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Eagles endorse young safeties Allen, Jarrett

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Many observers felt the Eagles' two biggest needs going into the draft were outside linebacker and safety. They addressed the first one early on in the draft, selecting speedy Mychael Kendricks of Cal, a three-down linebacker who will move to the head of the depth-chart line at SAM.

But they didn't take a safety with any of their nine picks. They did sign one after the draft -- Phillip Thomas of Syracuse, but that's it.

The Eagles are happy with the way free safety Nate Allen played in the second half of last season as he recovered from a ruptured patella tendon that he suffered the previous December.

"Nate was playing at a really high level as a rookie before he got hurt," general manager Howie Roseman said. "Last year, because of the lockout and the problems guys had rehabbing, you saw a lot of guys who were slow coming back from injuries. We knew it was going to take Nate some time to get right.

"But he's all the way back now. He's got all the skills you look for in a safety. He's an incredible athlete. He's a smart kid. He's got really good ball skills. He can cover. He can tackle. He can blitz."

The Eagles also are more confident than others in their two starting strong safety candidates -- Kurt Coleman and 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett.

Coleman, a 2010 seventh-round pick, started 13 games last season. But his skills and body-type seem better suited fora backup role and as a core special-teamer than a 16-game-a-year starter.

Jarrett was a disappointment as a rookie. He barely got on the field, and despite a reputation as a big-hitter, he made little impact on special teams. But the Eagles think his biggest problem last year was that the 4 1/2-month lockout didn't give him an opportunity to master defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's defense.

"When you're a safety, especially a guy like him who's biggest thing is seeing and going and making an explosive play, if you've got to think, you take a step back," Roseman said. "Having an offseason and getting in the playbook and getting much more comfortable with everything will help him."

Coleman is a fearless, try-hard guy. But at 5-10 and 190 pounds, there are questions as to whether he can hold up as an in-the-box safety for 16 games a year. He is not a sound tackler, too often going for the big lick rather than wrapping up the ballcarrier. And his coverage skills aren't really ideal for today's pass-happy game.

"He's been productive every time he's played for us," Roseman said. "He makes plays. He's a smart guy. He can play either spot. He's effective on special teams. He's just a good player. We had a fourth-round grade on him when we drafted him (in 2010). He has good time-speed for a safety."

If Jarrett steps it up this year and proves to be worth the second-round pick the Eagles spent on him, then the Eagles should be fine.

Coleman could back up both spots and focus on special teams. If Jarrett struggles again, though, a defense that gave up 27 touchdown passes and had an 85.7 opponent passer rating despite leading the league in sacks could be in trouble.

"We're excited about our group of safeties," Roseman said.
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