he remains encouraged by the direction of the franchise.

The Redskins are 24-33 under Shanahan, but won the NFC East last season. They're now last in the NFC East, even trailing the resurgent New York Giants, winners of four straight to get to 4-6. Shanahan said the foundation remains strong, particularly on offense.

Shanahan
Shanahan
Griffin
“You have to take a look at a number of things,” Shanahan said. “Take a look at the direction of a team. Take a look at the offensive numbers [in 2012 and ‘13]. That just doesn’t happen naturally with a lot of new players. The numbers we’re putting up are pretty impressive, especially with losing the $36-million salary cap over those two years. You don’t have the type of depth, but you’re able to put a solid team together. In the future it will get better. We have the ability to get more depth. We’ll get the ability to add some players on both sides of the ball. That gives you a chance to get better.”

The Redskins, of course, lost that salary-cap space because of an NFL-imposed penalty for how they handled the 2010 uncapped year. It hurt their ability to add players, though free agency does not always guarantee a quality starter in return. The Redskins have signed receiver Pierre Garcon, nose tackle Barry Cofield and end Stephen Bowen in free agency. They also signed safety O.J. Atogwe and receiver Josh Morgan.

The Redskins also point to the lost offseason by quarterback Robert Griffin III due to rehabilitating his knee.

The big question will be whether or not Shanahan receives a contract extension, or if he’ll finish the fifth and final year of his original deal. He would not say whether or not owner Dan Snyder has given him assurances of a fifth season.

“I don’t talk about those things during the season for obvious reasons,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan said he’s disappointed about not being able to finish the past two games better, driving downfield but failing to score potential game-tying touchdowns in the final minute.

“We’re playing good teams, we’re not finishing games,” Shanahan said. “When you’re no. 1 in rushing, that means you’re doing some things good. How you win games is not turning the ball over, which we didn’t do last year, which we’ve done this year. That doesn’t help you win games. There are a couple areas we have to get better, but when you can lead the league in rushing, usually you’ve got a chance to have success.”
I'm not going to sit here and tell you Gerald Sensabaugh was the second coming of Ronnie Lott, or that replacing him has suddenly jumped to the top of the Dallas Cowboys' offseason priority list after they cut him Monday for salary-cap room. Sensabaugh was a decent enough player, but surely not irreplaceable. The Cowboys can, without question, find someone in free agency or even in the early rounds of the draft who could give them in 2013 what Sensabaugh gave them in 2012.

However.

The idea that the Cowboys' starting safeties right now are Barry Church and Matt Johnson ... well, it's not an idea befitting a team that wants to make it to the playoffs, let's just leave it at that. Church showed promise early last year but is coming off an Achilles' injury. Johnson was a seventh-round pick they took in the fourth, and he didn't play a single snap as a rookie. The Cowboys can talk all they want about how good they think Johnson will be, but neither they nor anyone else has seen any proof that he can play in the NFL. They need to augment this situation prior to training camp.

Calvin Watkins has a look at the free-agent landscape at safety, and throws out well-known names such as Ronde Barber, William Moore and O.J. Atogwe as possible Cowboys targets. The safety pool in free agency this year is deep, as is the safety pool in this year's draft. The Cowboys will be able to add to their stable, even if it's not with a well-known name or a first-round pick (which they really should use on an offensive lineman). And if Church and Johnson play well enough to emerge as starters in training camp, then good for the Cowboys and their super-smart scouts.

The key for the Cowboys is to understand they need volume here to create the best possible combination, but not to go too crazy and shoot for a star at a position that doesn't require it. Replacing Sensabaugh isn't the hardest thing Dallas has ever had to do. They just need to make sure they have a candidate or two in place in case Church and/or Johnson can't do it.
Click here for a complete list of Philadelphia Eagles roster moves.

Most significant move: Mike Kafka went into training camp as the favorite to be the backup quarterback behind Michael Vick. But a combination of events led to Kafka's release Friday. First, he broke his hand in the first preseason game. Second, rookie Nick Foles impressed enough that the Eagles are now comfortable with him as their No. 2 quarterback. And third, Trent Edwards played well enough to convince the Eagles to keep him as a backup quarterback over Kafka. Backup quarterback is a significant position for the Eagles, as Vick has a history of missing games due to injury and there exists a strong chance that Foles and/or Edwards will have to start games for them this season. ... The answer to which defensive lineman had to go was defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, who was the final cut announced by the team shortly before 8 p.m. ET. That means Cedric Thornton and Darryl Tapp are still on the team, and the Eagles as of now have 10 defensive linemen.

Onward and upward: Nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson was cut on this day last year, too, but was immediately brought back at a lower salary. This year, that does not seem likely to happen. This time, it appears rookie Brandon Boykin beat out Hanson for the nickel corner spot, in part because he played well there and in part because of his usefulness as a returner and special-teams player. Hanson didn't have a great year in 2011, but he looked like a good nickel corner as recently as 2010 and likely could help someone. I wonder whether the Giants take a look, given their issues with health at cornerback.

What's next: Having cut both O.J. Atogwe (who couldn't stay healthy) and undrafted rookie Phillip Thomas, the Eagles are thin at safety. The only current backup to the starters is still-unproven Jaiquawn Jarrett, and even if they believed him capable, they'd want at least one more. Look for the Eagles to troll the list of other cuts to see whether there's someone out there who can help them beef up their bench a bit in the secondary.

UPDATE: Shortly after the cut deadline, the Eagles announced they'd acquired safety David Sims from the Browns for a conditional 2013 draft pick and released offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde.

Observation deck: Jets-Eagles

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:41
PM ET
Stop for a second. Take a deep breath. Now exhale, all the way. That's it. We're done with preseason football until 2013. Doesn't it feel awesome?

The NFC East's preseason finale was a 28-10 Eagles' exhibition victory over the New York Jets on Thursday night. None of the starters played, which didn't help the game's entertainment value, but kept any of them from getting hurt, which was the point. Those who did play obviously had their eye on Friday's 9 p.m. ET final roster cut deadline, and some of them were holding their final auditions for spots. These are their stories:
  • Trent Edwards, who was dropped by the Bills and Jaguars in 2010 and didn't play in the NFL last year, was an afterthought when training camp began. But he got a lot more preseason reps than expected after presumptive backup quarterback Mike Kafka broke his hand in the first game, and he played very well. Edwards played the final three quarters Thursday (after rookie Nick Foles, who's probably No. 2 behind Michael Vick after his own very strong preseason) and was 22-for-32 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles plan to keep only three of their quarterbacks, and with Vick and Foles both locks, that means it's a choice between Edwards and Kafka for the No. 3 spot. This is Kafka's third year in the system, and if the decision is to be based on more than just this preseason, he still has to have the edge. But if they saw enough from Edwards that they think he could run their offense if Vick went down, he could surprise. He definitely looks as though he can run the offense, but he has been playing against backups, obviously. And his reputation in Buffalo was as a "Captain Checkdown" type who didn't make it through progressions. First-team defenses play with more speed and could bring that back out if he were to appear in a real game. Worth considering.
  • Jaiquawn Jarrett played well at safety, and he looks safe as the backup to Nate Allen at strong safety. I think Jarrett has very good physical ability, and in a game like this that doesn't feature any game-planning, a player like Jarrett can look very good, seeking out ballcarriers and delivering big hits without getting tripped up by complex scheme or communication issues. But that's okay. Jarrett needed to show something, and he did. O.J. Atowge, on the other hand, who is slated to be Kurt Coleman's backup at free safety, got hurt again and will have an MRI on his hamstring Friday morning. Atogwe couldn't stay healthy with the Redskins last year either, and it's possible the Eagles will be hunting for safety help after the cuts come in Friday night.
  • I think Bryce Brown has shown enough to make the team as the No. 3 running back ahead of Chris Polk. I also think Polk has shown enough that some other team will pick him up and the Eagles won't be able to get him on the practice squad.
  • Brandon Graham and the defensive linemen getting called for offsides is something I think you should get used to. The Eagles want their defensive linemen to be hyper-aggressive, so they'll be offsides a lot. And some of them (Graham included) are quick enough off the ball to trick officials (replacement or otherwise) into thinking they're offsides even sometimes when they're not.
  • It was interesting that defensive tackle Antonio Dixon didn't play. It was also interesting that -- in his postgame news conference -- Eagles coach Andy Reid said he'd "seen enough of" Dixon. Couple of different ways to read that, and a few of them make you think Dixon is the odd man out when the tough defensive line cuts come Friday night. I have to think they've at least looked into trading Darryl Tapp and his $2.6 million salary. But whether they can pull that off or not, Dixon can't be having a restful night's sleep.
  • I liked Mardy Gilyard as a college player. I liked him in training camp when I was at Lehigh this summer. I liked him last night, when he doubled back and caught that duck Edwards threw into the end zone before anyone else saw it for a duck. With Damaris Johnson likely ahead of him as a receiver and a special teamer, I can't see how Gilyard makes the team. But maybe another team saw something they liked.
  • Something to remember: Derek Landri and Joselio Hanson were among last season's "final" roster cuts, and both ended up back on the team. So some of Friday's moves will be procedural. The Eagles have some high-level decisions to make and will be cutting some good players.

What I'll be watching: Jets-Eagles

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
3:00
PM ET
The Philadelphia Eagles will kick off their final preseason game of 2012 at 6:35 pm ET on Thursday night against the New York Jets. Here's what I'll be watching...

Most closely: The running backs, I think. There aren't too many position battles on the Eagles' roster, but the one for third-string running back has been interesting between seventh-round pick Bryce Brown and undrafted Chris Polk. It looks to me like Brown has the edge as the better runner, but they like Polk as a blocker, and it's kept his chances alive. Can't imagine either of them would go unclaimed if released, so they're not going to be able to stash one on the practice squad and they'll need to decide which they like better.

On the other side of the ball: The safeties. Their starters are set with Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, but backups O.J. Atowge and Jaiquawn Jarrett have shown little, and it's possible only one of them will be kept. Atogwe is the veteran who had trouble staying healthy last year in Washington. Jarrett is the second-round pick from 2011 who's been a disappointment so far. If one or both of them were to make an impression in tonight's game, it would help the Eagles feel better about their safety depth. If not, they could be in the market for a safety once other teams make their cuts Friday night.

If I think of it: Interested to watch quarterback Trent Edwards, who's scheduled to play the final three quarters in relief of Nick Foles. Can Edwards beat out the injured Mike Kafka for a roster spot? Has he already?... Who will get the defensive line snaps as the Eagles look to make decisions about how many linemen to keep?... Will Stanley Havili show enough to justify the Eagles keeping a fullback when they very rarely use one?

Observation deck: Eagles-Browns

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
11:30
PM ET

You want to talk Nick Foles, and that's fine. The rookie quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles took in the third round looked very good again Friday night in a 27-10 victory over the Browns in Cleveland. Foles was 12-for-19 for 146 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The interception was on his second pass of the night, and obviously he improved after that. The touchdown passes both came from in close and both after turnovers deep in Cleveland territory, but overall Foles looks like a guy who's not scared of the rush, makes good decisions and throws a very nice deep ball.

There is a chance, as Mike Kafka continues to sit out with a broken hand and Foles continues to impress in these preseason games, that the rookie could win the backup quarterback job. And I think that could potentially make sense for reasons that have nothing to do with preseason numbers. The fact is, Foles throws the deep ball better than Kafka does, and the speed-based Eagles offense needs someone with the arm strength to throw deep.

I don't think Foles would be an effective answer for the Eagles if Michael Vick had to miss significant time this year. I think, in a case like that, Kafka would be more likely to be able to manage the game and run the offense, and they could alter the playbook to suit his skills. But if Vick goes down in a game and has to miss a few plays or can't finish, it might make sense to go with Foles. No, he doesn't have Vick's mobility, but they could still run the downfield passing game and feel confident that they had a guy who could get the ball to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Something to think about.

Some other things I saw in the Eagles' third preseason game:
  • Foles wasn't the only Eagles rookie who had a good game. Wide receiver Damaris Johnson, who continues to look good in the return game, had two catches for 58 yards, including a 45-yarder from Foles while falling on his back. He also appeared to make a nice touchdown catch, but upon review it was ruled that he didn't have both feet in bounds. On the topic of rookies, linebacker Mychal Kendricks continues to look fast and alert and sure with his tackling.
  • The Eagles' defensive line is no joke. Derek Landri forced a fumble. Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham had big games. These are guys who might not even be starters, and yes, next Friday the Eagles are going to have to make some tough decisions as they sort through their excellent options at defensive line. But if the Eagles' plan is to run wave after wave of fresh defensive linemen at teams, they appear well equipped to do so.
  • King Dunlap started at left tackle. Demetress Bell replaced him on the second offensive series but was beaten badly to allow LeSean McCoy to take a loss. At this point, you'd have to think Dunlap starts the regular-season opener, which oddly is right back in Cleveland in 16 days.
  • I know it's been criticized a lot in preseason, but I think the Eagles' defense looks fine. They're tackling well. They're covering well. It's just that, because they pursue so hard with the defensive linemen on every single play, there are going to be plays on which it looks like everything broke down. Happened on the Browns' first drive, when Brandon Weeden dumped the ball off to a wide-open tight end and converted a second-and-19. It's going to happen during the season too. It's like the opposite of a bend-don't-break defense. It's more of a "break-every-now-and-then-but-it's-okay-because-we're-making-the-quarterback's-life-miserable" defense. The risk is worth the reward, in other words.
  • There were still too many penalties -- seven for 47 yards -- but it wasn't anything close to last week's epidemic that prompted the Andy Reid-Cullen Jenkins sideline shouting match. There also were no sideline shouting matches this time.
  • Cliff Harris had an interception, Keenan Clayton blocked a punt... it was that kind of night. Everybody looked good, even the guys who aren't sure things to make the roster.
  • Chas Henry got to punt first and did well. Mat McBriar looked good too. Makes you think whichever one doesn't win the job has a chance to latch on somewhere else.
  • O.J. Atogwe sat out with an injury, which made Jaiquawn Jarrett and Phillip Thomas the backup safeties. This is not an area at which the Eagles have any reliable depth. They will lean hard on that defensive line to create pressure and the starting corners to cover and lock down receivers.
  • I like what I see from Brett Brackett, the backup tight end who caught one of Foles' touchdown passes. He was a standout performer in the training camp practices I attended a few weeks ago too. Hard to see how he makes the roster, but you never know.
  • Still like Bryce Brown as a runner better than Chris Polk, though Polk is the better blocker and had the better numbers Friday night. Dion Lewis is ahead of both of them as McCoy's backup, and he had a nifty 22-yard reception.
  • It's worth pointing out that quarterback Trent Edwards has played well this preseason. He was 14-for-17 for 127 yards and a touchdown in this one. I guess he could make it over Kafka if Foles surpasses Kafka on the depth chart. Still lots to sort out there.

What I'll be watching: Eagles-Browns

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
12:26
PM ET
The Philadelphia Eagles play their third preseason game of 2012 at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Browns in Cleveland. And yes, they open the regular season in Cleveland against these same Browns 16 days from now. Which is extremely weird. But regardless, here's what I'll be watching ...

Most closely: Nick Foles, of course! The rookie starts the game, with Michael Vick still out because of those banged-up ribs, and gets the chance to work against a first-team defense for the first time in his so-far-very-impressive preseason. Foles has a chance to supplant the injured Mike Kafka as Vick's backup if he continues to impress (and if Kafka continues to sit out) over these final two preseason games. Foles is a big kid with a big arm who does a lot of things on the field that look very good. It's what happens after he inevitably makes bad rookie mistakes that we're still waiting to see.

On the other side of the ball: For me, it's safety play. I'm sold that the defensive line is deep and fearsome, and I think this defense is built to make its linebackers look bad, because they can play well all game and then give up two big third-down plays and no one's allowed to point out that the linemen over-pursued because that's what they're supposed to do. Fact is, they're not changing the way they operate, and the benefit of Wide 9 likely outweighs the detriment. I want to see what they have at safety. I thought Nate Allen played well in the last game and Kurt Coleman in the first one, and it's possible they'll be OK there. But my sense is that they have very little behind those guys, with slow veteran O.J. Atogwe and struggling second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett. Wouldn't hurt a guy like that to make an impression tonight.

If I think of it: Backup running back is still interesting, with Bryce Brown and Chris Polk scrapping for snaps behind LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. Curtis Marsh at cornerback, since he's probably the first guy off the bench to replace one of the outside starters. More from Brandon Boykin and Joselio Hanson in that nickel corner fight, as Boykin has looked very good to this point. And I'm a DeMeco Ryans believer, but he'd do well to convert some more people to his side, I think.
video
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Real quick, before I head home...
  • Thursday's Philadelphia Eagles practice wasn't as hard-hitting as Wednesday's was, but it was much hotter and there was a parade of guys leaving early with cramps and/or injuries. Those included running back LeSean McCoy and safety Nate Allen (cramps), safety O.J. Atogwe (groin) and linebacker Jamar Chaney (hamstring). Chaney was headed for an MRI, but none of the other issues were thought to be serious. It seems as though Andy Reid is trying to see how much his players can take, perhaps in an effort to make sure they don't lack toughness or stamina once the season begins and there are fourth-quarter leads to protect.
  • I thought DeSean Jackson was very active in Thursday's practice, and after speaking with him in the morning I took notice of the variety of routes he was running, including the underneath ones. "Defenses game plan on me," Jackson told me in the morning. "So all the downfield routes, all the deep routes that we always had success with, last year teams tried to prevent that and started backing up deeper. So I think whatever it is as far as underneath routes, getting the ball in our hands earlier and faster just so we can catch and make runs, I think that's going to be huge for us this year as well. Just not always trying to go deep for the home run."
  • Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans looked like the proverbial "quarterback of the defense" as he called out the offense's formations and ordered the players around him into different looks and coverages depending on what he saw. Ryans left practice briefly with some kind of physical issue, but he only missed a play or two and was able to finish without any problems.
  • Once McCoy left, running back Dion Lewis ran with the first-team offense and looked good. I thought he was particularly impressive in traffic, whether it was catching the ball with a crowd around him or skittering around and finding a hole. He's clearly the primary backup to McCoy. As for the rookies, Bryce Brown still looks like the better, quicker and more decisive runner than Chris Polk, though he needs to do some work on his blocking.
  • Chaney was working as a first-team linebacker before he got hurt. His injury could result in an opportunity for Brian Rolle or Casey Matthews to assert himself as a possible starter along with Ryans and rookie Mychal Kendricks.
  • The defensive linemen who are playing as the first-team unit with all four starters out -- Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Darryl Tapp and Derek Landri, made life difficult for McCoy as the Eagles worked on their inside running in 9-on-7 drills, though it should be noted that the defense is the side that has nine in that drill.
  • Second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett made a nice play to close on and break up a deep pass from Michael Vick to Jackson in team drills.
  • Cox, the first-round draft pick, got through the line a few times against third-team offensive linemen, but in general he looks like a rookie tentatively working his way through drills as he learns. He's massive and athletic, but he definitely looks like someone who's learning. Which is to be expected.
  • That's it for me from Eagles camp, though you will see plenty more posts based off of the interviews I did while here. Eagles Camp Confidential is currently scheduled for Monday, so look out for that. And I will complete my NFC East training camp tour with a stop in Oxnard, Calif., on Monday and Tuesday to see the Cowboys. That's all for now. Heading up the highway. Enjoy your evening.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Yeah, they hit pretty hard at Philadelphia Eagles training camp. They go at it for about two hours in pads and in anger. When they're not in 11-on-11 drills, they're off to the side hitting each other. The most entertaining drill in camp is the ferocious one-on-one work the offensive linemen and defensive linemen do against each other, though part of the entertainment is the coaching duo of Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn.

Too much hitting? Too hard? Maybe. The Eagles have a bit of a walking-wounded thing going on. Starting defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole are out (though Babin's injury isn't a contact injury), and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins left practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury and is scheduled for an MRI on Wednesday night. Backup quarterback Mike Kafka took a hard shot from the first-team defensive line as he dove for the end zone in goal-line drills. And wide receiver Jeremy Maclin sat out a few plays after injuring his left hand on a hard hit he took in 11-on-11 drills, though he went back in and said afterwards that he was fine.

Yeah, if you need your football fix in early August, I'd say come on out to Lehigh and watch the Eagles pound on each other for a couple of hours. It was certainly the most lively and entertaining practice I've yet seen on my trip.

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Michael Vick
Evan Habeeb/US PRESSWIREMichael Vick didn't have his best day during training camp at Lehigh University on Wednesday.
Some other thoughts from said practice:

  • Michael Vick didn't have his best day. He threw into double coverage too often, was picked off twice and didn't dazzle the way we've seen him dazzle in training camp practices in the past. I doubt it's any cause for concern, but I know some people are going to ask how he looked, and the answer is I've seen him look better. And expect that I will again.
  • Backup quarterback Mike Kafka shows a decent command of the offense, but they reason the Eagles are in trouble if he has to go into a game is that he really can't throw the deep ball very well. And it's not as if this offense is going to want to live on dump-offs to the backs and tight ends and short passes over the middle. Maclin and DeSean Jackson are on this team, which makes the offense about field-stretching speed. Kafka's shortcomings in the deep passing game would be an issue if he had to play extended time.
  • Sticking with the quarterbacks for a second, it's easy to see what they like about rookie Nick Foles. First of all, he's 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds. But he has a big arm that really stands out when he takes the field with the third-team offense after Kafka's had his turn. He hit Mardy Gilyard with a beautiful deep pass down the right sideline at one point in practice, and while he can look scatter-armed at times, you can see the raw ability.
  • The first-team defense had a rough time against Kafka and the second-team offense in team drills, as the offense went down the field and scored on a Kafka touchdown pass to tight end Brett Brackett from the 1-yard line. (Brackett beat rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks in coverage.) Of course, that first-team defense was without Cole, Babin and Jenkins, so that has to factor in. But it's not as though the replacements for those guys are no good. It suffices to say that the linebackers and defensive backs weren't thrilled with the way that series went.
  • I saw a fair bit of the two rookie running backs, and to my untrained eye Bryce Brown looks better than Chris Polk. Brown needs to get his pads lower, but he's running forward with burst and some power while Polk seemed to me to be running side-to-side too much. At some point, you need to go forward. They used Brown at the goal line.
  • With the injuries on the defensive line, the first-teamers up front were Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp at the ends and Derek Landri and Fletcher Cox at the tackle spots. Graham looks fantastic. He was the star of those one-on-one lineman drills and looked good in the 11-on-11s as well.
  • Kendricks and Brian Rolle were the first-team linebackers flanking middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Kendricks also got some work with the first team, along with Jamar Chaney.
  • As expected, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are working at the starting safety spots. When I spoke with Andy Reid this morning, he called O.J. Atogwe the backup at Coleman's spot and Jaiquawn Jarrett the backup to Allen. Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes were the second-team corners, with Brandon Boykin in on nickel packages.
  • A lot of people have asked me about rookie receiver Marvin McNutt. He's big (6-2, 216) and there was at least one play on which he was able to use his size to beat Marsh on an inside route by shielding the ball with his body. So it looks as though he has good instincts.
  • I'm back for one more day here tomorrow, then I'll head home for a couple of days before completing my NFC East training camp tour with a trip to Oxnard to see the Cowboys early next week.

NFC East training camp battles

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
2:00
PM ET
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

DALLAS COWBOYS

Inside linebacker: Dan Connor versus Bruce Carter.

Carter was the Cowboys' second-round pick in 2011. He was injured when they drafted him, so they didn't expect him to make much of an impact in 2011. Once recovered, he played in each of the team's final 10 games, but didn't play much. With Keith Brooking and Bradie James gone, the Cowboys need a starter at inside linebacker next to 2011 standout Sean Lee. Their hope is that Carter can be that for years to come, and they'd be perfectly thrilled if he could jump in at the start of this season. But they're not kidding themselves, and they know Carter might need some time to develop. That's why they signed Connor, the free-agent from Carolina. Connor's the veteran, and a guy they can plug in next to Lee right away and feel good about. But Carter's the one with the upside, and he's getting first-team reps this offseason while Connor recovers from shoulder surgery. My sense is that Carter will either convince them he's ready and get the job or convince them he's not and leave the job to Connor with the chance that he usurps him later in the year. I don't think Connor's performance in the preseason matters to this competition as much as Carter's does. We could have picked No. 3 wide receiver for this exercise, or guard, or center. But the Cowboys' main issues are on defense, and this is a spot on which the coaches will have their eye later this month.

NEW YORK GIANTS

No. 3 wide receiver: Rueben Randle versus Domenik Hixon.

The Giants have two of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but the free-agent departure of Mario Manningham left that No. 3 spot open. They drafted Randle in the second round and think very highly of him, but that's not going to be what gets him the job. He'll need to outplay the other guys in training camp in order to earn it, and the other three names on this list have more experience in the league and the offense. My pick as the current favorite to open the season in that spot is Hixon, who was the favorite for it last year before re-injuring his knee. I think that, if he's healthy, he's got the best chance to land that position. But that's a huge "if" with Hixon, and Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan all have the physical tools they need to impress coaches during this competition. It's probably Barden's last chance to show he can stay on the field and compete. And Jernigan has a shot to stick if he shows he can help in the return game. But my best prediction is a healthy Hixon wins the job and Randle gradually takes snaps away from him during the year as he continues to develop into the long-term answer.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Strong safety: Kurt Coleman versus Jaiquawn Jarrett.

This one got even more interesting with the recent signing of veteran O.J. Atogwe. Given his recent injury history and how slow he looked when actually on the field with the Redskins last year, I still think Atogwe is more likely to be a backup and a veteran mentor than a threat to the starting spot opposite free safety Nate Allen. But it's possible that neither Coleman nor Jarrett will impress enough to win the job. Jarrett is the team's 2011 second-round pick, and they have high hopes for him. He didn't show much last year, and his main problem is that the thing for which he was best known in college -- hard hitting -- is not something he's able to demonstrate during an offseason program. If he can make strides in coverage and then lay some people out in preseason games, he might have a chance to grab the starting spot. But if Coleman beats him out and Atogwe is healthy enough to stick, people will justifiably start wondering whether Jarrett really has a future as a starter in Philadelphia.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Safety: Madieu Williams versus Tanard Jackson.

This one could have been wide receiver, where there's a jumble at the spot opposite Pierre Garcon. But the Redskins' safety situation is its own jumble, and it's one about which more fans probably should be worried. They're projecting Brandon Meriweather as one of the starting safeties. They think he fits their coverage schemes much better than he did those of the Bears last year, and they think the reason the Patriots cut him had more to do with personality conflict than performance issues. So they feel good about that spot. For the other, they like Williams, who has impressed them as an alert and intelligent leader on the field. It's possible he could get a challenge from Jackson, the talented-but-troubled former Buccaneer who's reunited with former coach Raheem Morris (now the Redskins' secondary coach), but they'll need to see Jackson play in the preseason -- and stay clean -- before deciding how much he can give them. They also like their depth here, with guys like DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty and Jordan Bernstine, so it's possible a sleeper candidate could emerge. But as of now, keep an eye on Williams and Jackson fighting it out for that spot next to Meriweather.

NFC East's 'dynamic duos'

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
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Our man Gary Horton listed his top 10 "dynamic duos" Insider in the NFC last week. It's an Insider piece, so all I can really tell you is that Philadelphia Eagles defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin, who combined for 29 sacks last year, ranked second on the list and New York Giants defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul ranked ninth. My innate knowledge of the inner workings of the minds of my readers tells me that a percentage of you are already furious about this disparity and are suggesting that Horton be institutionalized.

Me? I think I'd rank the Giants' ends ahead of the Eagles' ends, but it's extremely close, and the key thing to remember is that these are four elite pass-rushers and the only four represented at all on Gary's list. If you had the second pick in a pass-rushing-duo draft, you'd be pretty fired up to know you were getting one of these two.

But anyway, that's all for my effort to impart perspective where it's often unwelcome. I'd rather move on, and examine the topic of "dymanic duos" more deeply as it pertains to the NFC East. I've got one for each team (other than the ones Gary picked) that fits the description of current dynamic duo and one duo that each team hopes can be the new dynamic duo of 2012.

Dallas Cowboys

Currently: Wide receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Austin was the No. 1 before Bryant hit the scene. Bryant edged in front last year during Austin's injury troubles. When they're both on the field at the same time, they give Tony Romo as dynamic a pair of downfield targets as there is in the game.

Hopefully: Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys invested a great deal in their effort to upgrade at cornerback this offseason, signing Carr to a big free-agent contract and using their first two draft picks to select Claiborne. They're almost certain to be better than what Dallas had at cornerback last year, but the hope is that they can convert a brutal weakness into a strength, and soon become one of the best cornerback tandems in the league.

New York Giants

Currently: Wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. They combined for 158 catches, 2,728 and 16 touchdowns last year in the regular season alone. The only other team with two players in the top 12 in receiving yards for 2011 was the New England Patriots, and one of their guys was a tight end.

Hopefully: Running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson. The Giants' first hope for their running game in 2012 is that Bradshaw can keep his feet healthy. Their second is that the offensive line has a better year blocking for him. And their third is that someone emerge from their group of relatively inexperienced backs to take the place of Brandon Jacobs as Bradshaw's backup. They'd love it to be first-round pick Wilson, who has excellent speed and would provide a nice change of pace on the edge to complement Bradshaw's tough running style. But like Claiborne in the Cowboys' section, he has to show he can handle the pro game.

Philadelphia Eagles

Currently: Center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis. Okay, so interior linemen aren't necessarily "dynamic," but I couldn't do wide receivers again, right? And the way Mathis and Kelce played in 2011 was a critical part of LeSean McCoy's success in the run game. Mathis has the added responsibility this year of helping along new left tackle Demetress Bell as he learns Howard Mudd's blocking schemes and tries to replace injured star Jason Peters.

Hopefully: Safeties Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Right now, Jarrett isn't even projected as a starter opposite Allen. They're probably going to go with Kurt Coleman, and they could look at veteran O.J. Atogwe if he proves healthy. But they drafted Jarrett in the second round last year hoping for big things, and I'm sure the Eagles would love for him to take a big step forward this year and team with Allen at the back of their defense for years to come.

Washington Redskins

Currently: Linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. The key part of the Redskins' 3-4 defense is the ability of the outside linebackers to generate pressure on the quarterback. And Orakpo and Kerrigan are two of the best young outside pass rushers in the game. Expect the sack numbers to improve in 2012, Kerrigan's second year in the league.

Hopefully: Wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Veteran Santana Moss is still in the picture as the starter opposite Garcon, and 2011 rookie Leonard Hankerson has promise. But the Redskins' sunk their early free-agency money into these two wideouts, and their hope is that they can form the backbone of Robert Griffin III's wide receiver corps for years to come.

Eagles' hidden treasure: Safeties

June, 27, 2012
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AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

There aren't a lot of position groups on the Philadelphia Eagles for which the preseason expectations aren't high. The roster is loaded, and the players are motivated to make up for their disappointing 2011 season. They finished 8-8, but overall, much is expected of this group across the board. If there's a specific division that's generating skepticism, it's the safety position, where 2010 second-round pick Nate Allen and 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett have so far failed to live up to expectations.

Allen's issue has been health. When he's been on the field, he's looked the part of a starting NFL safety, and the Eagles expect him to handle one of their starting safety spots in 2012. Assuming he can stay healthy, there's little reason to doubt that Allen can continue to develop as a starter. Kurt Coleman projects as the starter in the other spot, with Jarrett looming as a guy who could show enough to overtake him at some point. Jarrett was a rookie last year when there was no offseason program, and the fact that the players haven't been able to put pads on and hit each other yet limits the Eagles' ability to evaluate a guy like Jarrett, whose hard hitting was his trademark in college.

Last week's signing of veteran O.J. Atogwe is what makes this group interesting, though. Atogwe could challenge Coleman for his spot, if he's healthy, but even if he doesn't crack the starting lineup he has value. He could allow the Eagles to run some three-safety looks and take some pressure off the linebacking corps if that's half as necessary as it was last year. And he's a smart, solid, team-first guy off the field who should be able to help the young safeties learn and develop in their own roles. The depth and veteran leadership Atogwe can provide if he can ward off the injury issues he had last year in Washington could make this group better than most people are expecting it to be.
So a report on SportsNet up in Canada, which is where O.J. Atogwe is from, said Tuesday morning that the veteran safety has agreed to a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. Atogwe, who played for the Washington Redskins last year, appears to have confirmed this to Chris Russell of ESPN Radio 980 in Washington. So it looks as though Atogwe will be an Eagle in 2012, and the first question is, as always, "Why?"

Atogwe
The answer, I believe, is not to be a starting player or challenge for a starting spot. Atogwe will turn 31 on Saturday, and he struggled with injuries last year in Washington and actually looked kind of slow when he was on the field. You don't sign Atogwe at this point in his career to be a starting safety on a team that expects to contend for a championship. If he were still that kind of player, he wouldn't still be available on June 19.

So I don't think this move says anything about Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman as the Eagles' starting safeties, and I don't agree with the idea that it means the Eagles are suddenly down on 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett. The Eagles have been looking to add a veteran safety for some time now -- they tried on Yeremiah Bell before he signed with the Jets -- and their motivation appears to be roster depth and to add someone with some experience so they're not quite so young at the position. Atogwe is an intelligent veteran who can be a sounding board for the Eagles' young safeties and, at the very least, a competent replacement if one of them struggles irretrievably or gets hurt.

If Atogwe sees significant playing time for the Eagles in 2012, something will have gone very wrong with their current plan. But if deployed strategically, both on the field and in the meeting room, he can be an asset in certain situations. The Redskins brought him in to be a starter last year, and he's not far removed from his most productive seasons. It's just that, at this point in his career, he's not a big-splash guy. He's a piece of the puzzle, and one for which the Eagles have been searching for some time.
Yeremiah Bell will not be the one who provides depth to the Kansas City Chiefs’ secondary.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the safety has signed with the New York Jets. Bell visited the Chiefs on Wednesday, and they were one of four teams he was considering.

The Chiefs were interested in Bell as a third safety. The Chiefs also looked at veteran O.J. Atogwe.

In other AFC West news:

Here is a call for the Raiders to cut troubled middle linebacker Rolando McClain. He was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He has been a disappointment on the field and a distraction off it.

Once again, in a radio interview, LaDainian Tomlinson, said he’d consider playing for the Chargers again. And, once again, I just can’t see that happening.

New Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, in radio interview, said he expects his unit to be a top-10 defense. For that to be possible, the defensive tackles would have to mesh quickly.
So John Clayton has this piece on the 10 best position battles brewing this summer between rookies and veterans in the NFL. I scrolled through it, thinking it would provide me with some material for a late-Friday afternoon post, and to my shock and dismay there wasn't one NFC East mention in the whole thing. Come on, John! Help a guy out, will ya?

Anyway, it got me thinking: There must be some interesting position battles to keep an eye on throughout the offseason and training camps in our division, right? I mean, some situations where things aren't yet set in stone? There are, and here's one for each team.

Dallas Cowboys' inside linebackers: Sean Lee is set at one of these spots, but the other will be interesting to watch. The team drafted Bruce Carter in the second round in 2011, and they believe he's part of their future on defense. But he was coming off an injury when they drafted him and played in just 10 games as a rookie, and they can't be sure he'll be ready to hold down a starter's spot full-time in 2012. So they went out on the free-agent market and signed Dan Connor, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to start next to Lee while Carter continues to acclimate himself to the pro game. The interesting aspect of this will be how good Carter looks in training camp and whether he can play well enough to demand to take reps and snaps away from Connor. The veteran, Connor, will start with the job, but Carter is the future there, and it's just a question of when he's ready.

New York Giants running backs: Ahmad Bradshaw is the unquestioned veteran starter, but he doesn't come without questions. Foot injuries have limited him over the past several seasons, and his good friend and veteran safety net, Brandon Jacobs, is off to San Francisco to play for the 49ers. Assuming Bradshaw won't be able to make it through the season fully healthy on a starter's workload, there are going to be plenty of snaps to go around. The question is how many of those snaps first-round pick David Wilson can steal from holdover youngsters like D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown (who's suspended for the first four games for drugs).

Philadelphia Eagles safeties: The team wants Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, its second-round picks from the 2010 and 2011 drafts, respectively, to be the starters. Of the two, they're more confident about Allen, who's had some injury issues but played well when healthy last season. They have him penciled in as a starter. Whether Jarrett can fight off Kurt Coleman for the other starting spot is one of the training-camp questions the Eagles will face. It's also possible they'll add a free-agent veteran to the mix, but they'd rather get the production they need from their young guys if they can.

Washington Redskins secondary: There are currently 15 defensive backs listed on the Redskins' roster, and it's safe to assume they can't all make the team. The question is which of them will play. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall would appear to be set as the starting cornerbacks, but the team did sign free agent Cedric Griffin, and intriguing undrafted free-agent cornerback Chase Minnifield will be a name to watch in the summer. The more interesting questions are at safety, where the Redskins lost starters LaRon Landry and O.J. Atowge and things are wide open. The guy they like the best for the future is 2011 draft pick DeJon Gomes, but while they view him as a starter at some point, they don't know yet whether that point is this year. Their free-agent safety signing list is a fascinating one, including Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson, any of whom c0uld emerge as a starter. Griffin also might have been brought in with an eye toward playing him at safety, and Reed Doughty was a valuable injury fill-in last season and could get a shot at more playing time in this crowded field. The Redskins appear to be installing an all-out competition for safety roles, and from here it's impossible to know who will play well enough to nail them down.

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