Philadelphia Eagles: Nate Allen

5 to watch: Nate Allen

July, 3, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- With training camp approaching within weeks, let’s continue our weeklong look at the players with the most to prove, and the most to lose, this summer.

Ponder
Allen
It would have been so easy for Nate Allen to move on. A second-round pick in 2010, Allen surely would have gotten the attention of one of the teams that liked him in that draft. But Allen decided to re-up with the Eagles, choosing a rare chance for some stability after four seasons of almost constant change.

When training camp opens, Allen will be one of the starting safeties. The question is whether he'll still hold that title when the season opens in September.

His main competition will come from his former partner, Earl Wolff. A fifth-round pick last season, Wolff was pressed into the starting lineup last year after Patrick Chung was injured. He stayed there after Chung healed. The reason, you couldn’t help thinking, was that Wolff at least played as if he cared.

Allen intercepted a pass from Aaron Rodgers in his very first game as a rookie in 2010. In four seasons, he has managed to intercept just five more. Allen has been hampered throughout his career by instability in the coaching staff -- a different defensive coordinator every year -- and having to play with some less-than-stellar teammates.

He has suffered, too, from comparisons to the beloved Brian Dawkins. Allen simply isn't that kind of player or person. While Dawkins threw his body and his heart around fearlessly, Allen plays the game in a much more reserved fashion. He is not the big hitter that Dawkins was, but then, that seems to be disappearing from the game in general.

Wolff plays a bit more like the throwback Eagles fans seem to want to watch, but he had a lot to learn after his rookie season. Wolff immediately began studying the approach of veteran Malcolm Jenkins, who signed with the Eagles as a free agent.

Jenkins' leadership will benefit whichever safety winds up starting alongside him. Allen is at a point in his career where he should be providing that kind of leadership himself, but he was ill-served by all the change around him.

This year, for the first time, Allen returns to a familiar defensive scheme run by the same coordinator. He doesn't have to be the steadying influence with Jenkins out there. It could be the year Allen really lives up to his potential, or at last runs out of chances to try.
PHILADELPHIA -- Safety Nate Allen could have moved on, maybe found a more stable situation than what he'd experienced during three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Instead, Allen decided to re-sign with the team that drafted him in the second round in 2010. And that was only possible because, despite the shortcomings in the secondary last season, the Eagles wanted Allen to return.

Ponder
Allen
"This is where I wanted to be," Allen said after Tuesday's minicamp practice. "I didn't know exactly what was going to happen. I knew it wasn't all in my control. They gave me an opportunity to come back and I'm grateful for it."

Allen's rookie year was Sean McDermott's last season as Andy Reid's defensive coordinator. In his second year, Allen played for Juan Castillo, the offensive line coach improbably converted to defensive coordinator. In 2012, Allen played for Castillo at the start of the season and Todd Bowles after Reid jettisoned his most mystifying hire.

So this figures to be Allen's first experience playing in the same defensive system under the same coordinator for a second season in a row. That has to be good.

"He'll play faster and have a lot more impact," defensive backs coach John Lovett said. "Every system is different on how they want you to play certain calls. He has to fit into those. You don't just erase. You develop habits over time. For him, he's had to learn a new system every year. He's very happy because what happened last year was he was shaky in the beginning of the year and he started making more plays by the end of the season."

Allen is running with the first team alongside free agent acquisition Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles went after Jenkins because he is exactly the smart, tough safety they've been looking for since Brian Dawkins' departure.

The hope was that Allen would be that guy. He was drafted just a couple months after Dawkins left. But Allen's chances to developing into an elite safety were handicapped from the start by the instability in the coaching staff.

Now, with Jenkins here, Allen has a chance just to play ball, without pressure or unrealistic expectations.

"He's one of those guys, you just want him to cut it loose," Jenkins said. "Nate is knowledgeable. He knows what to do. He knows the defense. Always in the right spot. When he sees it, and he does see it, he just needs to cut it loose and let it go. He plays a little cautious at times, but you know he's going to be in the right place at the right time."

And that's just where Allen feels he is after re-signing with the Eagles.

"It just gives you a chance to play your best," Allen said. "You already know the scheme, you can hit the ground running."
PHILADELPHIA -- We didn't really get many answers from the Philadelphia Eagles' recently concluded organized team activities. Going into next week's mandatory minicamp, though, we know enough to ask somewhat better questions.

Sanchez
Matt Barkley or Mark Sanchez? We know Nick Foles will be the No. 1 quarterback, a major development compared to last year's training camp. But the signing of Sanchez to a one-year deal raised as many questions as it answered.

Sanchez has started 62 NFL games and gone to two AFC title games. He is the most accomplished quarterback in camp, and he's only 27. That makes him unlikely to be content to be the long-term backup for Foles. If Foles fails his acid-test season, Sanchez could be the next man up.

And then there's Barkley, who got into a few games as a rookie. His shoulder is healthy now, and he should get an opportunity to outplay Sanchez for the No. 2 spot. Barkley has the confidence to endure another season as the No. 3 QB, but is that really the ideal situation?

How will the wide receivers line up? At present, Riley Cooper is the only one of last year's top three receivers to be in the mix. If Cooper and Jeremy Maclin wind up on the outside, either rookie Jordan Matthews or veteran Brad Smith could become the slot receiver. Or if Matthews has a great summer, Cooper could move to the slot. He has the size for it.

It will be interesting, too, to see how Chip Kelly uses rookie Josh Huff, the third-round pick from Oregon. The Eagles may not have a receiver with the speed or the Pro Bowl appearances of DeSean Jackson, but they certainly have some talent at the position.

Ertz
How will Kelly use his other offensive weapons? Zach Ertz is going to be on the field. Does that mean Brent Celek, who helped LeSean McCoy lead the NFL in rushing, won't be? Will Kelly use Ertz, rather than a wide receiver, in the slot more often? And what about running back Darren Sproles? What will his role look like?

Earl Wolff or Nate Allen? Malcolm Jenkins will start at one safety spot. Will the Eagles stick with Allen or give Wolff a chance to take a step forward? Allen probably has reached his ceiling. Wolff still has some potential to become a better player. The answer will determine whether the secondary has a chance to be markedly better this season.

What can Marcus Smith do? The first-round pick from Louisville was backing up Connor Barwin in OTAs, but that has more to do with logistics than logic. It is expected Smith will contend for Trent Cole's right outside linebacker job.

The Eagles will be fine with Cole playing a lot this season, as long as Smith develops into a replacement by 2015. But getting some production from Smith in 2014, whether it's from the right or the left side, would be good for everyone.

Alex Henery or Murderleg? Yes, the Eagles signed a rookie free-agent kicker, Carey Spear, with the awesome nickname "Murderleg." No, he's not likely to replace the incumbent.

So let's finish with an answer: Henery. All he needs is a nickname.
PHILADELPHIA -- It is easy to read too much into what you see during organized team activities. On Tuesday, safety Earl Wolff was running with the first team. It turns out that Nate Allen was sick, and Wolff simply moved up a spot.

On Monday, inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was calling out the defensive signals. That could mean the Eagles want Kendricks to replace DeMeco Ryans in that role, or it could simply mean Kendricks might have to fill in if Ryans gets hurt during a game.

In general, the Eagles' draft picks are running with the second or third teams. That is just coach Chip Kelly's way. It is not necessarily a reflection of where each rookie stands in the coaches' evaluation process.

[+] EnlargeEagles coach Chip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt Rourke"There's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September," Chip Kelly said.
"If anybody is trying to make anything of who is playing what or how many reps -- all we are trying to do is see if we can get three reps a minute as fast as we can go, get it on tape and coach off of that," Kelly said Tuesday. "So there's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September. We are just trying to get as many plays as we can possibly get. So I would not read anything into who is where or what."

First-round pick Marcus Smith is working at the left outside linebacker spot. That is Connor Barwin's spot. That doesn't mean Smith is being groomed to replace Barwin. It just means that Brandon Graham is the No. 2 guy on the right side, behind Trent Cole. In time, Smith will learn both spots. For now, six weeks before the start of training camp, the idea is to see how Smith reacts to different situations and coach him as needed.

"It's trying to figure out what those guys can do and what their skill set is and what their strengths and weaknesses are," Kelly said. "And then we'll go from there. But you got to start them somewhere. You can't say, ‘Hey, learn every single position.' Just want to put them at one spot and figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are as we evaluate them."

The big difference between last year and this year is that Nick Foles is the clear No. 1 quarterback. Michael Vick is gone. Mark Sanchez is here, but he has been told he's competing with Matt Barkley for the No. 2 spot.

Kelly said it's a "unique situation for Mark because he's probably ahead of where Nick [Foles] and Michael [Vick] were last year because he has Nick to rely on. So everything was new for everybody in the quarterback room last year. ... And he also has probably a lot more experience than a lot of guys. He's played in this league for a long time and has got 60 plus starts."

Sanchez doesn't have quite the standing that Vick had, maybe because none of those 62 starts were for the Eagles. But his experience must give Kelly some comfort going into a season in which Foles will be under more pressure than he's experienced before.

Sanchez said he is still on a "pitch count" -- a limit to how much work his right shoulder can do. But he has established himself as a good teammate, eager to help Foles develop even as he learns from him.

"Having a year under his belt really helps," Sanchez said. "He's really maturing into what I think is a really good quarterback. He's going to be tough to play against for defenses."

That won't really start, as Kelly said, until September. For now, the Eagles' focus is on learning and evaluation. It is, after all, only June.

Roseman doesn't like 2014 safety class

May, 2, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles signed free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins in March.

Good thing.

Because Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is not enamored with the safeties in the NFL draft looming May 8-10.

"When you talk about the safety class, I don't think it's a good group overall," Roseman said. "I think that you're talking about a drop-off, certainly, when you get into Saturday."

In addition, the Eagles also have returning safeties Earl Wolff and Nate Allen. Wolff was a fifth-round pick a year ago and showed potential before suffering a knee injury in November at Green Bay. Allen recently signed a one-year deal to return to the Eagles.

"Earl and Nate, we're excited about their ability to take a jump," Roseman said. "When we talk about athletic tools and what's in their body, Nate is 6-2, 215, and he's finally in the same system for a second year. You've got to be able to play fast. You've got to be able to not think. It's very hard on a safety going through all those system changes, especially a young player who, he was a quarterback in high school, didn't grow up playing the position.

"And then Earl as a rookie, I thought did a really good job before he got hurt. You talk about a guy who's 215 pounds and runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash). Unbelievable work ethic. Off the charts. We're excited about those guys. That doesn't mean we wouldn't add if it's the best player, but at the same time we expect those guys to take a jump."

Nate Allen's 'heart was in Philly'

April, 4, 2014
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Nate Allen became a free agent on March 11 and he had to wonder where his NFL career would continue.

Allen hoped it would be with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he couldn't be sure.

Ponder
Allen
All it took was six days for Allen to make his decision and the safety ultimately signed a one-year deal to remain with the Eagles.

For the first time in his career, Allen started all 16 games. In 2014, he'll have a chance to start opposite Malcolm Jenkins, one of the team's marquee free-agent signings in the offseason.

“I was just playing the waiting game,” Allen told CSNPhilly.com. “I wasn't trying to get all worked up and stressed out about free agency. I just kind of sat back and let everything fall into place. At the end of day, I knew my heart was in Philly and this was the place I wanted to be.”

Allen, who was third on the team with a career-high 82 tackles, gives the Eagles some much-needed depth at safety. He also registered one interception and one sack.

Despite compiling six interceptions and 310 tackles in 59 career regular-season games, there was some uncertainty about if Allen would return to the Eagles. But his total number of tackles have increased in all four seasons.

With Jenkins, Earl Wolff and Chris Maragos, Allen will have a legitimate chance to compete for a starting job during training camp.

Allen was a second-round draft choice in 2010 and became the first player in franchise history to record three interceptions and two sacks in his first season. He suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee and had surgery late in the season.

Allen has responded ever since and it ultimately wound up with him signing for a fifth season in Philadelphia. In Allen's second season, he registered 59 tackles and two interceptions, proving that he was fully recovered from his knee surgery.

The improvement has been evident through all four seasons and time will tell what Allen's role will be in 2014.

Insiders give Eagles solid mark

March, 28, 2014
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ESPN's NFL Insiders like what the Eagles have done thus far in free agency. I'd have to agree, but with an asterisk, because free agency always comes with one.

The Insiders gave the Eagles a B grade -- only six teams received a higher one. So they were definite fans of Philadelphia’s acquisitions: free safety Malcolm Jenkins, strong safety Nate Allen and running back Darren Sproles. Yes, the latter was acquired in a trade, but they lumped him in as an offseason pickup. And the grade was assessed before the Eagles landed backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. But his arrival would only strengthen the B, giving the Eagles what should be a solid backup to Nick Foles.

They also did a good job re-signing their own players, losing only receiver Jason Avant. So their strategy thus far has been sound. Hence the B grade.

"They are set up to take the best defensive player available throughout the entire draft. That is how I look at it," said former NFL scout Matt Williamson, now ESPN’s scout.

Jenkins should be an improvement, but how much of one? He was up-and-down in New Orleans, who opted to sign safety Jairus Byrd instead of retaining Jenkins. But, as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said Tuesday, Eagles coach Chip Kelly knows what Byrd can do having coached him at Oregon. But the Saints know Jenkins and opted for the more expensive Byrd. Still, the Eagles liked Jenkins’ versatility and that should help. But he needs to play more consistent.

Sproles is a big one, too. He potentially makes the Eagles’ offense even more dangerous and does not have to duplicate, say, his 2011 success. The Eagles don’t need him to, not with their other weapons. They just need him to be a playmaker when he does get the ball. Sproles still looked spry this past season, albeit with fewer chances. The big question: What does he have left?

“There are some down there in New Orleans who thought Darren's best days were long behind him and the wall was approaching faster than outsiders think,” said ESPN Insider Louis Riddick, the former Eagles director of pro personnel. “They made a calculated bet, and we'll see which team is right there. You just know the Saints know more about him than anybody else knows about him."
So far the Philadelphia Eagles have re-signed key their own players, such as Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Nate Allen, and added pieces like Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll.

They have not, however, added any pieces to help the pass rush.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole led the Eagles in sacks last season, but the team's pass rush could use reinforcements.
The Eagles recorded 37 sacks in 2013, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Trent Cole led the team with eight sacks. Connor Barwin had five and three players -- DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry -- had four apiece.


"It's hard to find pass rushers, especially on the open market," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in this Philadelphia Daily News story. "There aren't a lot of teams letting them go. And then you look at the draft and where those guys go, they go high.

"Certainly, you want to continue to add pass rushers. But we feel we have some guys we think can rush the passer and fit what we're doing at the outside linebacker position."

Philadelphia had interest in DeMarcus Ware, and the Cowboys were not keen on possibly seeing their all-time leader in sacks twice a year, but the Denver Broncos swooped in with an offer Ware could not refuse ($20 million guaranteed).

In free agency, Shaun Phillips has 3-4 experience from his time with the San Diego Chargers, but the pickings are thin.

As the Eagles move into their second year in the 3-4 scheme, they will have a better feel for what they want in an outside linebacker. Projecting a college defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 is never easy, but it is something the Pittsburgh Steelers have excelled at for years.

The two best in this year's draft, Buffalo's Khalil Mack and UCLA's Anthony Barr, figure to be gone by the time the Eagles pick in the first round.

In a division with quarterbacks such as Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, finding pass rushers is more important than pass defenders.

Nate Allen not looking for handouts

March, 18, 2014
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From the time he arrived, Nate Allen felt the pressure. He's no longer the answer for the Eagles' safety position, but he still hopes to be part of the solution. The Eagles might not be counting on it, but they clearly haven't given up on him either, having re-signed him to a one-year deal.

Ponder
Allen
Allen started every game last season, but he could be challenged this year by second-year Earl Wolff. Or, perhaps, the Eagles could draft a safety though they don't have to do so now. But Allen is used to the pressure, having felt it when he arrived in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Eagles hope that this offseason they've finally started to solve a position that has vexed them ever since Brian Dawkins departed in 2009.

"That pressure, that was there, right when I came in. Everybody was saying, 'You've got big shoes to fill,' [meaning] Brian Dawkins. But like I've said from Day 1, I'm not B-Dawk. He's a future Hall of Famer," Allen told Philadelphia reporters during a break from working out at NovaCare. "I'm going to be Nate and play my game and not put any more added pressure on myself, and just go out and play football."

Allen said he wasn't worried about the free-agent process and compared it to draft day. He said he had expressed his feelings about wanting to return and then he let the market develop. There wasn't a strong demand for him elsewhere, so he opted for the one-year deal with the Eagles, for whom he has started 54 of 59 games he's played since joining the team.

"I'm just going to try to get better this year and improve, whatever I can do to help the team win,” Allen said. “I wouldn't want anything just handed to me. I'm a pretty simple dude, so any amount of money I get is good for me. A lot of times, it's not even about money. I'm just happy to be back here, in a system I'm comfortable in. I've been in Philly for four years. It's all a blessing.

“I just kind of stepped back and let everything fall into place. Knew that at the end of the day, if it was meant for me to be here, I'd be back."

Eagles building nest at safety

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
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Is it safe to say the Philadelphia Eagles will not be targeting a safety early in the May draft?

Nate Allen re-signed with the team on Monday with a one-year, $2 million deal that can max out at $3 million. Last week, the Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year, $15.5 million deal that pays him $8.5 million guaranteed, and Chris Maragos to a three-year, $4 million deal.

The Eagles now have Allen, Jenkins, Maragos, Earl Wolff and Keelan Johnson at safety.

Philadelphia has struggled to replace Brian Dawkins the way the Dallas Cowboys have struggled to replace Darren Woodson.

Sean Jones, Kurt Coleman and Patrick Chung had nothing more than moments. Allen has been better the past few years as a strong safety.

The Cowboys have been searching for Woodson's replacement since 2004 when a bad back forced him to retire early. Dawkins left the Eagles after the 2008 season and is one of the franchise's all-time greats.

With Jenkins, the Eagles finally hope they have something close to Dawkins to keep the back line in place. Keeping Allen allows them to have some continuity with a player who looked like he found a home in 2013. Allen had a career-high 94 tackles in starting every game in his career to go along with one interception.

Free-agency primer: Eagles

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: QB Michael Vick, WR Jason Avant, S Nate Allen, P Donnie Jones, S Kurt Coleman.

Where they stand: By keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off the market, the Eagles assured their starting offense would look very much as it did in 2013. There are no obvious positions of need on that side of the ball that would likely be addressed in free agency. The defensive side is another matter. That unit made fine progress in its first year with coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the Eagles need playmakers there, especially in the secondary. Having $20-25 million in salary-cap space gives them the flexibility to do whatever they choose.

What to expect: GM Howie Roseman has repeatedly said he does not want to overpay in free agency, but the Eagles might have to go that route with a safety like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Chris Clemons. Going for bargains at that position just has not worked, and Roseman has acknowledged he doesn’t want to get to the draft in dire need of a safety. There isn’t a lot of depth at outside linebacker -- teams do their best to hold on to effective pass-rushers -- but Roseman could look for a second-tier guy there. It would not be surprising if the Eagles re-signed Jones and added a kicker in free agency to compete with, or flat-out replace, Alex Henery. Keep an eye on a return man, perhaps Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.
Any list of the Eagles' needs starts with their secondary, which is understandable when a team is ranked last in the NFL in pass defense.

[+] EnlargeCary Williams
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerCary Williams and the Eagles cornerbacks could benefit from quality play at safety.
That's why many analysts, experts and fans think the Eagles will focus on safeties and cornerbacks in free agency and the draft. And they certainly might. But there's one thing I think gets overlooked in all this.

The cornerback play may have looked worse than it actually was because of the quality of the safeties. By improving their safety performance, the Eagles may find that Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin are perfectly adequate cornerbacks.

One step further: Improve the pass rush, which virtually disappeared late in the season and in the playoff loss to the Saints, and the whole secondary would look better.

This doesn't mean the Eagles should pass on a quality cornerback in the draft, if there is one they like when they are on the clock. It is a position where you almost can't have too much talent or depth.

But Williams and Fletcher, the two starting guys on the outside, may not be as urgent a problem as some seem to believe. They were nowhere near perfect, to be sure, but pass defense is a product of cooperation and synchronization.

Williams played for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens the year before. He had Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard at safety. They were more likely to help their cornerbacks out than to leave them hanging.

After the Eagles lost to New Orleans in the wild-card round, Williams seemed especially frustrated.

"We had too many mental breakdowns in the secondary," Williams said. "We didn't put ourselves necessarily in the best situations to win. That was really the issue with me, man. It was frustrating out there -- situations that you know are coming, that you've seen over and over on film, and they don't necessarily go right. The right call isn't being made. It's frustrating. Drew Brees saw those mistakes we made and was able to capitalize on those situations."

Williams wasn't excluding himself or the other cornerbacks from his critique. But you definitely got the feeling, watching that game and those that preceded it, that the major breakdowns were at safety. That is why Nate Allen was not among the impending free agents signed to new contracts last week, and it is why Patrick Chung could well be gone before training camp.

Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, by consensus the top free-agent safety, combined for 33 interceptions and forced fumbles in his five seasons. In four years with the Eagles, Allen had a total of seven.

Signing Byrd would make the Eagles much better, obviously. But there is a lot of room between his production and Allen's that would qualify as improvement. And improvement at safety should contribute to better play from the corners.
It is probably inevitable, as the Philadelphia Eagles rebound from the disappointing end of the Andy Reid era. The players who won’t be around when Chip Kelly’s program peaks aren’t going to be highly coveted elsewhere in the league.

That is the impression you get when looking through Bill Polian’s Free Agent Tracker Insider on ESPN Insider. The longtime NFL executive, along with NFL Insider analysts Gary Horton, Matt Williamson and Field Yates, graded the players headed for the open market. The soon-to-be former Eagles didn’t exactly make the dean’s list.

Quarterback Michael Vick rates only a C-plus and this comment: “The offseason market for Vick will require a perfect system fit. He brings with him age and injury concerns, but if you're a team like Jacksonville or a team with a rookie QB coming out of the 2014 draft, he's a free agent who could buy time as a starter. He could also be a fit as a backup for a team like San Francisco or Seattle, where he could replicate some of the athletic traits possessed by Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.”

Funny to see Vick described as someone who can “replicate” the athleticism and mobility that he helped pioneer in the league. The lackluster evaluation makes you wonder if Vick will get that starting opportunity he covets.

Safety Nate Allen received a grade of C: “Allen is a free safety who is best suited for the box. He shows good instincts and awareness, and he is tough against the run and in underneath coverage. He lacks range over the top, however.”

Allen is rated as “neutral” for all four categories rated -- speed, production, injury and character.

Defensive end Clifton Geathers was rated as “neutral” for all four as well. Geathers also got a C from Polian: “Geathers possesses a long body and good first-step quickness. His length allows him to be a good pass-rusher, but he doesn't have the explosive quickness of the top pass-rushers, nor the explosive run leverage of a power player. He's kind of a tweener but can be a good, solid backup.”

Sounds right, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles bring Geathers back once the market settles a bit.

Polian slapped D grades on safeties Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, as well as punter Donnie Jones. The grade on Jones is understandable if it is based on his entire career. Jones punted very well for the Eagles last year and could be signed to a new contract as soon as the new league year starts on Monday.

The highest-graded Eagles? Wide receivers Riley Cooper (B) and Jeremy Maclin (B-minus), who signed new contracts with the team last week. Maclin’s grade was clearly lower because he’s coming off a serious knee injury.
PHILADELPHIA -- Welcome to March. Within a couple weeks, we should start to have real answers to many of our questions about what the Philadelphia Eagles might do in free agency.

Until then, we get to speculate and discuss. Let’s get right to some questions delivered in our Twitter mailbag (hashtag 'em #espneagles so I can find them). Thanks to everyone who participated. Some good stuff to tackle:
.

Free-agent dossier: Kurt Coleman

February, 27, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- We'll continue our look at the Eagles' soon-to-be free agents with safety Kurt Coleman for two reasons.

Coleman is an interesting case, a guy who both exceeded and then didn't meet expectations. Just as important, there's no sense in looking at Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin if the two never get to free agency. The Eagles could have both locked up with new deals well before March 8.

Coleman
Coleman, 25, was the 244th player selected in the 2010 NFL draft. Just for context, the Eagles took Coleman 158 spots after they took defensive lineman Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. So it is a credit to Coleman's tenacity that he started 29 games at safety in his first three seasons.

The Eagles kept bringing in veteran stopgaps, and Coleman was the guy who played when they proved less than adept. Of course, that also put Coleman in the position of being a guy the front office and coaches were perennially trying to replace.

The Eagles did that in 2013, signing Patrick Chung and drafting Earl Wolff in the fifth round. Chung was the starter opposite Nate Allen coming out of camp. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis eased Wolff into the lineup and he took over the starting job when Chung injured his shoulder.

After Wolff injured his knee -- an injury that turned out to be virtually season-ending -- Chung returned to the starting lineup. By the Dec. 15 game at Minnesota, though, Coleman had risen up the depth chart (or Chung had slipped down again). Davis replaced Chung with Coleman for 26 defensive snaps.

Coleman pulled a hamstring, however. He missed the next week's game and was back to full-time special-teams work for the season finale at Dallas and the playoff game against New Orleans. Overall, Coleman played just 73 defensive snaps, or 6 percent.

The Eagles' self-described frustration at the safety position suggests that Coleman will move on. If he hopes to be a starter, or even a regular contributor on defense, it seems as if he'll have to leave to do that.

But if Coleman doesn't find that kind of opportunity, and if the Eagles decide he has value as a special-teamer, solid locker room guy and capable depth player, there is a chance Coleman could return. Building continuity on special teams has some merit, as well.

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