Do the Eagles have enough depth in the secondary?

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 15:  Asante Samuel #22 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates with Quintin Mikell #27 and Trent Cole #58 after an interception for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns on December 15, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Merry preseason, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the lack of depth the Eagles have in their secondary.

Truth be told, the Eagles are in pretty good shape entering the season. The question on everyone’s mind is whether or not Kevin Kolb can replace Donovan McNabb, but I wouldn’t necessarily deem the quarterback position a weakness.

Nor would I say secondary is a weakness either. I like the starting four of Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Quintin Mikell and highly intriguing rookie Nate Allen. But after trading Sheldon Brown to the Browns in the offseason, the depth behind those players is now where the concern lies.

Hobbs, who keep in mind is coming off neck surgery, is expected to return kickoffs once the regular season starts. If he were to go down with an injury, it would leave the Eagles with Macho Harris, Joselio Hanson or fourth-round pick Trevard Lindley at the cornerback position opposite Samuel. And none of them have proven that they can be starters at this level. (Although to be fair, Lindley is only a rookie.)

And what if Allen struggles as a first-year starter? All indications are that he’s a stud in the making, but the regular season hasn’t started yet and thus, he hasn’t officially been tested. After losing his job to Harris last season and battling injuries throughout the year, can the Eagles get by with Quintin Demps if Allen can’t produce as a rookie?

Of course, most of this is hypothetical, which is why I’ll reiterate that I don’t think the Eagles have any predominant weaknesses. Again, I think their starters are solid and Allen has a legitimate chance of winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award if he can live up to expectations.

That said, this is still a thin secondary and Andy Reid better hope that this unit can stay healthy throughout the year. An injury to a starter could derail Philly’s chances of returning to the postseason.

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Patriots’ secondary looks less than super on paper

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Thursday I take a look at the New England Patriots and their potential issues in the secondary.

It would be naïve to think that the New England Patriots won’t contend for another AFC East crown, the postseason or a Super Bowl appearance. They’re still the franchise all other teams gun for and certainly should be the favorites to win Super Bowl XLII.

But has anyone taken a look at the Pats’ secondary this year?

When cornerback Asante Samuel signed a multi-million dollar deal with the Eagles in the offseason, there was virtually no panic in New England. And why should there have been? Bill Belichick’s defensive scheme allows any player – first rounder or street free agent – to be plugged into the starting lineup and succeed. The system is set up to win as a team, instead of relying on a couple of individual players to dominate. And as the results have shown over the years, the system works.

But the Patriots haven’t had a good start to 2008. Not only is the former Pro Bowler Samuel in Philly, but projected starters Rodney Harrison and James Sanders have also missed significant camp time this summer. The team recently signed former Buc and Bronco veteran John Lynch to help fix the leak at safety. Granted Lynch is a tremendous leader who brings loads of experience to the field, but due to his limitations in coverage he puts a lot of pressure on either Sanders or second year player Brandon Merriweather to cover more ground from the free safety position.

The news isn’t entirely bleak for the Pats’ secondary. Several publications have noted how comfortable Merriweather looks in his second year and corner Ellis Hobbs is vastly underrated (although he was abused by Plaxico Burress in the Super Bowl and is also coming off two early-offseason surgeries). But who will play opposite Hobbs? Veteran Jason Webster is on his last legs and Fernando Bryant is arguably best suited to play nickel at this point in his career. Maybe they’ll find a gem in rookies Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, but regardless, there’s a ton of uncertainty in the Pats secondary at this point in preseason.

Tom Brady is back. Randy Moss is back. Bill Belichick is back. Make no mistake – the Patriots are once again the team to beat in the NFL. But just like Brady and the offensive line were exposed by the Giants in last January’s Super Bowl, watch for opposing teams to try and attack New England’s secondary in 2008. And if injuries continue to mount in the defensive backfield, we could be looking at a very vulnerable Patriots’ defense this season.

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