Day One of Draft Likely To Be Birds' "D" Day

The Eagles' main focus in this draft will be improving a defense that slipped to 15th in both points and yards allowed last season. But with a number of defensive question marks, which way will the Eagles go and just who will they pick?

The Eagles' first-round pick, the 26th overall, almost certainly will be a defensive player, probably a safety or a cornerback.

Their Pro Bowl free safety, Brian Dawkins, will be 34 in October and, at this point, can't really be counted on beyond the 2007 season. And the jury still is out on strong safety Sean Considine.

Considine, a 2005 fourth-round pick out of Iowa, replaced Michael Lewis six games into the 2006 season after Lewis's coverage limitations began to become a liability. While Considine did a better job against the pass than Lewis, he's really not big enough to be an in-the-box strong safety, and probably will end up eventually replacing Dawkins at free safety.

Backup safety Quentin Mikell probably is the team's best special teams player. But he is not viewed as a down-the-road starter.

The Eagles like Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, who is considered The best cover safety in the draft. But he's had some off-the-field issues that, in light of the NFL's stricter personal conduct policy, may make teams, including the Eagles, reluctant to take him in the first round. For his part, Meriweather has talked about his indiscretions [gun offenses] as being stupid and promises that they're all part of his past and not his future. Of course, what young player headed for potential big bucks would say differently?

Cornerback also is a position that will get serious consideration Early in the draft. Both of their starters, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, are undersized, with neither standing taller than 5-10. That's caused match-up problems against taller receivers, particularly in the NFC East.

Ex-Giant William James will replace departed Rod Hood as the nickel corner and could push Brown, who has been inconsistent the last two seasons. But the only other experienced corner on the roster after that is Joselio Hanson, who was playing in NFL Europe this time a year ago.

If the Eagles can find another capable cover corner, it's possible That they might eventually consider moving Brown, who plays in the slot on passing downs, to safety, but that would have to wait until after Dawkins leaves.

The Eagles may consider Fresno State's Marcus McCauley, but he's not exactly coming off an impressive season, and the Birds could feel that taking him with their first round pick would be too much of a stretch. McCauley (6' 1", 203 pounds) has a little more size than the other Eagles corners and plays pretty well against both the run and pass, but would definitely need some work.

Linebacker is another first-day possibility, though the recent acquisition of Takeo Spikes makes it unlikely they'll go in that direction in the first round. Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is playing on degenerative knees that have pretty much turned him into a first-down run-stopper. And things are unsettled at strong-side linebacker, where Dhani Jones needs to be replaced if this defense is going to improve against the run.

The Eagles also need to add depth at running back. They've got Brian Westbrook, who finally proved last season, that he can be a carry-the-load guy, and Correll Buckhalter. But Buckhalter's knees are unpredictable and it's imperative that they bring in a third back, preferably a bigger, short-yardage type. That pick won't come in the first couple of rounds though unless someone expectedly drops pretty far and the Eagles just can't resist.

A look at the Eagles' off-season:

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

  • WR Kevin Curtis: UFA Rams; $30M/6 yrs, $2.5M SB/$5M RB '07; $1.5M RB '08.
  • QB Kelly Holcomb (acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills).
  • WR Bethel Johnson: UFA Vikings; 1 yr, terms unknown.
  • DT Montae Reagor: FA Colts; $8.3M/3 yrs, $2M guaranteed.
  • LB Takeo Spikes (acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills).
  • PLAYERS LOST

  • LB Shawn Barber: UFA Texans; $5.5M/3 yrs, $2/2M guaranteed.
  • QB Jeff Garcia: UFA Buccaneers; $7M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
  • CB Rod Hood: UFA Cardinals; $15M/5 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.
  • S Michael Lewis: UFA 49ers; $30M/6 yrs, $9.8M guaranteed.
  • WR Donte' Stallworth: UFA Patriots; $33M/6 yrs, $1M SB.
  • DT Darwin Walker (traded to the Buffalo Bills).

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