Eagles' hidden treasure: Safeties

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

There aren't a lot of position groups on the Philadelphia Eagles for which the preseason expectations aren't high. The roster is loaded, and the players are motivated to make up for their disappointing 2011 season. They finished 8-8, but overall, much is expected of this group across the board. If there's a specific area that's generating skepticism, it's the safety position, where 2010 second-round pick Nate Allen and 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett have so far failed to live up to expectations.

Allen's issue has been health. When he's been on the field, he's looked the part of a starting NFL safety, and the Eagles expect him to handle one of their starting safety spots in 2012. Assuming he can stay healthy, there's little reason to doubt that Allen can continue to develop as a starter. Kurt Coleman projects as the starter in the other spot, with Jarrett looming as a guy who could show enough to overtake him at some point. Jarrett was a rookie last year when there was no offseason program, and the fact that the players haven't been able to put pads on and hit each other yet limits the Eagles' ability to evaluate a guy like Jarrett, whose hard hitting was his trademark in college.

Last week's signing of veteran O.J. Atogwe is what makes this group interesting, though. Atogwe could challenge Coleman for his spot, if he's healthy, but even if he doesn't crack the starting lineup he has value. He could allow the Eagles to run some three-safety looks and take some pressure off the linebacking corps -- if that's half as necessary as it was last year. And he's a smart, solid, team-first guy off the field who should be able to help the young safeties learn and develop in their own roles. The depth and veteran leadership Atogwe can provide if he can ward off the injury issues he had last year in Washington could make this group better than most people are expecting it to be.