Positional Analysis: Safeties

Andrew Pluta breaks down the performance of the Eagles safeties during the 2007 season. Could Brian Dawkins, at 34 years-old, still be a premier playmaker? Is Sean Considine Philadelphia's long-term answer at strong safety? Answers to these questions and more inside.

If you watched the depth chart for the Eagle's defense during the 2007 season, it seemed that with each week came a new starting lineup. Cornerback Lito Sheppard was hurt in the beginning of the year and teams took advantage of the Pro Bowler's absence, but the biggest hurdle for Jim Johnson's unit to overcome were the numerous injuries at both safety positions.

One of the biggest blows that Philadelphia's defense suffered all year was losing Brian Dawkins for an extended period of time. A leader both on the field and in the locker room, Dawkins brings an intensity to the game that few other free safeties can match. His 33 career interceptions with the Eagles are the most with one team of any player in the league, and the former second round draft pick out of Clemson has been named to six Pro Bowls in his career. While he used to be regarded as one of the best at his position, a neck stinger suffered in the week-two loss to the Redskins caused Dawkins to miss the following five games, and even after he returned he did not seem to be the same dominant player. He finished the 2007 season with 37 tackles and one interception in 10 games played (he also missed the season finale against Buffalo with a foot sprain), and he failed to record a sack all year for the first time since 1997. Although Dawkins has been a premier playmaker for the Eagles over the last decade, he is 34 years old and in the twilight of his career. He is entering the final season of his contract next year and even as a fan favorite, Dawkins' time in Philadelphia may be nearing an end.

After taking over as the Eagles starter at strong safety midway through the 2006 season, Sean Considine was showing signs of improvement last year before he sustained a shoulder injury in the week-nine loss to Dallas that landed him on injured reserve. After putting on about 15 pounds last off-season so that his body could handle playing a full season in the NFL, Considine looked like a much better tackler in 2007. One of his best games of the year came against the Jets in week six, where he recorded 10 tackles (7 solo). Considine still needs to improve in pass defense though, and he was exposed a few times in coverage, most notably on the game-winning touchdown pass from Brian Griese to Muhsin Muhammad on the last drive of the demoralizing loss to Chicago. For the season, Considine played in eight games, recording 35 tackles, one interception, and three pass deflections. He signed a 4-year contract with the Eagles in 2005 and will be back with the team next year, but now that he has a history of shoulder problems (he dislocated his shoulder his rookie year and was placed on IR), his future as a starter in Philadelphia is unclear.

Safety Quintin Mikell
(Getty Images/Jamie Squire) here
With both starters going down with injuries, Quintin Mikell got many opportunities to show what he can do on the field during the 2007 season, and he did not disappoint. As a player who was originally signed by the Eagles as a rookie free agent in 2003, Mikell's emergence last season was not only timely, but also exemplified the type of blue-collar, underdog success story that Philadelphia is known for. The six-year veteran out of Boise State has always been a hard worker and was the Eagle's Special Teams MVP in 2005 and 2006, but he only had one career start before being called to duty in 2007. Mikell got the start in 11 games last season (stepping in for both Dawkins and Considine) and responded by showing that he could play at a high level, finishing the season ranked third on the team in tackles with 74, and also picking up a sack, an interception and forcing a fumble. At the very least, Mikell has put himself in position to compete for a starting spot next year, and after earning a 4-year contract extension in the beginning of 2007, he should be with the team for years to come.

J.R. Reed also got a chance to put his abilities on display with so many injuries at the safety position, but he had to overcome a great deal of adversity first. Last season marked Reed's second stint with the Eagles after being with the team as a rookie in 2004. He missed all of the 2005 season with a career-threatening knee injury and bounced around to the Rams, Falcons, and Giants before returning to Philadelphia prior to the start of 2007. Brought in as a special teams player, Reed was cut after the first game of the season, a 16-13 loss to Green Bay, when he muffed a punt and the Eagles lost possession late in the game. He was resigned a week later after Dawkins went down to add depth to the secondary. Reed played in 15 games last season and got to start in three, seeing time at both strong and free safety. He recorded 31 tackles on the year and turned some heads after showing that he is a hard hitter in the defensive backfield. Now in his fifth season out of South Florida, Reed was recently signed to a one-year deal for the 2008 season and should continue to be a solid special teams player while providing depth to the defense.

While Dawkins has been the face (and heart) of the Eagles defense for many years, his All-Pro days are behind him and the team will likely look for his replacement in this year's draft. With Dawkins and Considine both suffering injuries during the year, depth at safety is a concern going into 2008. The biggest questions next year will be if the secondary can stay healthy and if Mikell can improve upon his performance in his first year as a starter and help an Eagles pass defense that finished 18th in the NFL in yards allowed per game.

Final Grade: C+

Andrew Pluta can be reached at ajp8231@gmail.com

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